Shameful! Art historian raps absence of national museum

Banayel, a Taino zemi, is among the large cache of local
artefacts which Dr Greenland says needs a permanent
home in the form of a national museum
THAT Jamaica does not have a national museum is shameful. So says
Director of the Museum of History and Ethnography at the Institute of
Jamaica Dr Jonathan Greenland.
“Places like Cayman Islands, Haiti, the Dominican Republic, Trinidad, St
Kitts and Nevis, and Afghanistan have national museums. Jamaica, on the
other hand, while in possession of wonderful material, great history
and an audience all around that is desperate for its cultural and
heritage information, does not. This is very shameful,” he told the
Jamaica Observer last week,

Greenland, who holds a PhD in art history and is a former executive
director of the National Gallery, underscored the importance of a
national museum to the country’s culture and heritage.
“It is very important for nation building,” he explained. “We have
developed all these national heroes and stuff like that. And so we need a
national museum where people can focus their education building so that
they can represent themselves and the culture of the nation,” he said.
“So we have all these objects that go way back, but there is nowhere to
display them. They are sitting in a basement somewhere in our building
and we need somewhere to have them on display so people can come in and
understand the whole history, their own path and where their people came
from — whether they be African, or Indian, or Chinese, or English, or
whatever, they have to understand the development of their history. So
it (national museum) is very important for us.”
As such, he said the Government is currently pushing to establish such a
facility, and he expected that it will be realised within a year.
Contrary to popular opinion, said Greenland, the venture does not have
to be expensive and could cost in the region of $20 million.
“Our priority at the moment is developing a proper national museum for
the people of Jamaica, which we don’t have,” Greenland said. “This is a
matter of importance.
“We want to ensure that the country at last has a national museum. They
have been talking about it for years and years and years but it has
never actually happened. But I think in the past what happened is that
some people wanted to raise an enormous amount of money in order to
build a huge museum as large as King’s House or Hope Gardens, but the
bigger your plans, the less likely it is to happen.
“So what we are planning is to use space that we can get already, then
making that into a museum, so we won’t have to go through the process of
building a huge structure. One day we might have the money to build a
huge structure but for now we can just construct something that will be
done quickly and require a modest amount of money,” he pointed out.
The ideal location for the museum, Dr Greenland said, would be downtown
Kingston, given the historic nature of the capital city. He said a
number of places were being considered, but declined giving details.
“There are all sorts of buildings downtown. We are looking downtown
because it is a flourishing community, a historic community but is also
the most energetic part of Jamaica. It would definitely be a great
location, and with Digicel and people like that going down there it is
becoming much more of a location that people would visit from all parts
of Jamaica.”
“[It would be] somewhere people could go where they could park easily,
where big buses could pull up and they could get out and go, where they
could get some refreshments, where they could buy something in the shop,
and they could hang around outside and relax. Somewhere with a
playground and stuff like that,” he said. “And then there is exciting
programmes inside, wonderful exhibitions and people get to see all the
objects from Port Royal, or they see the objects from the Spanish eras,
and they see the Taino museum, I don’t think we would have a problem
bringing people in.”
“We have about 1.8 million people living in Portmore and Kingston and we
would like to be able to work with those people as our primary
audience,” he said.
The art historian added that in the new dispensation, the Taino Museum
in White Marl, St Catherine — which was forced to close its doors five
years ago as a result of ongoing violence — in the surrounding
communities, would be incorporated into the national museum.
When I invest energy and money into things I want it to work, I don’t
want it to be something that doesn’t work and if there was a Taino
museum as a part of the national museum, that would be a much better
investment of our time and money [than investing in relocating the
museum from White Marl],” he said.
“We have to be very strategic about how we allocate funds and energy and
staff, and so our number one priority and Minister Hanna’s number one
priority is the national museum,” Dr Greenland added.
He said another priority was to open “a museum on the north coast which is able to attract large numbers of people.
“So we have two very important agenda; everything else is secondary to
them. One is the national museum in Kingston and the other is the museum
on the North Coast.”
Recently, the IOJ launched the Friends of the Museums and Our Story
Foundation — two initiatives aimed at raising funds for a national
museum and improving the institute’s existing museums.
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