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O.Mendsaikhan: A museum is a culture’s immunity and memory

Trans. by M.OYUNGEREL

Mongol News spoke to the director of Bogd Khan Palace Museum O.Mendsaikhan. With limited human resources and finances, their organization has the role to save, prevent, research and promote Mongolia’s memory, cultural monuments and exhibits. They have a tiny budget, but their income is ample and their staff always working over-time. As the director, O.Mendsaikhan is always working to have this “abnormal” system fixed.

 When I search about you, mostly land disputes related to APU Co. show up. How is it being resolved? Niislel pavilion still seem to be in your protection zone.

Yes. There are many problems related to land. We’re moving forward step by step. The government protocol gave the Mayor duties and roles to abide by, so it’s a decision to be made by the Mayor and the sector’s minister.

What’s your profession?

I graduated from the National University of Mongolia in 1996 in traditional art research. I conduct researches related to traditional art and wooden crafts. Now I’m doing my PhD in decorative wall paintings in monasteries. 

Mongolian museum marketing and management is weak. There are some criticisms such as lack of viewers, low income, and lack of explanation. Can you comment on this as the director?

There are criticisms. The [former] Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism has worked in this field for a year but paid more attention to their own issues. The cultural policy in our country is very weak.

During the training funded by UNESCO, Monaco and Japan’s trust funds, we were taught how international museums should accentuate and what to focus on.

After receiving all the information, we understand what we have to focus on. However, low finance and low human resources hold us back. The museum is different than a simple state organization.

The museum has lots of roles; it’s a state organization that directly signs agreements with the sector’s minister, it’s a service organization for the citizens, and it’s a research institute that protects cultural heritages.

 The viewers have some drawbacks. How fast are service industries and private sectors working?

Because we’re in this industry, we have to be faster than them. We have no power over finance though. We get 300 million MNT as budget, but we have no right to spend it without the permission of the state budget.

Compared to other museums, ours has the most staff and highest income. However, if the roof broke due to weather conditions for instance, we can’t take immediate action; we just wait for a decision from the authority. We must change this.

We have daily incomes but can’t use it. We send it back to the state budget. Currently, we’re projected to make 160 million MNT [this year].

 It’s like you’re working with a burden.

We’re in this situation due to many laws pointing out what not to do. It would help us if we had the right to make our own financial decisions legally. 

Museums make money by printing calendars with the pictures of your exhibits. Foreign websites have the pictures too. Can’t you boost revenue with such activities?

We were recently trained in creative cultural production. We register our best exhibits in the Valuable Heritage List (VHL). To print, duplicate, take photos or videos of the exhibits in VHL, you need permission from the minister.

This law should apply to the public, but not the museum itself. For example, we want to use the Green Dari Ekh (a Buddhist goddess) as our face for promotion, but it’s illegal.

There are many other things. If we built our recuperation workshop center next to the museum, it would be an interesting exhibition for viewers. No one uses a 100-year-old technology nowadays. We could showcase it, create artworks with that technology and attract the public. We can put the effort in, but we can’t use the additional income outside the planned budget to spend it and pay our workers.

 Can’t you ask the ministry to resolve these issues?

We have told them. They’re being nice lately. Six-thousand people work in the cultural field in Mongolia. These people have extremely low wages, and only work because their heart is in it. MCS Co. on the other hand has 10,000 workers. They get paid a lot more than us.

The corporation is using a certain amount of their income for marketing and PR with a plan, while our staff appointments still have the same name as before.

For example, it’s hard to understand what a treasurer is. By present terms, it’s a supplies specialist. 

How many workers are you supposed to have?

The minister appointed 29 people but the Ministry of Finance pays only 20 people’s salary. Although we want to hire more, they say the budget can’t afford it.

We are trying our best, assigning double roles to our drivers, blacksmiths and secretary in the exhibition fields. Our museum is considered the biggest in the country, occupying 3,850 square meters.

We have two hectares of land, but with very few staff. Our locksmith is in charge of our gardening. He can’t handle it alone.

 

Foreign specialists come, train you, and probably give you specific advices?

Yes. They are astonished. They admire these museum exhibits. I think they expect us to have more possibilities because they don’t know our legislation. 

Have you been to other countries to learn about how they protect and take care of museums?

We don’t travel much. Last year, we’ve been to museums in Hungary, Austria and Turkey. China’s museum makes enough income thanks to their big population, but the government gives them enough financing anyway.

South Korea is well-known in the world for its cultural promotions. Japan is well-known for its technological innovations. There’s no place in the world other than Mongolia that forgets a sector that is its archive, its culture’s immunity and memory.

 Do you have other viewers apart from tourists?

Annually, we have about 20,000 visitors coming to see our museum. In the last two years, out of 40,000 people we served, about 10,000 of them were Mongolians. The number of Mongolian viewers is increasing as years pass.

Mongolians who have studied and worked abroad understand cultural values more. National recognition is reviving. We will reopen our Naidan Monastery soon. The exhibits were confiscated to be restored in 2004.

We have over 30,000 exhibits. We show 1,500 of those and we have new exhibitions three to four times every year. 

Last year, they did a census of exhibits. Were you missing any exhibits?

No. 

In most cases where exhibits are lost, museum workers are blamed. Can you comment on this?

I’m surprised they’re re-evaluating these cases that have happened a long time ago. People working now have nothing to do with robbery cases that happened a decade ago.

Readers and viewers love to read “Museum guide steals an exhibit” article but don’t even peek at articles titled “Mongolian museum is great”. This kind of information draws our viewers back.

To be honest, we’re trying to bring viewers despite the closed condition, with no extra-hour payments or bonuses. And this negative information destroys everything we built. 

Can we see this period as a development for the museum industry that fell in the 1990s?

It really is developing. Preservation and security improved with so many more renovations. The main thing is that only few people who love their professions, people who care about this field, are working really hard without complaining about low wages.

 Is it hard for you to demand hard work from your staff in this condition?

What could I do even if it was hard? Since I acknowledged this fact and took the job, I will demand the best from them. I’m being criticized for giving them too much work. But this is all going to change. I believe we can change this.

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Posted by on Jul 28 2015. Filed under Prime Interview. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

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