The KIT Tropenmuseum has been displaying ethnological objects and images in its neo-classic building in Amsterdam since 1926. But for several years the museum has also been spreading its wings. The initial contacts regarding a joint exhibition with the Historical Museum in Jakarta in 2000 resulted in a three-year collaboration program, which ultimately involved six other museums in Jakarta, as well. Together with the seven museums, specialists from the KIT Tropenmuseum investigated the management and maintenance of the collection. The reports were combined to create a master plan, in which practical training was the primary element. The financial support came from the Dutch government’s HGIS Cultural Resources.
Thousands of kilometres to the west, on the African island of Zanzibar, the KIT Tropenmuseum assisted in raising the professional level of the House of Wonders museum. This time the focus was not on management and maintenance, but on the presentation of the collection. "The project on Zanzibar was conceived in the nineties, but the political squabbling on the island prevented us from bringing the project to fruition," explains Paul Voogt, head of public and presentation. "When we decided to try again in 2000, it turned out that the museum itself had already proceeded, with virtually no money, exclusively using local expertise. This turned out quite well. They only needed training." A crucial partner in this endeavour was the Programme for Museum Development in Africa (PMDA) in Kenya. "They provided the trainings. We served a sort of broker function because on Zanzibar they were not aware that the Kenyan institute even existed, while in fact, as the crow flies, they are not that far from one another."
As early as the nineties, the KIT Tropenmuseum provided technical assistance to the National Museum in Yemen and the Surinam Museum in Paramaribo. The development of the software program Object ID for the protection and the management of collections enables the museum to expand its worldwide network. Still our expanded product line of international projects reflects a new focus. "We are the only museum in the Netherlands that falls under Development Collaboration," says Paul Voogt. "So we are expected to collaborate with these countries. We have professionalized our international projects over the last few years."
The Dutch embassies were also involved in the projects in Jakarta and on Zanzibar. Not only because they make recommendations regarding the disbursement of the HGIS Culture Resources and formally monitor the execution of the projects. "Based on our own experience with the Indonesian context, we also made recommendations regarding content," explains Maarten Mulder, cultural attaché of the embassy in Jakarta. "The collaboration worked out quite well. Naturally there are always bottlenecks. The cultural and economic differences are quite significant. Museums in Indonesia are considerably behind those in the west and the developed countries in Asia: much of the personnel is not hired based on their suitability for the job and their employees' education level is low. This also means that there is considerable lack of expertise in the area of collection management, exhibition setup and documentation. But things are moving in the right direction. Nurtured by economic growth, the necessity to increase tourism and the need for more transparency, the municipality of Jakarta is investing more in maintaining its museums. There is greater awareness of the necessity to present attractive exhibitions.”
Paul Voogt of the KIT Tropenmuseum: "Institutional collaboration is not a common practice among the various Asiatic countries. That is why we brought in our own expertise much more in Indonesia than we did on Zanzibar." Both projects have now been completed. House of Wonders reopened its doors on 2 July 2005 during the Zanzibar International Film festival. "Moreover, the projects have frequently also had an effect that went further than just maintaining heritage. The museum of Zanzibar has tens of thousands of visitors each year. Each visitor pays a few dollars to visit the museum. Collectively this represents a huge sum on Zanzibar."