|▲ This is the interior appearance of Dongguk University Museum. On the left side of the picture, you may find “Boyeopin Pagoda” (National Treasure No. 209).|
/Photography from Dongguk University Museum
University museums are in struggle. They stay alone in a big campus with hardly a single person visiting per day. A large number of people barely know of the existence of museums on campus. Even when they do know, only a few have been there; it clearly shows that university museums are left aside, which can also be said that they are losing the supports from both the students and the school.
After eliminating the establishment of university museums in the Decree on the Standards for the Establishment of Universities and Colleges and in the official university assessments from the government, most of the university museums are struggling with the poor supports from the schools. Accordingly, its primary functions as a place for excavation and research are at stake. The conditions of most university museums are constantly getting worse, and Dongguk University’s is not an exception.
University museums preserving important assets
According to the Korean Association of University Museums, there are 110 university museums registered; 30 museums contain a total of 82 cases and 114 pieces of state-designated cultural properties; 21 museums preserve 68 cases and 5405 pieces of cities and provinces designated cultural properties. Dongguk University Museum is also included in the 110 registered museums.
There are various national treasures and other crucial treasures conserved in university museums. Korea University Museum, for example, has National Treasure No. 249-1 Donggwoldo, which graphically portrays Changdeokgung Palace and Changgyeonggung Palace. This will be useful when restoring traditional palaces. Konkuk University Museum, in addition, preserves “Donggukjeongun,” which is the first book that translated Hanja sound to Korean sound. It allows further research and analysis on Korean language. As these examples show, university museums preserve numerous important cultural properties and play a significant role in allowing in-depth research on them. However, because they hardly receive any supports from school, government, and students, maintenance for their facilities and relicsis are degrading.
Legal protection for university museums removed
In 1955, the amended Decree on Standards for the Establishment of Universities and Colleges required universities to establish museums as their affiliated facilities, but in 1982, the decree removed the line related to building museums. This meant that the legal protection for university museums was removed, which eventually caused their status to nosedive. Also, having a university museum is now excluded from the list of evaluation in the official university assessment. As most of the universities are already struggling with the problems, such as restructuring and financial difficulties, it is obvious that the schools give less attention and support to their museums than the past. Kyung Hee University Hye-Jung Museum, in fact, was denounced because of its poor preservation of an antique map of Dokdo and other old documents. The maintenance of museum storage was also not well operated due to lack of financial supports from the school. Kim Ja-hyun, the curator of Dongguk University Museum, said, “One of the most important things is preserving the relics. Many universities are having difficulties preserving them because it is very costly when the budget is low.”
Decrease in archaeological fieldwork
Due to such poor conditions university museums are confronted with, it is almost impossible for them to function as archaeological organizations. From 1970s to early 1990s, university museums played a central role in excavating remains, but after the first establishment of private corporations for exploring cultural properties in 1995, now, 80 to 90 percent of this work is done by private corporations. Currently, 37 university museums are registered as excavation and research organizations, but, in fact, only six to seven are excavating. In the past, Kyonggi University, Ajou University, and several other universities participated in archaeological digs but have all temporarily stopped their participation in these projects. The last record of excavation of Konkuk University was in 2007. Dongguk University has also stopped its participation in archaeological fieldwork.
Such problems got even worse as the Cultural Heritage Administration restricted university museums from participating in rescue excavations. A rescue excavation is conducted when artifacts inside the ground are in danger of being damaged due to road building and dam construction. The administration decided to limit university museums’ role to only excavating for academic purposes. Realistically, this further limited the university museums’ role because such excavations are done by cultural heritage foundations and researchers. This is especially troublesome since education for students in related majors is mostly done through rescue excavation, which means that it deters the school from raising experts in such field.
University museums’ specialized role
Experts argue that university museums should be revitalized since they have different roles from national and private museums. Curator Kim said, “University museums can make thorough academic research on the remains they have found and use the remains in their research. I believe this can be done in more detail by university museums, compared to national and private museums which concentrate mostly on exhibitions.”
In addition, bringing back of cultural assets may be accomplished more efficiently through academic exchange with universities and organizations abroad. To be specific, Kyungnam University accomplished on bringing back Terauchi Library, one of Terauchi Masatake’s collections, through academic exchange with Yamaguchi Woman’s University in January 1996. Kim Won-kyu, a curator of Kyungnam University, said, “I think university museums can bring back the relics which government may fail to, since they are free from relationships in diplomacy.” Curator Kim of Dongguk University added, “Bringing back of cultural assets would be more effective when it is done through academic exchange because universities may build trust between each other. Also, convincing them with thorough preparation of reasonable evidence may allow them to successfully bring back the relics.”
In fact, when public protests insisting to return the relics were organized in front of Okura Museum of Art, the museum placed the Icheon stone pagodas and the ones from Goryeo, Korean dynasty, back in their storage. Curator Kim added, “Such obvious demonstration will even make harder to bring back the cultural assets. We need to make this happen more naturally by building up trusts and convincing them with evidence.”
For Kyung Hee University Hye-Jung Museum mentioned above, only two art and science researchers are managing all the assets. What is worse is that one of them is paid by the director of museum with his private money. This is just one example of the overall state of university museums today. It is clear that imminent action must be taken by the university and the government in order to halt the decline of such a valuable resource. Curator Kim ended by saying, “Although we do not welcome the assets to be used as the materials for promoting the school, the fact that the school’s museum has significant assets can also be a good feature to employ in promoting the school.”
|▲ Dongguk University preserves two national treasures. One on the right side of the picture above is“Boyeopin Pagoda”(National Treasure No. 209), and on the left side is“Hongqi I-nyeon-myeong Song-juk-moon Ho” (National Treasure No. 176).|
/Photography from Dongguk University Museum
“Budget for Dongguk University Museum Decreases; Annual Exhibition Unheld”
Dongguk University, although it is comparatively better off than other university museums’ conditions because of its special aspect, being Buddhism-oriented, is also struggling with its budget. The museum hosted an annual exhibition until last year, but, this year, it was unable to be held because the school has not provided the budget for the exhibition.
Dongguk University Museum is a Buddhism-oriented museum and was built in 1963. It preserves two pieces of national treasures, eight pieces of treasures, and four pieces of Seoul tangible cultural assets. The national treasures are “Boyeopin Pagoda” (National Treasure No. 209) and Qinghua porcelain “Hongqi I-nyeon-myeong Song-juk-moon Ho” (National Treasure No. 176), which is one of the blue and white wares.
Dongguk University Museum annually holds exhibition in autumn. In 2014, the museum opened a special exhibition for the school’s 108th anniversary. The exhibition’s theme was its special aspect, Buddhism. However, this year, it will not be possible to hold one since the school has not placed the budget for the exhibition. This year, 27 million won was distributed to the museum. This is, in fact, a great decrease in its budget compared to previous years when 40 to 80 million won was distributed. The budget distribution is decided after calculating the total earnings. Then the budget is distributed accordingly in an order of importance.
Park Dae-hyuck from Budget Team maintained, “Most of the earnings are from tuitions, donations, special account, subsidies, etc. which hardly increase, whereas there are steady increase in price for fixed cost. This leads us to distribute the budget to essential businesses like personnel expenses, scholarships, research costs, facility maintenances.”
Although an exhibition at school is not accomplished, thanks to the support of the Korea Foundation, the museum will exhibit abroad in Belarus with the theme “Life of Koreans.”
Yim Se-youn firstname.lastname@example.org
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