As the public face of the Royal Tropical Institute, a foundation that sponsors the study of tropical cultures around the world, the Amsterdam’s Tropenmuseum (Museum of the Tropics) is one of Europe’s leading ethnographic museums. Established in 1864, it’s beautiful brick building dates from 1926 and sits alongside the spacious greenery of Oosterpark. Between its rich permanent collection, which reflects Dutch colonial history, and its vivid temporary exhibitions, visitors can glimpse the past, present and future of non-Western cultures around the globe. A visit to the Tropenmuseum is a journey through old Asia, Oceania, Africa and Latin America via art, household and religious objects, photographs, music, film and interactive displays. The museum is also renowned for its efforts in child-friendly exhibitions. Tropenmuseum Junior offers an educational, inspiring and entertaining program for kids (6 to 13 year olds), aimed at introducing them to different cultures.
The Tropenmuseum is one of the most fascinating anthropological museums in the world, but is in danger of being closed with its collections dispersed – or so I wrote to colleagues a few weeks ago as the museum and the Koninklijk Instituut voor de Tropen (KIT Research Library) was slated for closure. Over half of the staff was beginning to lose their jobs and the research library was closing (it is filled with one-of-a-kind publications from around the world from as early as 1400 A.D.)
The Dutch government promised to consider extending funding for the museum and library for two years if folks could get 40,000 signatures (Dutch and/or Worldwide) signaling that there was interest in keeping the museum and library alive. After this period the Tropenmuseum would have to merge with two other institutions.
Now for the good news!
The petition has actually helped: on June 20 the relevant Dutch ministers, in debate with the House of Parliament agreed to a transitional arrangement to fund the museum until 2017. The plan requires the Tropenmuseum, in the coming years, to merge its 175,000 objects into the Volkenkunde Museum in Leiden and the small Afrikamuseum in Berg and Dal. The price to be paid by the museum is that it will be cut loose from the KIT archives & library and that the collections become the property of the state.
The bad news: Regrettably, those curators and others who recently were cut from the staff as a money saving measure will not be coming back, an example of “the wrong way to save money” by losing all their expertise. But perhaps the best to be expected in these times of universal budget cuts for cultural institutions.
The organization that spearheaded this massive outpouring for the museum is Petities.nl. Note that their website is, of course, mostly in Dutch.
The museum itself has a searchable database in English at:
Many Thanks to all my friends who added their names to the petition!