Dutch museums may sell treasures to make ends meet

ROTTERDAM, The Netherlands Wed Aug 17, 2011 10:34am EDT

ROTTERDAM, The Netherlands (Reuters) - Rotterdam's Wereldmuseum plans to sell its African and American treasures to cover funding shortfalls made more likely by the economic crisis in Europe and a planned cut in state subsidies to the arts starting in 2013.

It is one of several Dutch museums under pressure to raise money from the public purse, and ideas being explored have ranged from "adopting" star exhibits to opening a hotel on the premises.

"We are going to sell the entire Africa collection and the Americas collection, and will only keep the top pieces in the rest of our collection so we can focus on Asian art," said Stanley Bremer, director at Wereldmuseum.

"The money we raise we will put in the bank," he told Reuters.

"If you are alert to the situation in Europe, you can see there could be a problem in five or six years' time. So either we can sit back or we can make a plan and our plan is to raise money to be as self-sufficient as possible."

The government has said state subsidies for the arts and culture would be cut by 200 million euros to 700 million with effect from 2013, and that in future, museums must find 17.5 percent of their income from new funding sources or partners.

OUTCRY

The possible sale -- if no other museum in the Netherlands can afford to purchase the works then other buyers may step in -- has prompted an outcry in some quarters.

The African collection at the Wereldmuseum -- or World Museum in English -- is one of the oldest in Europe and includes pieces collected by Dutch merchants from the 19th century, such as Hendrik Muller, a businessman who traded in Africa.

It features several so-called power figures, which are carved wooden statues with a cavity in the abdomen which a ritual expert fills with ingredients with supernatural power before sealing the cavity with a mirror.

The figures are created to counter disease, disaster or other misfortune thought to be the work of witches.

"It would be a huge loss for the Netherlands -- we need to ensure that they stay in the Netherlands," said Steven Engelsman, Chairman of the Netherlands Foundation for Ethnographic Collection, an organization representing the country's eight ethnographic museums.

Bremer said the museum would focus on its more extensive Asia and Asia-Pacific collections because there were already five other museums in the Netherlands and nearby that focused on Africa.

Museum Boerhaave, in Leiden, which concentrates on the history of science and medicine, may also have to resort to the sale of exhibits as it has been threatened with possible closure.

"It is possible that some items could be sold," said director Dirk van Delft, if it could not raise money in any other way.

The museum's collection include the world's first kidney dialysis machine developed by Dutch doctor Willem Kolff during World War Two, as well as some of the world's first microscopes, which were made by Dutch scientist Antonius van Leeuwenhoek in the 17th century.

Book museum Meermanno in The Hague has started a sponsorship scheme for its books, which include Jacob van Maerlant's "Rijmbijbel" based on the bible.

Called "Boek zoekt vrouw, man of bedrijf!" or "Book seeks a wife, husband or company (business)," the sponsorship scheme is a play on a popular reality TV show "Boer zoekt vrouw," or "farmer seeks a wife," a Dutch version of "The Bachelor."

(Additional reporting by Sara Webb, editing by Sara Webb and Mike Collett-White)

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