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Red Museum Boerhaave!

The Red Museum Boerhaave ("Save Museum Boerhaave") campaign is going strong.

I had the privilege last week of attending the annual Artefacts conference, held this year at the Museum Boerhaave in Leiden, Netherlands. Artefacts is a group of historians and curators in the history of science and technology that seeks to promote the use of objects in historical study. The group meets annually to discuss recent research, exhibits, and other topics of relevance, and also publishes a book series. The meeting in Leiden was lively and full of engaging discussion, and made all the more poignant by the fact that our host the Museum Boerhaave – recently reviewed in Chemical Heritage – is under threat of closure.

In June of this year, the Dutch government passed legislation that requires Dutch cultural institutions to self-fund 17.5% of their operating costs.  While the Boerhaave was prepared for how this change would affect future annual budgets, what places the museum in jeopardy is a provision in the legislation that makes the law retroactive for 2010 and 2011. In order to stay open, the museum now needs to raise 700,000€ (roughly $1,000,000). The news of this challenge has caused great alarm across the history of science community – most institutions have faced significant cut-backs and staff reductions in the years since 2008, but few have experienced such a serious threat of closure.

Staff at the Boerhaave reported last week that support for the museum has been very strong, and are optimistic they will be able to make up the shortfall. But this situation is telling of our times – governments and foundations are looking critically at museums and demanding justification for why we preserve the history of science and what audiences we serve. Obviously, those of us at CHF think that educating the public about the history of science and preserving that history for future generations is a worthy cause. But how many more museums and archives will have to defend their existence as the world financial crisis continues?

Jenn Landry is Associate Director of Special Collections at CHF.

Related:
Dutch Museum Scrambling for Cash to Stay Open [Nature.com]
Going Dutch [Chemical Heritage]

Posted In: Policy

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