Making the most of our heritage

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

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Yesterday, in our commentary on efforts by the Government to develop the birthplace of National Hero Marcus Mosiah Garvey as a museum and appropriate memorial, we raised the issue of how Jamaica is honouring all its seven National Heroes and other outstanding citizens who have served the country well.

We also invited the Jamaica National Heritage Trust (JNHT) to tell the country about plans going forward to preserve the legacy of these individuals, because even as we recognise that a lot has already been done in that regard, there is more that can be achieved, especially given Jamaica's rich heritage.

The JNHT, we believe, has been doing the best it can with the resources allotted to preserve, promote, and protect the island's monuments. A visit to the JNHT website will give you an idea of the work it is doing.

There are, of course, some individuals who believe that maintaining monuments and museums is a waste of money. That thinking has its foundation in ignorance of the social, educational and economic value of historical sites and museums.

In the United States, for instance, the American Alliance of Museums (AAM) released two studies in February this year showing that museums contribute more to the US economy than was previously thought, and that they have significant public support that eclipses political affiliations and geographic locations.

According to the AAM, the first study, titled 'Museums as Economic Engines' and conducted by Oxford Economics with the support of the Andrew W Mellon Foundation, reveals that museums support 726,000 jobs and directly employ 372,100 people.

It also showed that for every US$100 of economic activity created by museums, an additional US$220 is created in other sectors of the economy.

“These impacts mean that museums contribute approximately US$50 billion to the US economy each year, a number that's more than twice previous estimates,” the AAM said.

In addition, the report revealed that museums generate more than US$12 billion per year in tax revenue to federal, state, and local governments.

Of course, the leisure and hospitality industry generated the lion's share of the revenue — approximately US$17 billion — while the financial activities sector brought in approximately US$12 billion, and approximately US$3 billion was earned by the education/health services and manufacturing sectors.

The second report, titled 'Museums & Public Opinion', was conducted by AAM and Wilkening Consulting using research experts at Ipsos, who found that the overwhelming majority of Americans polled hold the view that museums provide valuable educational experiences to their communities, make significant economic contribution to the country and provide jobs.

In Europe, which has an older, richer and more diverse history than the United States, museums would most naturally do better than those in the US.

For instance, the annual number of visitors to the Louvre in Paris, France, in 2017 is staggering — 8.1 million which, according to data published by Statista, was the highest attendance of any museum in Europe that year.

The Vatican Museum in Vatican City was next with 6.42 million visitors; the British Museum in London welcomed 5.9 million visitors, while the Tate Modern — Britain's national gallery of international modern art, recorded 5.65 million visitors.

The list, of course — is long and impressive. It also tells us that we here in Jamaica can, if we have the will and vision, utilise our heritage to greater advantage.

Just think how popular Port Royal, easily one of the world's most famous towns, would be among visitors and Jamaicans alike were it well-appointed with artefacts and properly managed? And that is just one of many historical sites on the island.

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