Sharjah Museums Department (SMD) will use the occasion of International Museum Day to celebrate its tenth anniversary with a review of its successes over the past decade and a raft of new measures to improve visitor experiences.
The department was founded in 2006 by Sheikh Dr Sultan Bin Mohammed Al Qasimi, Ruler of Sharjah, with a mandate to support Emirati, Arab and Islamic heritage and to further the appreciation of culture and the arts among the wider community.
Since then, SMD has managed and developed 16 of the region’s finest museums, covering science, the arts, archaeology, Islamic civilization, the marine world, calligraphy, Sharjah’s history and much more.
The department will celebrate International Museum Day on May 18 by reviewing past successes and planning its strategy over the next decade.
Objectives include greatly expanding its public education programme, increasing specialized training for tour guides and curators, improving museum accessibility, and hosting more prestigious local and international exhibitions.
Manal Ataya, Director General of Sharjah Museums Department, said: “This significant anniversary presents us with the perfect opportunity to look back on the past ten years and ensure we are aligned with our objectives.
“When His Highness Sheikh Sultan launched SMD in 2006, he did so with the intention of it becoming a driving force for the appreciation of local heritage, culture, and the arts. He also wanted it to spearhead education campaigns for children so that they would grow up with a deep understanding of our heritage and the world around us.
“Since launching as a relatively small organization and gradually expanding to where we are now, SMD has constantly sought to fulfill Sheikh Sultan’s objective and we will find new ways of doing so through bigger and better initiatives, partnerships, and facilities.”
SMD’s development over the past ten years has seen it develop into a well-structured governmental department with clearly-defined roles for its sub-departments and 16 museums.
Past museum projects have included the opening of Sharjah Museum of Islamic Civilization and Sharjah Aquarium in 2008, and Sharjah Maritime Museum in 2009. The past four years have seen the reopening of Sharjah Heritage Museum and Sharjah Classic Cars Museum, as well as the completion of the Sharjah Fort restoration project and museum reinterpretation and design.
Visitor numbers at SMD’s museums have grown gradually over the years, building on strong ties with the community and gaining many loyal visitors from school groups and universities who benefit from the vast resources of the museums in their academic pursuits, to resident families and tourists who are always looking for unique cultural experiences. Since its inception in 2006, SMD has increased visitor numbers by about 60%. The growth is linked to a twin strategy of attracting overseas visitors to notable exhibitions and collections, and building a loyal following among local community members.
One of SMD’s main achievements has been to attract exhibitions from some of the most prestigious museums in the world, including, but not limited to, The Tate, the Victoria and Albert Museum, the Vatican Museums, the Berlin Museum of Islamic Art, the Cobra Museum of Modern Art, Netherlands, and the Gibran National Committee, Lebanon.
It has also entered into international partnerships with organisations including the Berlin State Museums and the Goethe Institute, as well as the Museum with No Frontiers NGO. Many local partnerships have also been built, including with the University of Sharjah, Sharjah City for Humanitarian Services, Sharjah Education Zone and the Mohammed Bin Rashid Smart Learning Program.
SMD’s achievements have extended to social responsibility initiatives including marine clean ups, blood donation campaigns, and Iftar events for the elderly and orphans. It has also made its museums more accessible to people with different disabilities through such initiatives as Touch Tours for the visually impaired, material in large print and Braille, tour guides who use sign language, and workshops specially geared towards the disabled.
SMD has marked its tenth anniversary by launching a four-point strategy to maintain its objectives and improve its service. It covers the following areas:
Extend SMD’s educational role, which includes tailoring a regular schedule of interactive workshops around museum collections and visiting local and international exhibitions. SMD will seek to invest into this programme and greatly extend its education initiatives for school children and universities. This includes a great number of international conferences held to discuss issues relevant SMD’s museum line up.
Expand its training scheme for administrators and museum-based guides and curators, including sending them on domestic and overseas courses to gain further experience in such fields as exhibition design and collection management.
Build stronger partnerships with local, regional and international organizations to be able to attract even more prestigious exhibitions.
Further its ‘Museums are Available to All’ program of improving museum access and integration for visitors with different disabilities. The initiative has already seen wheelchairs installed in all museums, the provision of guides who can communicate in sign language, and availability of museum booklets in Braille language and large print.
Ms Ataya said: “His Highness Sheikh Sultan says: ‘Museums are made to educate our children and our future generations’.
“With this in mind, SMD will invest our resources into greatly expanding the role of our Education Department so that children, students and families are always actively engaged in museum activities. The result will leave a lasting legacy of invaluable skills and knowledge.” SMD is to celebrate International Museum Day with a fun and educational competition that will be held annually on May 18. Visitors will be set a series of physical and intellectual challenges that will take them on a thrilling journey through museums in the heart of Sharjah. — SG