Free art draws crowd to museum in Chinese cities

13:29, March 07, 2011      

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People have been lining up to visit the Shanghai Art Museum since it opened for free to the public for the first time on Saturday.

The museum received 12,099 visitors on Saturday, eight times its usual 1,500 daily visits. Another 4,000 to 5,000 visitors filled the museum on Sunday despite rainy weather to see an exhibition of paintings by China's modern master artists Wu Guanzhong and Lin Fengmian.

Some enthusiastic visitors left home at 4 am to join long lines around the museum building.

"I've never been here before," Wang Ning, a Shanghai native who had waited about 45 minutes with her 10-year-old son at the museum door, was quoted as saying by Monday's China Daily.

"I think it's good for my son to learn something about art. It's good that we can visit the museum free of charge," Wang said.

The museum had previously charged 20 yuan (3 U.S. dollars) for entry.

"We appreciate the public enthusiasm for art," said Zhang Wenqing, deputy director of the Shanghai Art Museum. "I believe as time goes by there will be no need for people to wait in long lines when visiting the museum free of charge. We want visiting the gallery and museum to be a regular part of citizens' lives."

In Beijing, the National Art Museum of China also opened its doors to the public for free on March 2, and has since welcomed some 6,000 visitors every day.

"At the beginning, when the museum opened for free, some people even came into the museum's washroom to wash the vegetables they bought from a nearby market," said museum publicist Yu Ge.

Although some visitors were still speaking loudly in the exhibition hall, Yu believes people will gradually learn how to behave in a museum.

However, the sudden increase of visitors did bring challenges to the museum administration.

For example, while security staff were busy stopping people from using flash photography, cleaners found themselves changing toilet paper three or four times an hour. Even the souvenir shop in the Shanghai Art Museum was fully packed on the weekend.

However, some people did complain about poor tour guide service for the artwork.

"We are an art museum that puts on temporary shows most of the time, and this brings a greater challenge to our tour guide service," explained Zhang, deputy director of the museum. "And we'll adapt our exhibition arrangements and improve our guide service."

More than 100 people have signed up for volunteer service at the museum.

Yu with the National Art Museum suggested senior citizens can visit the museum from Monday to Friday, leaving more tickets on weekends for people busy during weekdays.

In addition, Yu said, when the exhibition hall is full, the ticket booth can slow down ticket distribution.

"People need a quiet environment to appreciate the artwork, so they should arrange their visiting hours properly to avoid clumping people together," Yu said.

On Feb 10, the Ministry of Culture and Ministry of Finance vowed that the public would have free access to public art galleries within two years.

The policy is also underway in seven other galleries in Jiangsu, Guangdong, Shaanxi, Hubei and Beijing.
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Source: Xinhua
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