When Nature is the Museum

I have been living in Cape Town, South Africa, for almost a year now. Compared to European capitals which I was used to, the city does not have a big museum offer. It has some great museums, District 6 or Zeitz Mocaa being among them, but it is quite light (quantity-wise). Moreover, the museums are never very busy – except for tourists. It is a shame. Even though it is light in terms of quantity, the museum offer is of good quality, content and design wise. So I have wondered. Why do so few locals go to museums?

Clifton Beach, Cape Town. Credit: Maxime Laprade.

It is after a while living in the city that I started to understand. Even I, after a while, went less and less to museums on my free time. When living in Paris and then London, visiting museums and going to exhibitions was one of my main activities. I used to do it once a week, on average. So when I moved to Cape Town, I thought that I’d continue. I did at the beginning, excited about the new places I was discovering but then slowly, I almost stopped. There are a few explanations. Firstly, I work in a company which works with museums. Therefore, I find myself ‘in’ a museum thinking all the time which might explain that in my free time, I do other things. Secondly, I work full time which was not the case in the past. I have thus less time to go around. But it does not explain it all.

Cape Town is a city with an incredible scenery and a warm and sunny weather most of the time. It is a city where locals spend most of their time outside, on the beach, hiking in the mountain, driving around in the wine lands. The nature in and around cape town is wonderful and one of a kind. This is the biggest competition for museums. So the question is not ‘why don’t the locals go to museums?’, the question is: why would they?

The Grain Silo Complex with Zeitz MOCAA. Credit: ArtThrob.

It is the job of museums to come up with an answer. But the challenge is big. They compete with the beach, the mountain, the sun. Their offer and marketing strategies need to take it into account. A few events, such as Museum Night, are great initiatives and bring more people punctually to museums. But, how can Cape Town museums become an option for locals on the weekend? how can they become part of people’s life? Museums need to understand their environment so their proposition can be curated accordingly. They need to embrace what Cape Town already is so they can connect with the locals. In other words, they need to find their place in the journey between the mountain and the sea. In this way, museums, instead of being a place for amateurs and tourists, will become a complement to the city’s lifestyle. But this is just the beginning of an answer and the start of an exciting adventure.


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