Post-Pandemic Cultural Recovery Gains Ground: National Palace Museum Targets 1 Million Visitors, Advances Construction Projects and International Exchanges
Led by Director Hsiao Tsung-huang, the executive team at the National Palace Museum (NPM) conducted a briefing today to update the media on visitor numbers at NPM’s Northern Branch, construction projects at both branches, and upcoming collaborations with domestic as well as international partners.
According to the NPM, during the three-year Covid-19 pandemic, visitor numbers at the Northern Branch dropped to their lowest in 2021, to 410,000. With loosening entry restrictions and recent increases in international tourists to Taiwan, the museum is now open on the first Monday of each month to accommodate cruise ship passengers and additional visitors. To date, from the 14 cruise ships recently docked at Keelung Harbor, 87 groups totaling 2,496 passengers have visited the NPM Northern Branch. Visitor figures are expected to top 410,000 on April 29, symbolizing the turnaround from an historic low point; together with several thousand more international tourists scheduled to arrive aboard the Diamond Princess in June, Spectrum of the Seas in August, and other cruise lines, the NPM Northern Branch anticipates over a million visitors by year’s end.
Proactive in outreach, the NPM is working with local counties to expand audiences. In October, a digital installation will be available at the Chiayi Performing Arts Center in Minxiong Township. In December, an interactive exhibit co-organized with the Hakka Affairs Council and featuring Hakka culture will take place at Liudui Hakka Cultural Park in Pingtung. Between late 2023 and early 2024, and in collaboration with the Cultural Affairs Bureau of the Tainan City Government and the Tainan Art Museum, items from NPM’s collection will be shown in Tainan and complemented by digital interactive displays.
On the international front, the NPM’s first post-pandemic large-scale loan exhibition “Splendors of the Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana” is currently on view at the Northern Branch. In October, the Southern Branch will launch “Rendezvous of Imperial Art from the Choson and Qing Courts” (working title) featuring artifacts loaned from the San Francisco Asian Art Museum, the Rijksmuseum (Amsterdam), and the Museum of Oriental Ceramics, Osaka, alongside NPM’s collection. In November, “East-West Exchanges in the 16th Century” (working title) will open at the Northern Branch; in this special exhibition, NPM’s items together with pieces on loan from the Musée Guimet (Paris), the Rijksmuseum, and the Museum of Oriental Ceramics, Osaka will weave narratives that focus on encounters and interactions between people of the East and the West as they navigated the globe through maritime passages.
Looking to the future, NPM’s continuous international exchanges promise to open a new chapter in cultural diplomacy. In 2024, the Southern Branch will show a selection of NPM’s books and documents, paintings and calligraphy, and antiquities related to the Ryukyu Kingdom in “Amidst the Flow of the East Asian Seas: the Ryukyu Kingdom” (working title); discussions are underway to borrow artifacts from other cultural institutions, including the Okinawa Prefectural Museum and Art Museum, the Okinawa Prefectural Library, the Tokyo National Museum, and the Kyushu National Museum. In 2025-2026, “Dragon Culture”—a thematic exhibition highlighting the cultural significance of dragons as the imperial motif exclusive to emperors—will be on display at the Musée du Quai Branly-Jacques Chirac (Paris). In addition, with the Czech Republic’s pending legislation guaranteeing Immunity from Seizure, the NPM hopes to showcase a collection at its sibling institution, the National Museum in Prague, in 2025.
Construction-wise, the Northern Branch’s expansion plan is forging ahead in stages: along with a new administration building and a new library, the existing Research Building and original Library Building are being renovated this year; the latter will have galleries that provide interim space for exhibitions by 2025, when expansion on the Main Building is slated to begin. At the Southern Branch, construction continues on the new wing, and efforts are underway to increase visitor-friendly facilities; a bridge spanning the artificial lake, for instance, will soon go into service in order to shorten the distance between the north side of the museum grounds and the building entrance, thereby improving accessibility as well as visitor safety and comfort.
Insofar as international loans, Hsiao indicated that six nations currently have legislation guaranteeing immunity from seizure of cultural objects: the USA, Japan, Australia, Austria, France, and Germany. The NPM continues to hold discussions with other countries wishing to collaborate but have yet to approve legislation guaranteeing immunity from seizure of cultural objects; simultaneous efforts are underway with civic organizations to facilitate a multitude of international loan exhibitions. Domestically, Hsiao indicated the upcoming exhibition at Tainan Art Museum is part of The New NPM Plan’s “National Treasures Go Out” project, which is approaching the end of the original implementation period and may be extended to provide additional opportunities for cooperation with Taiwan’s area museums.
Addressing visitor statistics at the Northern Branch, Hsiao cited a record of 5.4 million in 2014 and an optimal maximum of 3.5 million visitors per year. Once the renovation of the Main Building is complete as part of The New NPM Project, the optimal visitor flow is expected to exceed 5 million annually. In response to a question of whether the NPM is keen for inbound travel to re-open for Chinese tourists, Hsiao stated,“The NPM cordially welcomes visitors from all over the world, regardless of nationality.” According to Hsiao, 70-80% of visitors to the NPM Northern Branch are international travelers, including Chinese.
How will NPM make itself an essential destination for travelers? Hsiao replied that, of the many museums where he has served throughout Taiwan, the NPM is second to none in terms of collection, talent, and management, adding that he looks forward to improving the spaces and services at both branches to make them more visitor-friendly as well as easier to reach by public transport. As a professional museum, the NPM hopes to attract more visitors by embracing the future and the challenges ahead under the guiding principles of delivering quality service, accessibility, inclusion, and sustainable development.
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