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Feb 6, 2002

New museum opens to rave reviews

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A hundred years from now when historians of the future evaluate the performance of the government led by Prime Minister Said Musa, chances are they will not dwell on the ten thousand houses, fifteen thousand jobs, rise in crime or fall of foreign exchange. Instead they will focus on an achievement, though seemingly minor at the time, that had the effect of consolidating the nation’s pride, stimulating its intellect and igniting the imaginations of generations of productive citizens. Yes, the new Museum of Belize is that good. Janelle Chanona reports on last night’s official opening.

Janelle Chanona, Reporting

After more than twenty-one years of dreams, designs, folly and false starts, the Museum of Belize is finally a reality.

Flanked by Caribbean dignitaries like Jamaica’s Prime Minister P.J. Patterson and Hubert Ingraham of the Bahamas, Prime Minister Said Musa was among the first to take the inaugural tour. Musa says the country’s rich diversity is worthy of such recognition.

Prime Minister Said Musa

“We see Belize as a rich amalgam of ethnic cultures whose interaction and coexistence contribute immensely to the building of the nation. The culture of Belize is more than the sum of its parts. It is a culture that embraces freedom and tolerance. It acknowledges the supremacy of God and the dignity of the human person.”

Yasser Musa on Tour

“All these objects are mixed…they are not necessarily indigenous to Belize, but they came from various areas. This, one recently because of an initiative from the Government of Belize, it was returned to us from Canada. Many of our objects are still in foreign museums.”

For curator Yasser Musa, the opening is a culmination of several months of intense work with local artists and architects. What they have achieved is nothing less than monumental.

Yasser Musa, Curator, Museum Of Belize

“All these walls were damaged, it was in like a rubble, there were no floors, the windows were all broken, it was just like a bomb site. And over the next six months since then, it has gone on a parallel transformation. On one side, the building transformed itself, with the architect and the engineer and the workers. But also it transformed itself into a museum with the help of our team from the Image Factory, especially guided and led by Gilvano Swasey, who I believe is the most outstanding and qualified persons bar none, not just in Belize, for having the ability to take things and transforming it into very pleasing ways. Anybody can grab together a few objects, but it’s how you present it to people that will make them feel inspired.”

There were a number of people who played key roles in the overall success of the project. One woman in particular, Meg Craig, is responsible for the entire Belize City display. Craig’s collection spans more than forty years and includes historical documents as well as assorted artefacts.

For the Mayan display, housed on the museum’s top floor, Musa worked with officials from the Department of Archaeology and with the help of Mexican experts, painstakingly restored these magnificent pieces to get them ready for their new home.

Yasser Musa

“All these things, whether we like it or not, whether we accept history or whether we deny history, we have to confront it. I think these things will assist us in making us more angry at history or make us identify, depending on how you view it.”

For representatives of the Republic of China on Taiwan, the project’s financial angel, it was a chance to demonstrate that there is more to foreign aid than roads and bridges.

Charles Tsai, Taiwanese Ambassador to Belize

“I believe you will enjoy the abundant collections and beautiful heritage the Museum of Belize has to offer. We are very honoured to assist in a part of it.”

Mark Espat, Minister of Tourism and Culture

“What overflowing symbolism breaks the darkness this evening, when on this the eve of Belize’s twenty-first birthday, we gather to inaugurate exhibitions commemorating the glory of our Mayan ancestry and the colourful origins of our city. What more potent symbolism can we offer to celebrate our cultural coming of age as a nation, than to replace the punishment of the prisoners at jail with the education of students at a museum.”

Reporting for News 5, I am Janelle Chanona.

Despite the official ribbon cutting, the museum will not be open to the public until February twelfth at 10a.m. Admission for primary school children under twelve is free, students twelve and over are asked to donate two dollars, while Belizean adults will pay five dollars. Cost of admission for foreign visitors is ten dollars. Teachers wishing to schedule tours of the museum for their classes are asked to call 08-23307 or 014-8346.

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