With shopping malls, cinema complexes, pubs and bars liberally dotted around the capital, it is hardly surprising that educational venues such as museums struggle to boost visitor numbers.
Museum staff simulate the procession of Brahmans during the Royal Ploughing ceremony as part of the many displays in the Golden Jubilee Museum of Agriculture’s exhibition zones. PHOTOS BY THANARAK KHOONTON
The Golden Jubilee Museum of Agriculture in Pathum Thani's Khlong Luang district is one of many museums that attract only a small number of visitors.
In an attempt to overcome the scarcity of patrons, the museum's governing body, the Golden Jubilee Museum of Agriculture Office (GJMAO) which is under the Agricultural and Cooperatives Ministry, has launched a five-day promotional event to boost its public profile. It will aim to make the museum stand out to passers-by who hardly seem to notice the intriguing buildings situated in a large field which serves as the museum's compound.
The event started yesterday and will run until Tuesday.
The Golden Jubilee Museum of Agriculture, comprising nine buildings placed handily on an area of 500 rai, was built by the Agriculture and Cooperatives Ministry to commemorate His Majesty the King's 50th year on the throne.
The museum, which showcases Thai farming and the King's agricultural initiatives, was officially opened on Jan 21, 2002 in a ceremony presided over by His Majesty.
Museum visitors will find a lot of ancient farming equipment, including an old rice milling machine.
Eleven years later, the museum is still little known to the public and, according to museum staff, most of its buildings and facilities in the recent past could not be used effectively, while the surrounding area, intended for outdoor activities amid a shady atmosphere, had dried out and was not well cared for.
The previous government was alerted to this sad state of affairs. Thus in 2009, an executive decree was passed to establish the GJMAO, a public organisation assigned to bring the museum to glory by making sure that it fulfils five main objectives.
The museum must be a centre to educate people about the King's decades-long contribution to Thai agriculture, promote His Majesty's sufficiency economy, conduct and compile agriculture-related knowledge, hold agricultural exhibitions and be an agricultural study centre for the public.
The GJMAO began its efforts to shore up the museum's image first by making physical changes to the idle buildings.
"We have kept improving the museum buildings until four of them can be used now," said the GJMAO director Charurat Chongphutthisiri.
The three buildings house various exhibitions about the King's royally initiated agricultural projects, while the other building is used as the GJMAO office, Ms Charurat said.
Areas outside these buildings are being developed into demonstration farms for people who want to have first-hand experience in agriculture.
The museum has a varied collection of fishing gear to show urbanites and young people.
Also under the development plan is the landscaping of areas that will be a mix of trees, a garden, a pond and even a paddy field to serve as a place for study and relaxation.
"We are trying to make the areas a source of practical knowledge," Ms Charurat said.
However, her use of the word "trying" reflects another problem the museum has been encountering. It lacks sufficient staff to take care of all the buildings, facilities and the large compound. Currently there are less than 100 people to oversee the 500-rai area.
Yet it has still been able to survive and slowly develop because of continual financial support from the Agriculture and Cooperatives Ministry as well as the contributions of its dedicated staff.
Among them is public relations employee, Nuttawut Suriyawan, who was impressed by the knowledge he gained from the museum during a university trip and decided to work there after graduation.
The museum gives people in-depth information about the King and of agriculture which they rarely hear about in their daily lives, he says.
"We all know that our King has handled a lot of hard jobs for his people but not many of us know the details of his functions," Mr Nuttawut said.
Though the museum is little known and less exciting than other more crowded facilities around Thailand, the 23-year-old employee insists he has never thought of working anywhere else.
However, Mr Nuttawut and his public relations team realise they need to raise their standards after being regarded as not doing enough to make the museum recognised by the public.
The museum's staff are pinning a lot of hope on the five-day agricultural fair to elevate the facility to the forefront of Thai museums.
Various activities aimed at boosting people's interest in agriculture will be held in six different zones, including the King's work in agriculture, his philosophy of the sufficiency economy and Thai farming life.
This last activity is among the highlights of the event as it displays the fun rural people have after completing their farming chores, which is a key characteristic of the traditional way of farming.
Visitors are welcome to sing and dance amid the sound of country songs which will not only bring them closer to the lives of farmers but also make them aware that this large area near Phahon Yothin Road does not simply house lifeless buildings. It is a world of Thai agriculture and it is something they will be unlikely to forget once they have experienced it.
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- Writer: Supoj Wancharoen