The British Museum - a Museum of the world for the world

Jane Portal,
Curator of Chinese and Korean Collections,
Asia Dept,
British Museum


The British Museum's collection is worldwide in origin and is intended for use by the citizens of the world. The museum collaborates on skills sharing and research with many international partners. These partnerships bring insights into the collection and help create new understandings of our changing world.

Between 2002 and 2006, the British Museum initiated a series of reciprocal relationships with cultural organisations and governments worldwide, concentrating on research, mutual loans and professional exchanges. In many cases these relationships have been formalised in Memoranda of Understanding – signed agreements which express the desire of both parties to work together in particular areas for worldwide public benefit.

In Africa, a series of strategic partnerships resulted in MoUs signed with partners in Kenya, Ethiopia, Mozambique and Mali as well as Senegal. The MoU with Kenya led to the collaborative exhibition Hazina on East African cultures which opened in Nairobi in March 2006.

In the Middle East, the British Museum has long collaborated with colleagues in Baghdad in supporting the preservation of the cultural heritage of Mesopotamia, itself holding the greatest collection of Mesopotamian antiquities outside Iraq. John Curtis, Keeper of the British Museum's Department of the Middle East, has been closely involved with reporting on damage caused by looting and war damage to the site of Babylon, as well as initiating collaborative international conservation plans.

In the Far East, the exhibition Treasures from World Cultures has travelled to eight venues across three countries and been seen by over 2 million people.

In China, the British Museum signed the first ever cultural agreement between a British institution and the National Museum of China in September 2005. Signed in the presence of Prime Minister Tony Blair and Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao in the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, the agreement facilitated future collaborative projects. These include major loans from China and the loan by the British Museum of exhibitions of world cultures unrepresented in Chinese collections. In June 2006 a further MoU was signed with the Palace Museum Beijing, which will cover wide-ranging collaboration, including the exchange of exhibitions and personnel in the field of paintings, clocks and porcelain. In March 2006, the first British Museum exhibition in Beijing, Treasures from World Cultures – the British Museum after 250 Years, opened at the recently built Capital Museum, where it was also the first temporary exhibition in the new museum's programme.This was followed in June 2006 by the opening of the exhibition of Mesopotamian treasures Art and Empire at Shanghai Museum.

Further plans in China include exhibitions in Beijing,Shanghai and other cities, in the period between the Beijing and London Olympics, building towards realising the Games' cultural ideals.

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