The Friends of the Coptic Museum Association attempts to revamp the Coptic Museum and take it into the digital age.
by Dominika Maslikowski
With the nation’s travel industry floundering, private initiatives are taking it upon themselves to try and get the tourists to come back. This past weekend, The Friends of the Coptic Museum Association held a fundraising gala dinner where Chairman Yousri Aclimandos announced it is planning to set up a trust fund to help finance much-needed conservation at the museum and build an extension to exhibit thousands of pieces that are now in storage.
The state-owned Coptic Museum, opened in 1910, is seeing visitor numbers decline, but the association is working to raise money for its immediate needs and its long-term goals to preserve Egyptian culture. The association hopes to generate funds to conserve the museum’s collection, build an extension, open a library of manuscripts and launch a digital campaign that will include virtual tours and interactive holograms.
“Believe me, lately the museum called on us for support more than ever before. We have ambitious plans that need a lot of funds, a lot of friends,” Aclimandos said at the gala dinner, held in a courtyard of the 8,000-square-meter Coptic Museum in Fustat. “In collaboration with the Simaika Foundation for Coptic Woodwork in France, we are trying to put together a trust fund that will allow the association to have a yearly income for periodic and preventative maintenance at the museum and maybe even help finance our ambitious plans for an extension.”
The Coptic Museum contains Coptic murals from the 5th through 11th century, as well as stone artwork, a collection of rare icons, metal coins, woodwork and ivory pieces. There is an urgent need to modify the museum’s lighting system to avoid damaging its collection of tapestries as well as its iconic holders, Aclimandos said. The museum — which once had a dock at the door with a branch of the Nile River that stretched to the area — also needs to be drained of the deep, underground water that’s affecting its infrastructure, Aclimandos added.
Taking care of the museum’s most pressing needs would cost some $100,000, Aclimandos said. The Association raised about half of that amount at Friday’s gala dinner, which included an auction and tombola drawing with ex-ministers, businessmen and 13 ambassadors in attendance.
The association has ambitious long-term plans to renovate the museum’s sizable library of manuscripts and open it to the public, as well as to make digitalized copies of the manuscripts for researchers’ use.
“We have a library that contains 7,000 old books, but the library has been closed. There are 5,000 manuscripts and there are no tables, chairs or cupboards in the manuscript area,” Aclimandos said. “We’re trying to reopen the manuscript hall because it’s valuable for people to see, it’s a source of income and it’s information for researchers.”
The association, founded in 2006 as a cultural entity bringing together both Christians and Muslims who work to support the museum, is looking for more donors to contribute to the trust fund that would pay for maintenance and for the three or four-floor extension where an additional 3,000 to 4,000 pieces would be put on exhibit. The museum currently holds 3,500 pieces while the warehouse holds three times as much, but financial support from the Ministry of Antiquities has withered and put renovation and expansion plans on hold.
“The extension has to be done properly, and be anti-earthquake with a good anti-fire system. Unfortunately, a lot of our museums are too old and were not built to standard so now we’re trying piece by piece to reach international standards,” Aclimandos said. “The drawings for the extension were done years ago and the blueprints are done.”
Digital marketing agency 5d, an Egyptian-Danish company, has also stepped up a proposed project for the museum valued at up to $100,000 USD. The company wants to launch a digital campaign for the Coptic Museum that would include a revamped, multilingual website, virtual tours and information kiosks at the museum, an increased presence on social media and a mobile phone app, said 5d Creative and Innovation Director Maged Farrag.
5d is seeking sponsors to make their ideas happen. Their project envisions features like interactive hologram guides in the shapes of famous Coptic historical figures as well as scannable museum displays that would give visitors information about the artifacts on their mobile phones.
“Being present and being engaged with the users, whether they’re in or out of the museum, is not a privilege — it’s a must,” Farrag said. “The museum, by not having any of those interactions, is missing a lot. There’s a lot of opportunity there and this is what we’re trying to tackle.”