As TBF and UNESCO focus on initiatives that help document and preserve significant sites and traditions, they are also helping Tibetan communities to envision new ways of sharing local cultural heritage. In a small town in Qinghai’s Huangnan Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, people are putting these ideas into action with the creation of a community museum. Huangnan is the site of the private residence of Gendun Choepel: the scholar, philosopher, and poet considered to be one of the most influential intellectuals of modern Tibet. Through TBF and UNESCO’s support of the Gechos Residence Museum Project, community members have found a way to both preserve valuable cultural relics, and share the life history and works of this important local figure with greater audiences.
In order to provide local community members with the professional skills of establishing a museum, the project team invited Mr. Nyangchak Gyal, an expert from Lhasa’s Tibet Museum. Mr. Gyal, who was able to bring site specific knowledge to the project as a native of this region of the Plateau, provided a two-week training in the fall of 2010. Together, Mr. Gyal and community members assessed the condition and completed a computerized inventory of the personal belongings of the late scholar. A total of 130 prized items—such as hand-written journals, personal objects, correspondence, and awards—were then prepared for display. A community meeting was held to select the objects which would form the exhibit. Mr. Gyal’s training included not only an introduction to the planning and management of exhibitions but also a day-long lecture to a group of local officials, teachers, and school children on the value of cultural preservation.
The community envisions the museum as an attraction to both domestic and international visitors as well as a community space. TBF and UNESCO’s partnership with the Gechos Museum continues as it grows into an active institution. Support for the project will assist the community in establishing management and maintenance systems, and extending outreach to local schools so that each generation can explore new ways of learning about their local heritage and the life of Gendun Choepel.
The Gechos Museum celebrated its opening in early fall of 2011. Currently, the Gendun Choepel staff are continuing to expand the museum
and finalize the collection to include exhibits about life in the surrounding area. The Gechos Social Development Association (GSDA) staff is continuing to collect samples of tools and other items used by the local people. These items are being inventoried and added to the museums collection. The renovation is expected to be finished this August. In addition, a study tour itinerary is being prepared to have the Gendun Choepel Museum management visit small-scale museums in Sichuan and Yunnan to learn from the experience of others.