Art director

Artistic director: “total failure” of the museum on the theme of March 11 in Miyagi


ISHINOMAKI, Miyagi Prefecture – On paper, a museum here on the theme of the earthquake and tsunami of March 11, 2011, seemed like a safe and easily achievable project, a serene place of reflection and a memorial to the tragedy.

However, the The Miyagi 3.11 Tsunami Disaster Memorial Museum, which opened in June, has been hit with complaints from visitors and even its exhibition director describes it as a “total failure.”

The fault does not lie with finances as the museum was a joint project of the state and government of Miyagi Prefecture, funded by taxpayer dollars.

Hiroyasu Yamauchi, 50, director of the Rias Ark Museum of Art in the prefecture, which oversaw the artistic layout of the installation, explained why the museum project ended in shambles in a recent interview.

Although it aims to pass the memories and lessons of the disaster on to posterity, the establishment is already inundated with criticisms, such as hard-to-view images and the museum appearing inferior to similar facilities in surrounding prefectures.

The museum building sits on the grounds of the Ishinomaki Minamihama Tsunami Memorial Park, with a total area of ​​765 square meters used for exhibiting key pieces in the 1,520 square meter building.

It houses a theater, exhibition panels and videos of the stories of victims and others, so that recordings related to the devastated cityscape as well as lessons learned from the giant tsunami can be shown.

It cost 1 billion yen ($ 9.1 million) and 350 million yen to build the museum and prepare for the exhibit, respectively, while the facility is smaller than similar establishments in Rikuzentakata, prefecture. Iwate, and Futaba, in Fukushima Prefecture.

A representative of the prefecture’s disaster recovery and memorial support division said the museum “was state-organized, so we did our best within the conceptual restrictions imposed by the central government. “.

Miyagi Prefecture officials said they continued to urge the state to build a national museum showcasing the earthquake in addition to the one already erected.

Excerpts from Yamauchi’s interview follow:

Question: As sunlight enters the round glass-walled museum building from outside, the property does not appear to be ideal for viewing the exhibits inside. What do you think of that?

Yamauchi: The state, which commissioned the building, defined it as a place of prayer to be used for memorial services. Once the design of the building was completed (fiscal year 2017), it was decided that the prefecture would present exhibitions there to convey memories of the disaster. The reflection began thereafter. The wrong button was hit decisively at that time.

Question: Can you explain how you got involved in the project?

A: The prefectural government asked for display design proposals and asked me to study them. One of Nomura Co., a leading player in the industry, passed our selection in August 2018. The proposal insisted that the glass window on half of the round wall be covered with a movable screen so that the images are displayed, and I liked that.

But when the prefecture presented Nomura’s plan to the central government (the Land Ministry’s Tohoku government national park office, which was responsible for the program), the idea of ​​covering the window was rejected. Due to other constraints as well, it was decided to conduct a full review of the suggestion.

At the request of the prefecture, I began to perform the duties of framing advisor for poster displays in November 2019.

Question: What constraints has the state imposed?

A: Nomura considered using a wide wall in the center to show pictures instead of the window. But he (the state) said no to plans to embed a monitor in the wall or treat it with high reflectivity paint to make the images easier to view.

Items were to be displayed at heights of 115 centimeters or less. The instructions were supposedly aimed at keeping an exterior altar and a hill visible from inside the building. However, it does make good sense to display items at heights of about 140cm at the same level as people’s eyes.

The improvements proposed to convert parts of the building not intended for exhibitions into exhibition spaces have been repeatedly rejected. This blurred the concept for who the facility is designed for and for what purpose it was to be created.

The most critical event was that the regional development office of the Tohoku Land Ministry contacted the prefecture after details of the exhibition were determined, so that there would be exhibitions on topics such as how the authorities responded to the disaster. So I said to myself: “Stop messing around anymore!”

As a result, we had to cede a meeting space of (19 square meters) reserved for possible occasional exhibitions of groups on the move to transmit the disaster to posterity.

Question: Can you illustrate why you seem unable to contain your anger at the program?

A: There are past examples that look like this. Facilities calling themselves “museums” were introduced across the country during an economic boom. Without a vision, the authorities invested funds there and the entrepreneurs designed electric screens and other complexes. Therefore, there is currently a plethora of installations that simply consume expensive maintenance costs.

Since recovery budgets are allocated to disaster-affected areas, the same happens here.

Question: What steps do you think should be taken from now on given that the museum is already finished?

A: Ishinomaki is a heavily devastated region but insufficient attention was paid to the views of the locals as the plan moved forward. I want local residents to visit the facility to determine if the displays are truly acceptable.