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University and culture property

University and culture property
© Keio University

Universities tend to have many cultural properties, but even so, there are notable cases where such properties are lost. Why do things like this happen?

Universities have many cultural properties

Universities in general—not just Keio University—tend to have more cultural properties than other environments. That trend is particularly strong at universities with a history. Universities with a bronze statue of their founder are too numerous to mention, and most people have seen outdoor spaces or interiors decorated with sculptures or paintings on university campuses.

Reasons for this include the accumulation of history, as well as the university’s somewhat restrained pursuit of profit compared to other organizations in society. Consider buildings, for example. If there is leeway in the campus area, then when new facilities become necessary, they can be built at another location. Or buildings with value as cultural properties can be preserved by dismantling and reconstructing them at another location on campus. Also, universities are educational institutions, and thus motivated (comparatively speaking) to renovate and preserve deteriorated buildings as part of their educational mission.

On the other hand, cultural properties are constantly being destroyed, even at universities.

Destruction of cultural properties by universities

As one example, there was an incident in 2017 where the painting Kizuna by Keiji Usami, owned by the University of Tokyo, was disposed of despite the wishes of faculty to preserve it. This incident—at a university whose faculty includes experts in art history—shows that recognition of the cultural property was not shared by students, the administration, professors, and others at the university.

Similar incidents happen at all universities. As we’ll see in subsequent steps, it’s happened at Keio University too. Why do things like this happen? There are various possible reasons, but one of the biggest is insufficient recognition of cultural properties. People are more outspoken today about preservation, both inside and outside universities, and as a result, many cultural properties are enjoying the benefits of preservation and restoration (overlooking for now the question of value). However, if preservation turns into routine work done out of inertia, then recognition of the object’s status as a cultural property will be lost before anyone notices, and its value will fade from people’s memory. Once a cultural property loses its meaning, there will be no grounds to make an objection if people start talking about removing it for some reason. The property will be easily destroyed. This fact has been demonstrated by major incidents.

What can be done to prevent the loss of cultural properties?

Preservation of cultural properties requires action on both the “hard” side (preventing deterioration of the cultural property itself) and the “soft” side (communicating the property’s value and significance). A balance of preservation and publicity/education is important. Utilization of cultural properties must be combined with preservation and restoration work. This utilization can include: showcasing cultural properties in university publications, offering periodic tours (for people on campus and the general public), and publicizing information outside the university.

This point is particularly relevant to historical buildings. This is because buildings rapidly deteriorate when no longer in use, so use is directly connected with preservation. On the other hand, people have to enter a building to use it, and therefore the risk of damage is always present. To preserve buildings, the basic principle is to encourage use to prevent forgetting and deterioration, but care must be taken to ensure that use does not cause deterioration.

Have any cultural properties been damged or lost around you? If so, tell us about in the Comments section!

In the next Step, we’ll begin exploring the case of the Noguchi Room on the Mita Campus of Keio University. The history of this event, where a work of spatial art with high artistic value was created, and eventually destroyed, provides many hints for the preservation of cultural properties.

© Keio University
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Invitation to Ex-Noguchi Room: Preservation and Utilization of Cultural Properties in Universities

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