As reported in its official web-site (http://www.gmirk.kz/index.php/en/home) the Kastyev State Museum of Arts in Almaty is ‘the largest art museum and the country’s leading research, cultural and educational center in the field of fine arts’. The museum opened to visitors on 16 September 1976. Since then it has become a point of reference for all those people, Kazakhstanis and foreigners, with a genuine interest in the visual arts.
Overall, this museum has a collection of over 25.000 works of art. The core of the permanent exhibition are outstanding paintings and sculptures from Russian and Kazakh artists (such as Kasteev, Yesirkeyev, Yesken, and many others). Still, visitors can also appreciate examples of decorative and applied arts of Kazakhstan (entrance hall on the first floor), western European masterpieces (mainly Italian, Flemish and German paintings and sculptures) and exceptional oriental artworks (paintings, sculptures and porcelains, mostly produced in China, India and Japan). The enjoyment of the collection is further increased by a series of strategic interventions aimed to enhance the visiting experience. In the last year, for example, the museum introduced audio guides and informative panels for blind people in order to best meet the demands of its visitors. Beyond the permanent collection, this museum organizes over 80 temporary exhibitions per year (the last one was “The Lines of Inspiration” by Alexei Utkin and GaBo sisters) as well as multiple special events (like, for example, the saxophone evening or the night at the museum). Moreover, a free access to the museum is occasionally granted thanks to the constructive collaboration with different private institutions (an example is the Museum Free Admission Initiative by Astana Motors, which allowed free access and guided tours to the museum from October 1 to October 31 2017). The objective of the museum is to increase the number of visitors and reach diverse categories of audience by renovating and diversifying, on a regular basis, its artistic offer. The Kastyev museum is also active in the field of scientific research: through the valuable work of its 9 research centers the museum regularly provides lectures and conferences dedicated to the world of fine arts.
Indisputably, the Kastyev museum plays a core role in the cultural framework of Almaty city, acting as touristic attraction (102.050 visitors in 2016), educational center and space of social development. On 26 September 2017 the author of this article organized a lecture at the Kastyev museum with the fourth-year students of regional studies (English department) who were attending his course “Cultural and Religious features of Central Asian countries”. Students highly appreciated their experience at Kastyev museum because they had the chance to appreciate the view of exceptional samples of visual arts as well as understand better some ideas and concepts of museology previously examined in class. At the same time, during the visit they had the specific task to critically examine the museum structure and its collection management in order to identify eventual weaknesses and/or potential opportunities. This article briefly sums up the results of their observations sincerely believing that the Kastyev museum’s staff might turn out precious information from these valuable comments.
According to students’ analysis there are five important aspects of the Kastyev museum that could be further improved:
- Promotion: during the year the Kastyev museum offers a series of appealing and thought-provoking events whose promotion, however, is not always flawless. The museum has already a well-functioning Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/A-Kasteyev-Museum-of-Arts-1815520825326616/), but by extending its promotional activity to other social media (such as, for example, Instagram, Twitter and VK) the museum could reach an even higher number of potential visitors. Moreover, the promotional activity should also consider the dislocation of printed advertisings in strategic areas of the city (e.g. shopping malls, main squares and bus stops) in order to get the attention of local people who do not regularly use social media platforms and tourists who are looking for a memorable experience in Almaty. After a first trial, a cost-benefit analysis might be used to identify the most efficient strategy of marketing.
- Suggested path: the museum structure is quite articulated (two floors, multiple rooms) and, therefore, the risk that visitors might get the sensation of being lost is high. Two alternative actions could be taken to face such problem. First, at the ticket-desk the museum could provide a brief brochure depicting the map of the museum and the suggested path. As alternative, the museum could simply draw on the floor the suggested path with simple arrows, which might change colours moving in the different sections of the museum.
- Information: the permanent exhibition of the Kastyev museum is remarkable, but the available information on the exposed artworks are limited and, at times, displayed in unsuitable locations. The suggestion is to provide more eye-catching informative section panels (with information in three languages: Kazakh, Russian and English) at the entrance of each room and, eventually, to add to the object labels of the most relevant artworks a short description of their artistic idea and/or technique of production.
- Visitor interaction: at present, the visit at the Kastyev museum is quite passive and static, which means that people entering the museum can visually enjoy the collection, but they have no chance to get involved in any sort of interaction with the museum structure. Without necessarily buying expensive electronic equipment, the museum might introduce some simple tools for adding some verve to the visiting experience. For example, in the brochure (see the suggestion above) the museum might also add some “quests” (such as, for instance, the search for particular characters and objects within the paintings) in order to make more appealing the visit for the youngest guests.
- Facilities: the Kastyev museum is a huge structure that requires more than an hour to be fully visited. At the moment the number of available places to sit is really limited. Therefore, more benches could be added in order to make more comfortable the visit of elder people. Moreover, the quality of the museum coffee-bar is quite low (e.g. too small space, excessively limited choice of food and beverage, aesthetically not tempting). Similar considerations could be extended to the souvenir shop, which remains at the margin of the museum and, at least from students’ personal experience, it is not well served. A good idea might be to relocate the souvenir shop, so that all those people entering the museum will necessarily have to go through it before going out. This condition, alone, should already increase the souvenir shop activity by making it an integral part of the museum.
Concluding, the Kastyev museum is an excellent center of fine arts and a source of pride for Almaty city. Therefore, the measures suggested above are only aimed to further improve the (already appreciable) visiting experience, thus bringing this museum to an even higher level of quality.