The recent cultural agreement between Italy and China, apart from its bilateral importance, has far reaching significance for the cultural policymakers and heritage enthusiasts worldwide. This first of its kind agreement allows China to have museum space in Rome and Italy likewise in Beijing. The arrangement is for five years but it is renewable and can translate into long-term possession. China has got about 600 square metres of space at the National Museum of Venezia Palace and a unique exhibition comparing the two empires — Roman, and Qui and Han dynasties — is currently open for viewing. This is a radical departure from the usual agreements which make provision for travelling exhibitions or loaning select cultural objects for a fixed period of time. When secure space without hurdles is provided, it is bound to encourage source countries to bring in more precious artefacts and offer a memorable experience in the host countries. Over the long term, free circulation of museum objects has the potential to reduce trafficking in antiquities, the third most pervasive criminal activity in the world.

This innovative approach is also a superior alternative to the commercially oriented franchise model promoted by internationally well known museums such as Guggenheim and the Louvre. When the United Arab Emirates wanted to exhibit some of the prestigious international collections of the Louvre and benefit from the brand value, it signed an agreement with France to set up a branch of the Louvre Museum in Abhu Dhabi. In addition to the cost of construction and management, the UAE had to pay a fee of US$ 500 million to use the name of the Louvre. The Mayor of Rio-de-Janeiro also made similar attempts to build a Guggenheim museum, but it failed to take off in the face of opposition to the huge costs and legal tangles. Indian policymakers struggling to improve the substandard exhibiting environment can creatively adopt the public-spirited Italy-China model. Countries with advanced museum experience can be invited to build their own space and showcase their precious heritage without having either to sacrifice social objectives or compromise the integrity of the institutions. As important, this approach will enable museum officials and designers to benefit from the most advanced international expertise.

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