Suzhou, a beautiful city, boasts a history of more than 2500 years, and is a living example of cultural heritage itself. In 2004, it hosted the 28th World Heritage Convention, which, to date, is the only Chinese city ever to have hosted this international event.
Established on January 1st 1960, Suzhou Museum saw another opportunity for rapid growth in the first decade of the 21st century. In 2003, Ieoh Ming Pei, the world renowned Suzhou-born Chinese-American architect, designed a new exhibition hall for Suzhou Museum which was opened to the public in October, 2006. Since then, the new museum has been forging itself into being "a World Class Museum, among the best in China" embracing the classic character of the South Yangtze River. From May 2008, the public have been able to visit Suzhou Museum for free. Now, the average number of daily visitors tops 4000 and annual visitors amount to 1 million.
In 2008, Suzhou Museum was rated as a Chinese First-grade Museum by the State Administration of Cultural Heritage. In 2012, Suzhou Museum was ranked No.8 among 100 top Chinese museums in a state evaluation of museum operations.
On May 18, 2013, International Museums Day, Suzhou Museum was awarded the prize of "Most Creative Museum of 2013" by the Chinese Museums Association.
1. Status quo of Volunteer Team
A volunteer team is a token example of development for a city or even for a nation.
Unlike the fully developed volunteering programmes in the EU or the United States, volunteering work in China only hit the start button barely a decade ago. The Volunteer Commission of the Chinese Museums Association was founded in 2009, and Suzhou Museum was among its first members.
Since their public debut in 2006, volunteers from Suzhou Museum have been the best illustration for what the city holds dear: "Culture, Harmony, Creativity, and Vision".
In February 2007, the first volunteer team started its service in Suzhou Museum after strict screening, interviews, training and examination.
By 2014, Suzhou Museum had recruited 10 batches of volunteers, totalling nearly 700.
The Volunteers of Suzhou Museum come from all walks of life, most of whom are well-educated and experienced. 68% of them are in-service employees (including freelancers 9%, middle school and college faculty 15%, others 44%), 20% are college students, and 6% are retirees and 6% housewives.
2. Services of the Volunteer Team
(1) Organization Structure
The standing committee for the volunteer team is the Volunteer Work Committee, whose board members and the board director are elected by in-service volunteers. The committee is fully responsible for all services and coordination.
Suzhou Museum accepts applications for volunteering all year round. Depending upon the annual work load, the committee screens, interviews and trains possible candidates. The training ranges from the basics of museum science, volunteer ethics, history and exhibit knowledge, interpretation skill and etiquette. The qualified candidates are awarded a badge on World Museums Day in their year of qualification.
The responsibilities of the Suzhou Museum volunteers range from interpretation and acting as tour guides, to social education programmes, collation of ancient books, questionnaires, book editing and community lectures. In 2011, we hosted "Made in the UK---British Council Modern Art Collections". Volunteers made invaluable contributions in providing services in interpretation, lectures and questionnaires etc.
By the end of 2013, the volunteers of Suzhou Museum had provided up to 78877 hours of service for more than 1.5 million visitors. According to our survey, about one in ten visitors to Suzhou Museum received the service. Volunteers enjoy providing the service, some of them even compare their work to a date with their loved ones----on some days, at some moment, they come to the same place as appointed, and continue to do so for months, even years.
3. Training for and Growth of Volunteers
(1) Cultivating a Learning Team
Suzhou Museum values the voluntary study of its volunteers. Meanwhile, we enhance the training of their cultural knowledge, improve their service quality and enrich the common working language among team members.
We also regularly invite experts and scholars to give lectures to our volunteers on topics such as the local history of Suzhou, bronze casting techniques, ceramics and jade identification skills. With an eye on improving interpretation skills and maintaining morale, we hosted the "Learning in Suzhou Museum" knowledge contest in 2010.
Besides these activities the museum often organises cycling, hiking and parties for volunteers to enrich their off-duty time and build friendships among team members. Also, an annual award of "Top Ten Volunteers" is a buoyant occasion that gathers all members together, rewards the best service and entertains the hard-working ones.
(2) Interaction and Cooperation
Great efforts have been made to make contact with other volunteer groups and charities by the volunteer committee of our museum. Our volunteers have also participated in other volunteering activities in Suzhou, such as caring for the poor and disadvantaged.
Volunteers are sent to visit other museums in China on paid tours by our museum. The tour is both a reward for their hard work, and a great opportunity to open their eyes and enrich their experience. In recent years, we have built up regular communications with other Chinese museums such as the National Museum of China, the Palace Museum, The Capital Museum, Shanghai Museum and Henan Museum. By doing so, we share our experience and learn from their volunteering work.
The museum has built up a series of incentives for the volunteer programme so that the committee board is able to receive more feedback and advice from the members, safeguard their rights and provide perks and benefits. Meanwhile, annual award ceremonies are held to give out awards to outstanding volunteers and badges to excellent volunteers. Thus, volunteers can get a greater sense of belonging through various activities and feel the respect and care for their work.
4. Feedbacks and Social Influences
Volunteer work is an indispensable link on the museum service chain. Volunteer work in Suzhou Museum has gained itself attention and recognition via the hard work of our volunteer team. Many visitors left kind words, "the most impressive part of my visit to Suzhou Museum is its volunteer service, and it creates a genuine space for citizens."
After his visit on May 11, 2008, Mr. Holland Cotter, the veteran commentator of New York Times, wrote a front page article on July 4th, lauding the surprising number of excellent English-speaking volunteers who are nowhere to be found in many other museums around China.