When the Nairobi Museum”the flag ship of the National Museums of Kenya (NMK), a state corporation established by the Museums and Heritage Act 2006″closed its doors to the public in October 2005 for expansion, it was expected that the 8-million Euro European Union-funded project would produce a state-of-the-art house of culture and heritage fit for the 21st century’s interactive audience. Now, some 38 months later, the Nairobi National Museum has opened with a new logo that, suspiciously, not only looks like a copy of that of the New York-based National Museum of Dance but also appears to challenge the very definition of fair play terms such as intellectual property rights, copyright, trade mark and patents. OGOVA ONDEGO reports.
Fifteen months after the commencement of the museum’s expansion ArtMatters.Info reported, “It is expected that the reconstruction will make this house of culture and heritage more than a pass time venue for curious primary school pupils and tourists.”
“Besides the physical facelift,” ArtMatters.Info noted in December 2006, “it is expected that the new museum will break away from its elitist British colonial model in preference for a modern African approach that would readily connect with the masses to conduct their businesses, ranging from dating to movie-watching, and from exhibitions to concerts and other socio-cultural activities without having to leave the premises.”
Reporting on the unveiling of a new logo of the museum on July 10, 2008 by National Heritage and Culture minister William ole Ntimama in the Kenya Museum Society’s monthly publication”Tracker”in August 2008, Juliana Ruto says the new logo”whose image is missing in the publication” “aims at increasing the visibility of the National Museums of Kenya and strengthening its market position in the tourism industry” as the ‘destination of choice in heritage tourism’.”
Describing the ‘new” logo as “engaging”, the article says it resulted from “months of research, focus group discussions involving both NMK staff and external publics’ brain-storming.”
“In an effort to portray itself as a vibrant and enjoyable place for experiencing cultural heritage,” Ruto, an NMK public relations officer writes in the Tracker, “NMK undertook a rebranding exercise led by MCL Saatchi & Saatchi Consultants to reposition itself and put more meaning to its identity.”
Once again not providing the picture of the logo, The Tracker article says, “The old black and white logo portrayed only one section of NMK associated with the study of early man. Under a study conducted by the consultants, it emerged that the public viewed the National Museums of Kenya as a place of old bones and skeletons”.
Thus to steer clear of its client’s image as “a place of old bones and skeletons”, MCL Saatchi & Saatchi Consultants have developed the new logo that is vibrant and colourful representation of what NMK stands for. Its curves, circles and warm colours express the continuous cycle of life in the rich natural and cultural heritage that one can experience when one visits the museum.
Four days after Ntimama unveiled the “new” logo, President Mwai Kibaki officially opened the Nairobi National Museum and directed the Treasury to release Sh150 million (about US$2 million) to NMK to fund the completion of the remaining six out of 13 galleries.
So why is this article written?
Simply this: to register concern that the “new” logo of the National Museums of Kenya closely resembles that of the National Museum of Dance in New York, USA. And this similarity can hardly be taken to be coincidental since NMK lists NMD as a partner on its website. How could they have failed to see that the two logos bore uncanny similarity till it was pointed out to them after Ntimama had unveiled it?
Connie Maina, the Director of Development and Corporate Affairs at NMK, says she and her team only came to hear about the similarity between the “new” logo of the NMK and that of the NMD “when someone sent us information after our logo had been unveiled.”
Maina reiterates that the “The development of the new logo was handled by a consultant.”
She says after MCL Saatchi & Saatchi had developed the concept of the logo NMK asked the public to suggest ideas of a logo that would aptly capture the role and identity of a refurbished museum.
“They sent in about 100 entries that we looked at and consulted MCL Saatchi & Saatchi. We discussed this at committee level and then went back to the consultant. Finally, the board of directors of NMK selected the final work that became the official logo,” Maina told ArtMatters.Info on telephone.
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Saying they went online “after someone had alerted us of the similarity between our logo and that of the National Museum of Dance following the launch”, Maina concludes, “We found out that the two logos were different: the one of the National Museum of Dance shows someone dancing while ours captures two elephant tusks.”
Admitting that the two logos are nevertheless “very similar”, Maina does not explain how crossed elephant tusks portray NMK “as a vibrant and enjoyable place for experiencing cultural heritage” or “aims at increasing the visibility of the National Museums of Kenya and strengthening its market position in the tourism industry” as the “destination of choice in heritage tourism”. “Does tourism only go with wildlife in Kenya? If that be the case, then shouldn’t this mandate of promoting wild animals fall squarely on the shoulders of the Kenya Tourist Board rather than the NMK?”
Asked if the NMK would have gone ahead with the launch of its “new” logo had they seen that of the NMD beforehand, Maina says, “Had we seen it before unveiling ours we certainly would have gone about developing ours differently.”