Evaluating the Social Impact of The Cultural Museum

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This morning we had breakfast at Hezen Cave Hotel, which is rated one of the best hotels in all of Turkey. Afterwards, we were assigned field work regarding the social impact of Cappadocia Cultural Museum in Ortahisar, Cappadocia. Berrin Yıldız and Murat Sarikaya, the founders of the museum, are recognized as change makers by the Sabanci Foundation and we were interested to explore whether the museum has created social change. After watching the Sabanci change maker video, we set out for our assignment with Yusuf, a resident of the area, to try and develop an understanding of this social impact from the Ortahisar  community members themselves.

Yusef grew up in this area and first told us about the history of the lemon industry in  Ortahisar, which has suffered over the years due to government regulations and the competition of neighboring towns. This area used to be known for lemon storage because, during the summer time, the caves remain nice and cool for preservation. In the 1990’s, the government shut down many of the lemon caves in Ortahisar because they felt that it was potentially dangerous and could be damaging to historically significant land. Because of this, and other economic motivations, lemon growers went to neighboring towns to store their lemons. Prior to this time, the lemon industry contributed to 80% of the Ortahisar’s economy, but has drastically decreased to 20%. Due to the nine-year restoration of the Castle of Ortahisar, the tourism industry also suffered during this time. Yusuf explained that the castle has recently reopened and is located across the street from the Cultural Museum. While both of these sites are creating a positive impact towards the tourism industry of the town, Yusuf explained  that many tourists visit these sites in three hours, and that without hotels in this town, these sites would not be enough. This made me question why the Culture Museum is considered a change-making venture, while the other hotels in this area are not.

When we visited the museum, I was amazed to see that the majority of the building was actually a restaurant, and that only one room was designated as the museum part of the venture. As we talked to community members around the area, they too, explain that they felt as though the Culture Museum was primarily a restaurant and that the actual museum gets less attention. The restaurant is particularly appealing for  large tourist buses because it is able to accommodate  large groups of people. This was kind of disappointing for me because it made me feel as though the original purpose of the building was getting lost through its fancy restaurant. Some locals confessed that they do not feel welcome in the museum because they feel that they would disturb dining customers. This too was an interesting comment because, while the museum is about the culture of the local community, it seemed like they are unable to experience the museum as frequently as tourists. On the other hand, many explained their appreciation for the museum. A local cafe owner and a local barber both explained that, while the museum does not create drastic amounts of business for them, it still has a small positive impact. They told us that even if that impact is small, it is still greatly appreciated by them. Everyone who we interviewed, and who has seen the museum, also added that they believe it to be an accurate portrayal of their culture.

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The Sabanci Foundation website, outlines the criteria for change maker recognition. When looking at their website, I think that founders Berrin Yıldız and Murat Sarikaya fit the criteria for “supporting education and learning”, “providing economic development” and “contributing to culture and arts”. While studying the museum, I realize it is sometimes very difficult to understand which ventures are social enterprises and who gets to be called a change maker. I feel as though the Culture Museum is an example of a venture with many positive aspects, yet to me, it seems to also have several outcomes that are less related to social change.

On our way home from the Culture Museum, we had the unique opportunity to go into a lemon storage cave that is still working as such. It was a family run business and they were all so welcoming and kind.  Although this was a subtle moment compared to rest of our experiences this month,  it was very valuable and heartwarming for me.

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