Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Initiative for Museum Reforms in India//Alok Deshwal*

A museum is also a kind of bridge
One of the oldest museums in Asia, the Indian Museum was founded in 1814
As one of the oldest and greatest civilizations of the world, India indeed has an incredible story to tell about its rich and glorious past. The treasures of its golden past are kept in its museums for the mankind to see, enjoy and cherish. There are over a thousand museums in India, both large and small. Over 90 percent of these are funded and maintained by the Central and State Governments and few renowned museums have also been set up through private efforts. The Archaeological Survey of India itself manages 44 site museums located near important historical sites, some of them in the remotest parts of the country like Dholavira and Lothal in Gujarat and others at well-known World Heritage Sites such as Agra.
Some of the oldest museums were established by the British and their collections were a combination of natural history and antiquarian remains like the 197 year old Indian Museum, Kolkata (which will be celebrating its 200th anniversary in 2014) Victoria Memorial Hall, Kolkata and Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya, formerly Prince of Wales Museum, Mumbai.
Museums have always played an important role in our society by bringing us closer to our roots and making us aware of our glorious past. Museum visits as an integral part of school life were important events, which shaped our understanding of the growth of human life on earth.

It is in this context that Jay Winter, American Historian has said that, “Museums are, in a way, the cathedrals of the modern world, places where sacred issues are expressed and where people come to reflect on them. A museum is also a kind of bridge between the academy and the public.”
However, of late museums across the country have suffered a down-turn, both in terms of their working and their public image as they have not been able to keep pace with the international best practices in the field. There is a severe shortage of museum professionals in the country because of which the museum sector has suffered a setback. This is amply clear from the fact there is a high vacancy rate in almost all the National level museums in the country. Due to the unavailability of dedicated professionals many of the museums in the country today are in a state of neglect, being managed by staff with little or no knowledge or professionalism in their business.

The need for modernization and up-gradation of museums in India has been felt and expressed for several decades. In the light of much needed reforms in the field the Ministry of Culture has proactively pursued a path of initiating museum reforms. After brainstorming with Museums Experts and Directors, The Museum Reforms Programme was instated by the Ministry of Culture, to address 14 key concerns in the Museum Sector. These concerns are:

Collection & Stores Management

·         Introduce computer aided collections management.
·         Verify physically stocks with registers/database.
·         Modernize methods of storage and retrieval & introduce visible storage.
·         Develop adequate storage facilities.
·         Control/filter atmospheric heat, dust, humidity, light and pest in Stores.
·         Take professional quality digital photos of stored items.
·         Upload entire collections’ database with images of objects online.
Proper/Scientific Display of Artefacts

·         Design and develop exhibit-specific display systems.
·         Up-grade display techniques on professional lines.
·         Introduce atmospheric control of heat/cold, humidity, dust, etc. in Galleries.
·         Modernize lighting with power-saving/auto switch & heat control.
·         Have variety in gallery presentations, with other ‘attractions’ interspersing.
·         Circulate periodically displayed materials, from Store to Gallery.
Information, Signages, Floor Plans & Visitor Facilities

·         Set up ‘Visitor Interpretation Centres’, & give different options to them.
·         Improve Object Interpretation Board, communication strategies/narratives.
·         Introduce Braille plaques for the visually impaired visitors.
·         Arrange attractive videos and digital shows and hands-on activities.
·         Put interactive strategies, touch screen kiosks, ‘sound posts’, etc.
·         Print international-standard guide-books with floor plans/signages.
·         Keep comfortable benches & resting places, and nooks/seating corners.
·         Drinking water facilities and clean toilets with signages.
·         Set up cafeterias, vending machines and spaces to interact.
·         Have flexible and extended visiting hours, with some special ‘free days’.
·         Engage enthusiastic volunteers as museum assistants, to guide visitors.
Museum Shops and Souvenirs

·         Set up proper Museum/Souvenir Shops, preferably on PPP model
·         Merchandise professional selected museum items, for souvenirs.
·         Produce, with ‘class’, replicas, prints, postcards, albums etc.
·         Publish world-class books & catalogues, through the best available.
·         Arrange inter-museum & outsourced sale of books/catalogues & CDs.
·         Promote/market India’s heritage as a brand, through all museum shops.
·         Approach corporates to popularize museum culture through gifts.
Multi-Media, Audio Visual & Guide Facilities

·         Design, and continuously update, website & information systems.
·         Introduce museum related activity cum technical research blogs.
·         Digitize important stored artefacts for ‘Virtual Guide’, CDs and Websites.
·         Introduce / improve audio guides: work on time-bound plans.
·         Set up LCD panels, to display digitized artefacts on videos and power points.
·         Introduce 3-D holographic projections, simulated images & virtual reality.
·         Set up interactive sound & talking trees, musical clocks & other attractions.
Attract Various Audience Segments, including Students/Children

·         Plan the calendar of events for the entire year, and more, if possible.
·         Send newsletters and keep updating mailing lists, through visitor registers.
·         Arrange special training for Education Officers, PROs &  ‘Guides’ for this work
·         Plan ‘Out-reach’ programmes for different segments, target specific.
·         Design invitation cards, brochures, fliers both artistically and professionally.
·         Organize regular interactive programmes and set up ‘children’s corners’.
·         Formalise networks with schools and colleges, on a regular basis.
·         Introduce ‘Collections Identification & Authentication’ facility for collectors.
·         Encourage small online exhibitions to be curated by museum enthusiasts.
Image Building, Publicity and Cultural Events.

·         Have well dressed and polite museum assistants/guides & cafeteria staff.
·         Plan campaigns, highlighting interesting facets & get feedbacks.
·         Issue attractive advertisements and informed articles in the media.
·         Set up and invigorate ‘Friends of Museum’ & also meet them.
·         Celebrate regularly ‘World Days’, ‘State Functions’ and ‘Special Events’.
·         Organize cultural performances and other outreach programmes.
·         Harmonize tangible & intangible cultural heritage, seamlessly.
·         Attract corporate sponsors with special exhibitions for their clients.
·         Engage event-managers marketing/sales team & communication specialists,
Visiting & Travelling Exhibitions

·         Invite exhibitions & inter-museum exchanges, including with ASI  museums.
·         Establish curator panels and plan multiple curatorial themes, in advance.
·         Keep updating policies for exhibitions abroad, through regular feedbacks.
·         Curate exhibitions abroad – have different policies for art & antiquities.
·         Formulate scientific policies regarding valuation, insurance, etc. for exhibits.
·         Plan exhibitions (both internal & external) professionally on global standards
·         Insist on proper reciprocity from foreign museums/galleries.
·         Publish world class catalogues for each exhibition in India or abroad.
Expansion & Acquisition of Collections

·         Revisit art purchase procedures and committees, with transparency.
·         Frame policies to encourage donors, i.e., tax exemption, publicity, etc.
·         Devise ‘loan policies’ for short, medium & long term loans.
·         Prepare policy on bequeaths & have proper screening/evaluation methods.
·         Set up search committees and negotiating teams, to locate/buy rare items.
·         Frame policies for de-accessioning of unwanted/unrelated collections.
Professional Development of Museum Personnel

·         Organise HRD training & expose personnel to international standards.
·         Encourage courses and exchanges of best practices, through visits.
·         Facilitate studies, researches to bring out better publications.
·         Utilize Visiting Fellows to unravel treasures within museums.
·         Conduct professional courses in museum studies & collections management
·         Start online/correspondence courses in museum studies & heritage management.
·         Collaborate with Open Universities & conservation laboratories.
·         Publicise available courses for wider dissemination, at nodal points.
·         Devise administrative structure/emoluments for good career management
·         Engage specialized professionals, on contract/tenure basis, for emulation.
Implementation of Plan Schemes & special projects

·         Ensure optimum utilization of funds, through prior planning.
·         Make monthly activity charts and conduct reviews /self-assessments.
·         Outsource work to professional agencies, where required.
·         Undertake long term planning, rather than adhoc improvements.
·         If possible & permitted, create public private partnerships.
·         Invite, with proper approval, specific projects from outside.
Security: Modern Techniques

·         Upgrade security systems & install latest cameras/surveillance systems.
·         Deploy CISF, armed police, except inside museum galleries.
·         Retain own security, for gallery watch & other duties.
·         Introduce aesthetically pleasing dress for in-house security personnel.
·         Install fire-fighting devices/techniques and undertake regular trials.
·         Revisit display storage plans on security /fire-fighting considerations.
·         Maintain friendly, terror/stress free atmosphere in museum galleries.
Conservation and Restoration

·         Set up or upgrade conservation laboratories and modeling workshops.
·         Build capacities for in-house expertise for conservation and restoration.
·         Upgrade regularly, conservation and restoration techniques, through training.
·         Utilize domain-specific external expertise and learn latest technologies.
·         Extend this domain knowledge to smaller museums.
·         Outsource, where necessary, and imbibe newer techniques.
·         Publish technical research & conservation treatment bulletins.
·         Organise special workshops outside, for basic collections care.
Interactions with Academics, Archaeologists and Artists

·         Institutionalize a proper network with different relevant domain experts.
·         Organize cooperation with academics/experts through regular workshops.
·         Encourage onsite exposure of museum personnel for experience.
·         Encourage museum personnel to make presentations before academics.
·         Strengthen networking through professional bodies like ICOM, MAI etc.

An MoU was signed in 2010 with British Museum, Victoria & Albert Museum and British Library, London and the Ministry of Culture (on behalf of Indian Cultural Institutions)  to strengthen and enhance friendly cultural relations and promote cultural cooperation and exchange. The MoU offers an appropriate platform for collaboration and sharing of best practices in different areas of Museum Management.

The Ministry has recently initiated the Leadership Training Programme for in-service museum professionals in India in collaboration with the British Museum, London. This is the first Leadership Training being organized for museums in India. The Programme is being coordinated by the National Culture Fund, an autonomous body under the Ministry of Culture that facilitates public private partnerships for the preservation of arts and heritage in India. The Training Programme will include intensive training sessions on Curation, Museum Education, Design & Display, Scientific Storage, Conservation & Preservation, Museum Marketing, Outreach and Collection Management. 20 museum professionals from 12 Indian museums will undergo this six month Leadership Training in Delhi, London and Mumbai respectively. They will take part in three sessions of training which have been specially created to balance the theoretical with the practical, building on participants existing skills and advising on museum best practice. The training has been carefully shaped to ensure participants can immediately apply and share their knowledge and skills within their organisations. The first session was commenced in Delhi in January 2012, the second in London will be in March, and the final session in Mumbai will be in May. This will ensure the training has the highest possible impact and takes advantage of local conditions.

Museums are increasingly engaging personnel with a wide variety of skills to increase their profile and remain relevant to 21st century audiences. While academic scholarship remains the bedrock of our organisations, it is increasingly acknowledged that this work benefits from, and is enhanced by individuals with different specialisms. The range of practitioners involved in conducting the training programme is broad. Among many others, sessions will be taught by specialists in strategic planning, project management, exhibition display, education, communications, marketing, digital technology, conservation and security, drawing on their extensive first-hand experience of working museum environments. This programme will generate museum leaders who will further train museum professionals all across the country to create a rich web of world class museums in India.

As part of the training programme, Indian scholars will be given substantial access to the British Museum’s world collection and will be encouraged to share their invaluable knowledge, particularly of the Indian collections. The exchange of knowledge between Indian and British Museum scholars will be strongly encouraged and it is hoped will form a foundation for future collaboration in the areas of research and publication as well. (PIB Feature:
16-January-2012). {Photo courtesy: Kolkata Hub} ****

*Deputy Director (Media & Communication)

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