CHENNAI: May 18 is World Museum Day, but ask an auto driver to take you to the government museum in Egmore, the only major one in Chennai, and there is a high chance he might not know where it is.
Ask a passer-by, he might also look confused at first but if you ask for the Alsa Mall situated right opposite, he’ll guide you correctly! Even though the museum is one of the oldest in the country (established in 1851), the marginal rise in the number of visitors every year shows either lack of interest or the lack of effort to make the museum more interesting to the public.
The museum officials say it’s a bit of both. “Schools will mark out half a day for the museum, bring an entire class together, and make them walk around the whole campus.
They are hurriedly made to visit all the buildings and at the end of the day, instead of developing an interest, they are tired and just want to go home,” explained one of the senior officials at the museum.
While weekends continue to see a lot more people than a weekday, the number of visitors per day has been a standard 1,000 for several years.
While curation is a job that is difficult to land in places like London, museums here don’t even have a fourth of the number of curators that foreign museums do. The Egmore Museum has a mere 11 curators.
“For a same-sized museum abroad, there will be at least 100 curators and we have only about 10% of that, but that is due to the lack of interest in museums right from the school level,” added the official. Only recently has museum studies become a compulsory assignment for college students, officials said that about 10 marks and internships are required from BA and MA students of history and other subjects.
As a visitor, one would notice the dull wall and wish for better lighting, including air conditioning for the hot summer. But a member of the technical team said that 50% of the museum was already air-conditioned and the rest was going to follow suit.
“With the display, we might not be able to compete with museums abroad but we are housed in a heritage building and we cannot do any renovation on the outside. Inside, maybe there is a chance to change lighting but we follow all basic rules of display,” said a technical department official.
Abroad, things inside a museum may not always be found outside it; but in India, if we want to see an idol, we can go to the temple – these artifacts are a way of life for us, said a curator at the museum.