Even as DakshinaChitra, one of the premier heritage museums in the city, celebrated World Museum Day by giving visitors a tour of the heritage houses on the premises, its founder Deborah Thiagarajan, threw the spotlight on the state of museums in the city. “It’s dismal,” she says simply. “Compared to other cities which have nearly 20 to 30 musems, we have very few. Egmore Museum, Rail Museum, museums at the Santhome Church, Fort St George and Vivekananda Museum are a few to mention,” Deborah continues.
However, the quality of these places is not as good as it should be, she says. “Museums carry so much about the history, culture, people, and what happened in the past. I wish we had a pro-active government that focused more on the state of museums. Places like the Middle East, Singapore and China bring in top people for maintenance, but we don’t,” adds Deborah, who founded DakshinaChitra, in 1996.
“When we started it, we did not get any visitors. Then we organised a survey to ask people what they wanted to see. What we realised was that people didn’t just want to see, but do,” says Deborah. Soon, she brought in activities like pottery, pot painting, grinding, mehendi and kolam at the venue to give visitors a hands-on experience. “We have also set up a stage for performing arts to encourage artistes and we bring in people from villages around the area, and let them visit for free,” she tells us.
The museum consists of 18 traditional houses belonging to the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries that were relocated from Kerala, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh and parts of Tamil Nadu. As part of the Museum Day celebrations on Monday, visitors were taken on a trail to all the houses, and given tidbits about South Indian heritage and glimpses of dying traditional practices like aattukal and basket weaving.
“Our latest addition is a Chikmagalur house that we relocated from Karnataka. It cost us nearly Rs 71 lakh! That’s how much it takes to set up a high quality exhibit,” says Deborah.