Museums need to become socially relevant: AusHeritage chairman Vinod Daniel

Vinod Daniel spoke about aspects museums can improve on such as a temple-like atmosphere and cultural events.
Vinod Daniel
Vinod Daniel

India’s museums need to focus on the country’s living culture and intangible heritage rather just blindly follow the Western tangible or object-based approach in order to attract footfalls and a loyal following, feels Vinod Daniel, Chair of AusHeritage and a former long-serving Member on the Board of Australia-India Council.

"Indian museums have huge collections of beautiful deities from various eras for instance. The creation of a temple-like atmosphere with a shrine inside the display gallery would bring alive the intangible heritage and explain the living culture better," said Daniel, who has been advising museums around the world including in India during a trip to the capital. “Pacific Islanders have space for cultural events at their museums. This brings alive an intangible heritage which explains the tangible objects on display better,” Daniel pointed out as an example.

Daniel, who has consulted at Indira Gandhi Museum to Victoria Memorial and National Museum, said “the new definition of museums is being driven substantially by the need to be socially relevant.”  To enthuse visitors, government and privately run museums need to “focus on the quality of their experience inside the institution.

To improve that experience, museums must invest in providing amenities  [restaurants, shops and adequate places for people to rest] in addition to the experience they have in the galleries.” Museum trips, he said, are often family experiences and these experiences need to improve.Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya in Mumbai and the Victoria Memorial in Kolkata are among the Indian museums that do this well.

Daniel also pointed out that museums usually do not do well in reaching out to teens and the youth. “These age groups need activities they find attractive, which could involve music to coffee evenings. Some western museums have started offering these.” Collaborating with communities to showcase their culture to create a mesh of tangible with intangible heritage, something he feels India should experiment with. “During my time at the Australian Museum in Sydney, which has one of the world’s best collections of artifacts from the Pacific Islands, elders from Pacific communities were given access to visit their heritage even in the collection store which is not open to the public.

In one instance, an elder from an Island in Vanuatu spent weeks studying the bark cloth collections from her island of Erramango and went back to recreate the lost art. This kind of collaboration is a win-win for the cultural world.” Lastly he emphasised that museums must focus on their online presence. For instance, the Australian Museum has a large number of people walking in physically, but gets 40 people to visit their website for every visitor who comes through the door.

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The New Indian Express