City gets its first children’s museum, with a first show curated by kids
A panchayat scene, a painting of a Mughal court, and an image of a group of dancers from Bastar are displayed under the theme ‘Teamwork’. In another section, Rani Laxmibai of Jhansi and Bal Gangadhar Tilak come together under ‘Courage’.
Mumbai’s first children’s museum opened its doors on Saturday, with an exhibition curated by children. The hall is full of exhibits from the pages of history, put together by 25 kids aged 8 to 15. Set up by the Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya (CSMVS) and situated on its Fort premises, it comprises a multipurpose hall and an outdoor amphitheater.
“The idea for such a museum was triggered by interactions with my daughter,” says Sabyasachi Mukherjee, director general of the CSMVS. “I realised how little opportunity she has to learn from informal spaces or even the sense of a neigbourhood, after we shifted from Ambernath to south Mumbai. Everything in the city is aimed at adults and there are hardly any informal cultural spaces in the city where children can learn to understand and experience what is unfamiliar to them. Museum education should be busy motivating the creative spirit in children.”
The first exhibition, accordingly, offers a child’s worldview and their interpretation of art. It’s titled Footsteps… to Framing the Future, and is themed on the values of friendship, teamwork, environmental consciousness, peace and courage.
All artefacts on display in this first exhibition — curated with help from the museum team and its education officer, Bilwa Kulkarni — were sourced from CSMVS collection. “Based on what could be taken out into the new space and put out in room temperature,” Kulkarni adds, smiling.
“We met on weekends so that it was easy for everyone to attend and we had a lot of fun,” Sarah Patel, a Class 3 student who was among the curators.
The Children’s Museum, incidentally, has been set up in partnership with Bank of America. “It is heartening to see the first exhibits the children chose to display at their own museum,” Brian Moynihan, chairman of the Board and CEO, Bank of America, said at the inauguration on Saturday.
Mukherjee points out that being a student of Shantiniketan, an institute started by the Nobel laureate, poet and educator Rabindranath Tagore, he was strongly influenced by the idea of informal education and learning from one’s surroundings and nature. The effort to preserve the essence of nature can be seen even in the construction of the outdoor amphitheater, designed by the architect Rahul Mehrotra, which has two mango trees providing shade for the audience.
“What we have now is a creative space-cum-museum for and by children, where we plan to stage new exhibitions every three months, in addition to events and workshops,” Mukherjee says. “The themes could be archeology, storytelling, filmmaking or animation. We have a network of 400 schools that and the education department of the museum will coordinate with them so that their students can make the most of this space.”
For the children curators, it has been a place to learn and allow ideas to take shape. “I was always interested in history and writing. In the workshops that we had for five months before this exhibition, that love deepened. It is now my dream to become an archeologist and write alongside,” says Ananya Sampat, 11.
Kulkarni says it’s been a journey of learning for her too. “The children had done their research before each session that we held. The most wonderful part was that they wanted everything to be well-thought-out and discussed,” she says, “and would settle for no less.”