How to make Indian museums more accessible to public

Indian museums must focus on quality of visitors’ experience, improve their online presence and collaborate with communities whose collections they display

opinion Updated: Dec 08, 2017 18:28 IST
Museums india,India museums,Australian Museum in Sydney
While most government museums may not have a problem getting good number of visitors, they have to focus on the quality of their experience inside the institution.(Arun Sharma/HT PHOTO)

While working on a photographic project on ‘Landmarks’ in Mumbai some time ago, I had a chance to chat with a number of young people. I was curious to know what their perceptions of a museum were, and one of them told me: “Museum is a place where old things are kept”. Traditionally museums globally are good in getting young children in and people in their mid-thirties and above, either because they bring their children back to a museum for entertainment or awe, or they have plenty of time once they retire. But it is important to find out ways to ensure that people of all ages and background find museums attractive enough to visit regularly.

There are three aspects Indian museums could consider to develop a strategy for access:

Focus on the quality of the visitor experience: While most government museums may not have a problem getting good number of visitors, they have 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. A weekend in London would often mean crowded trains to Kensington and long queues outside the Natural History Museum, the Science Museum or the Victoria and Albert Museum. Often it is families who make a weekend outing and they needs these add-ons. The Chattrapathi Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sanghralya in Mumbai and the Victoria Memorial in Kolkata are two Indian museums that do this well.

Indian museums must also work more on the experience they give to rural Indians who use the museum as part of the day visit to the city. Can museums assist them in taking away at least one or two key messages from the visit? The Indira Gandhi Memorial Museum in New Delhi does this in a good way. I have been amazed at how in spite of its small area, it has a well-laid out plan for movement of visitors and capturing their attention and imagination. Museums usually do not do well when it comes to reaching out to the teenage and young people. This age group needs activities that they find attractive, which could involve music to pub/coffee evenings. Some western museums have started offering these to attract younger audiences. The word of mouth advertising is important for this age group and museums must reach out to this set through innovative participative approaches.

Museums must focus on their online presence: This is an area that traditional museum managers are not familiar with. But some museums such as the Australian Museum do it very well: The museum gets 40 people to visit their website for every visitor person who comes through the door. But to ensure online traffic, new and interesting content must be added regularly. The traditional museum approach of the income from gate, shops, restaurant, and venues needs to be rethought; museum must be creative to generate revenues digitally, using the social media.

Museums must collaborate with communities whose collections they house: This is not always easy because communities often stay in faraway places and don’t have any access or sometimes even examples of their cultural relic. 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 (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. It is a win for all sides, including the cultural world in terms of rejuvenation of an art form to the local community, and for tourism and revenue generation.

Overall, the major driver for improving access to museums in the western world is to have increased revenue since there is always a significant gap between the government funding and their budget. In most government museums in India, this may not be the case. But in years to come it could be different. The quality of visitor experience and the ability to expand programmes based on extra budgets can all be drivers for museums in India or overseas.

Vinod Daniel is a board member of the International Council of Museums and Chair of AusHeritage

The views expressed are personal

First Published: Dec 08, 2017 18:28 IST