“There is nothing sadder than an empty museum. After all, the treasures belong to the nation — to everybody…Museums provide spaces to meet, with huge galleries and a chance to see things in a different way, in real life, not digitally. They can be meeting places with cafés and restaurants, as well as lecture halls and stimulating exhibitions. Museums can be very modern in that respect. They are more necessary than ever.”
Nicholas Coleridge, Chairman, Victoria and Albert Museum, London
But not all museums are welcoming! India has a long history of museums from its colonial times and several laws and policies that govern the functioning of museums here are still those that were laid down by the British colonial masters more than 100 years ago. Not a single museum in India has an Interpretation Policy, a collections database that is digitally available on their website or outreach and educational policies. How do we then except a museum to be anything but sad? They are full of large wooden cases with dull labels and displays, with hardly any attempt to interact with the visitors.
Having worked in the world of museums in India for nearly two decades as a researcher, content writer and editor, collection management and curatorial consultant, I find myself in a non-enviable position to make the above comment.
It has been a big struggle and only in 2015 did the state government funded Bihar Museum (for which I had been a Consultant) open to public with a 20, 000 sq feet Children’s Gallery, entirely dedicated to children – the first time in India. There is no other Indian museum that can vie to be anywhere close! In a country with total 158.79 million children in the age – group 0 – 6 years it is a shame that this age group had not been considered while designing museums or heritage experiences, even 71 years post – independence!
Well aware of the innumerable challenges and problems in making a museum an Accessible and Inclusive space, where the mindsets of the staff and governing committees are still restricted to the information dissemination systems created for the colonial era, I decided to create a parallel conversational space for 18 -29 year olds called #projectinterpret. In this space, loads of storytelling, sharing of knowledge and multiple perspectives are ensured.
#projectinterpret invites one to think, appreciate differences, observe and put forward their thoughts, imagine and dream, interact with local craft and other communities associated with museums, heritage spaces and centuries old craft clusters. This way, I believed, the young people would realize they are part of a large world history and heritage and would feel less lonely and alienated. Remember that WHO urges us to create platform for “Let’s Talk”?!?
The 3 important components of #projectinterpret are: the blog, guided tours customised to interests of the participants, and workshops. All involve intense research at both the macro and micro levels – not off the internet!
For the blog:
The blog is planned with art, design, heritage, culture, personal stories interspersed through each month. The aim is to have two posts each month so that there is some alternating thoughts which are highlighted, leading to some elements of surprise. The word limit of each post is restricted to around 500 words though some, in which there is a documentation of the work of an artist or designer, can be as long as 2000 words. Where there is a lot of archival information, the blog is divided into two parts and posted with a gap of one week so that continuity is maintained.
The language is simple, mostly using the first person conversational style, sprinkled with anecdotes, insights and personal comments. The process of selection of content is to maintain a balance between both text and visuals to maximise on the space.
Since the intended audience is 18 – 25 year olds, the content style is contextual to classroom teaching. If in the classroom, I have discussed about a specific architectural style, heritage site, designer or nature, then I attempt to write a blog corresponding to that so that the students find it easier to get additional information than shared in the class. The writing style of the blog is inquisitive, by asking questions and trying to raise awareness about important issues – basically attempting to include as many points of inclusion into the conversation.
For the guided tours:
Research and planning for the guided tours features an entire precinct around a museum or historic monument. This area is routed around historical lanes and bazaars making it possible for lengthy discussions with local people, inquiring about their professions, lifestyles, recreations and history. Different lingual speakers are encouraged to speak and explain in their local languages or dialects. These are experiential, highly interactive, multi sensory (yeah, we end up eating a lot of local foodstuff :p), extensions of textbooks and classroom education but where the participants are like detectives 🙂
For the Workshops:
This takes up a lot of preparation. After selection of a theme and the process of conducting the workshop, I leave ample scope for spontaneous innovation during the workshop according to the reactions of the participants. If they seem to lose attention, get bored and drift off, I have to be armed with alternative information to pep up interest levels. People mostly come for workshops assuming they will learn something, while the attempt of #projectinterpret workshops is to unlearn and let go 🙂 there is no pre planned outcome, no final deliverable, no fixed learning – just drift along and soak in the flow and talk to each other ❤
“Art is not what you see, but what you make others see.”
Edgar Degas (French artist, one of the founders of Impressionism who preferred to call himself a realist!)
Being a slow learner, with different learning difficulties, it is not easy for me to connect to a world of laws, conventions and strict boundaries or linear thinking – #projectinterpet is the same – slow, unstructured and casual 🙂
‘ Museums are more necessary than ever’ Shailaja Tripathi , January 31, https://www.thehindu.com/todays-paper/tp-features/tp-metroplus/museums-are-more-necessary-than-ever/article26134928.ece?fbclid=IwAR1MRA_TQ6kaNGnFMc5C27yo8m8qKCFOorollf5H_fV4oCVquA5kMj03BJM
 ‘Children in India 2012 – A Statistical Appraisal’ report by Social Statistics Division Central Statistics Office, Ministry of
Statistics and Programme Implementation, Government of India