Ideas, not money define success or failure of museums

By Somdatta Saha

New Delhi [India], Apr. 13 (ANI): India, the land of culture and rich heritage, has a number of museums both to educate and entertain the future generation.

But if we examine the state of most of our museums, they lack maintenance and upgradation, which can be attributed to lack of interest among the people and to administrative apathy.

ANI spoke exclusively to renowned Australian heritage and museum specialist Vinod Daniel on the same, and he said that the basic mantra to determine the success or failure of a museum or a heritage site is driven by three important operational factors namely autonomy, leadership and institutional skills.

He threw light on the loopholes that exist for museums and their preservation.

Daniel said, "We need to think over how we can make the museum more attractive for the audience. In the West, they make sure that whatever they do is more audience oriented. Hence, it becomes more interesting for the people to visit such places.

They set their target group. For example, if it's a museum for children then the whole focus is on them and their choices. Their approach is very scientific. I think that kind of approach needs to happen."

Clearing some misconceptions, he said museums are not just buildings to store history, but also to entertain and educate the audience.

Citing an example, he said, "If you go to Singapore right now, its cultural sector is one of the most vibrant, right from the way the museums are maintained and promoted, to the festivals and events they do in certain periods of the year, to innovative things that they try."

He said it is not enough just to have a good policy to change the current not-so-good situation of the Indian museums.

Daniel said, "Leave the policy, things should be sorted out at the operational level. What I feel is firstly a director should be appointed for five-plus years. Many museums have administrators of the IAS level who are generally rotating. When they rotate, you can't have a proper leadership as change in this sector takes time."

"Secondly, you should have a space there for the directors to work in an autonomous way, where they don't have to report to the government in a line management way. Most of the museums report directly to the government and is totally dominated by their thinking and changes happening there."

In 2011, the UNESCO had on a related note said that Indian museums have "substandard maintenance."

Daniel continued saying, "If you see all the big museums, may be Australian museums, they all report to a board, who might be appointed by the government. But there lies a point of separation in it."

"Thirdly, you need a skilled workforce which understands what museums are and at different levels be it technical, administrative or at the curative level. As directors or managers, the appointed people should understand what museums are. I think a big focus should be to upskill the current staff as a lot of them have no training. At the same time, you need to plan for the future and have professional degree programs in technical areas."

Stating that some museums in India are doing well, he concluded, "Many think, let's put some money and bring a difference. Money can bring a change, but on a very temporary level. I think it is much more about people and their ideas."

Daniel is recognised globally for his work on museums and heritage preservation and is a member of the International Council of Museums. He has also been Chair of Ausheritage and is a former member of the Board of the Australia-India Council. (ANI)