We are lagging behind in this vital ‘industry’: indeed, museums showcase a legacy of a nation, and provide employment and opportunities for young and old to revisit our heritage. It is time to rethink out of the box, and adopt best practices that can be seen around globally.
Despite the efforts of curators and museum professionals, Indian museums still do not draw the number of visitors as they should. Is the culture of going to museums in India over and done with, or with the advent of digitization, are museums a thing of the past?
Barring a handful, most Indian museums have suffered from lack of imagination and have not been market driven. Unfortunately, despite having some very rare antiquities and objects, they have not been able to change their presentation and display over time. Archaic rules have prevented them from becoming visitor centric, having no focus on the evolving generations. They have been more inward looking and rather aloof to the changing scenarios on the museum scene elsewhere in the world. The Central and State Governments pump in crores of rupees every year to keep our museums alive, with little accountability on why these museums are not drawing visitors as they should. This has made things worse.
Presently, the focus of the Central government has been to create new museums across the country and allocated required budgets. That is a welcome change from the past and the focus on heritage and culture is quite evident. Some brilliant new museums have been created across the country and more are in different stages of conceptualization and construction. The future of these museums, if we do not pay attention on how we are going to manage them and sustain visitor interests, will face the same future as their predecessors.
There have been a few private players, in the recent past, who have entered the museum field and with their visitor centric approach and marketing effort, made a success. These institutions have broken the myth that museums in India are a boring experience. They operate and manage their museums like any other business entity. Their focus is how we keep a visitor stay for a longer duration so that he spends more money in the other allied services that they offer. These are India’s new age museums which have been able to create a niche for themselves and have been extremely successful.
But those majority of museums which were created a few decades back and continue to be a burden on the state exchequer year on year, what can be done so that they are no longer a burden on the state? I am a firm believer in the thought that management of these museums should be handed over to professional institutions who can ensure a turnaround. The PPP model which has done wonders in other fields can certainly be thought about here too.
The museum education being imparted in the country today needs to evolve so that every student who comes out has his focus first on visitor marketing and basic hospitality besides of course his professional role. National Museum Institute which is the premier institution in this field and has played an excellent role in education needs to further lay emphasis on the above. The upcoming Museum Expo on 18th – 19th May 2023 at Pragati Maidan, New Delhi being organized by Ministry of Culture, Government of India promises to deliberate on the various challenges facing museums and indicate the way forward.
Museums in India should become fun and entertainment destinations, besides of course the education that they impart. They should be able to inspire and spark imagination for a vast audience again and again. Globally, museums are an industry unto themselves, not just self-sustaining but also self-funding. They generate significant revenues and impart education on our past, attracting thousands of visitors on a daily basis.
It is my belief that India’s time has come, for all the wealth of our rich heritage to be showcased in an intelligent and interesting presentation, in keeping with global best practices.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Tarun Thakral is Founder and Managing Trustee at Heritage Transport Museum which curated and executed the entire exhibition.