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For the people, by the people

Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya is reaping the benefits of individual donors as well as increasing footfalls across age groups, thanks to a host of interactive activities, new galleries, and a dynamic action plan that hopes to encourage more public support for this city landmark.

“I remember my sister wearing such frocks. Who wears these, nowadays!” remarks Sabyasachi Mukherjee, nostalgically, as we look at the section dedicated to children’s apparel at the newly opened Textile Gallery inside the Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya (CSMVS). We are in the middle of an insightful chat and walkthrough, and who better than have its director be our guide. “It is extremely satisfying to see these crowds, despite it being in the middle of summer,” he says, beaming with immense pride.

Visitors view the newly opened Textile Gallery at the Chhatrapati  Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya
Visitors view the newly opened Textile Galleryat the Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya. Pic/Shadab Khan

We walk past the Prints Gallery — which is a stunning pictorial chronicle of the evolution of Mumbai — and the Karl Khandalavala Gallery — home to 800 artefacts. “Note the rotating slideshow that displays every object from the collection; we introduced this as every object cannot be displayed physically,” adding, “The idea is to share; not keep them in the dark room.” We notice visitors across age groups and backgrounds, Indian as well as international. Reading my mind, he shares, “Ten years back, you’d find only silver-haired researchers or foreign tourists here; but now, so many young people come.”

Visitors view the newly opened Textile Gallery at the Chhatrapati  Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya.
CSMVS museum director, Sabyasachi Mukherjee, believes the museum can do more to bring in younger audiences. Pics/Shadab Khan

Makeover at the museum
Moments later, we head to his office, keen to hear more of this transformation. “When I took charge in 2007, we conducted a survey to gauge the museum’s strengths, issues and objectives, and develop a strategy, accordingly. Our strengths were the building, its prime location, 60,000-plus objects, curatorial strength and autonomous management. We wanted to use these positives to counter our challenges, like shrinking visitor base, and with it, revenue issues as neither the State nor the Centre supports us, insufficient artefact management, better staff training, low morale, labour issues, static displays and lack of institutional vision.”

Interactive screens and games draw in crowds at the Textile Gallery;
Interactive screens and games draw in crowds at the Textile Gallery

Mukherjee shared how developing an integral approach was of paramount importance when he took over. Areas like confidence building, utilisation of available resources, opening up of communication channels, capacity building, staff support and defining of responsibilities needed our attention too. “It was also vital to create opportunities for our staff. Today 90% are fully trained. The Textile Gallery is an example of in-house input. The museum’s master plan for transformation was put in place. The museum should think of its visitors as audience, not spectators. Knowledge, study and enjoyment should be the driving purpose of every museum, but somewhere along the way, visitor engagement hasn’t been incorporated in museum policy,” he rues.

The main wing is a treasure trove of collections
The main wing is a treasure trove of collections

Bring in the young
“A lot needs to be done, as we live in the Internet Age. Today’s youth cannot look beyond their smartphones. How do we bring them back to the museum? How can we make our sculptures speak?” declares Mukherjee, in reply to my query about engaging the young. “Our exhibits and collections should be attractive, interesting, and interactive. We were happy to learn that 1,500-2,000 children were here on International Museum Day (May 18). Kids want hands-on activities. The museum can no longer be a repository of antiques. Things must change. We are ready to change,” he adds.

Satisfaction, guaranteed!
“Today, more people visit the museum. The sense of belonging is terrific. More individual donors than those from the corporate sector are coming forward to support CSMVS. Clearly, this is possible only when you acknowledge their ownership,” reveals Mukherjee. He added that 90% of the collections at the Textile Gallery came from individuals. Families of Pupul Jayakar, Jehangir Sabavala and Dr Sarayu Doshi came forward with donations of heirlooms.

In the past two-three years, this sea of change was been possible because of CSMVS’s inclusive policy. He also cites the transparency within communication channels: “Post our board meetings, all decisions are shared in the library; it’s in public domain,” he reveals. “It should become a community space. 35 NGOs work with us.

A museum must be shorn of political colour, and remain a secular space for people,” he maintains.

Culture must get its due
“After 68 years of Independence, is it IT, trade or agriculture that we can showcase? It’s our culture. I had written a proposal to the Union Ministry of Culture suggesting the setting up of an Institute of Heritage Management, similar to our IITs and IIMs. So far, there’s been no response. But I am hopeful. If we can produce even 30 curators from such an institute, imagine the benefits it will reap? It’s better than hiring bureaucrats and under-qualified people.”

On a parting note, he shares the words of Jawahar Sircar, former CEO of DD and AIR, and former secretary of India, from a discussion in December 2014, ‘Of every 100 rupees of government money, 13 paisa is spent on culture. Five of this is on restoration and maintenance of monuments, and perhaps, one paisa or two are left for the performing arts.’ We rest our case.

Coming soon
>> Ancient Indian medicine collection, tentatively titled Tabiyat, in collaboration with Wellcome Trust (a UK-based global charitable foundation), scheduled to open in January 2016. This is expected to be “a blockbuster show”, in Mukherjee’s words.
>> Previously unseen art objects from the CSMVS collections, scheduled to open in July 2015.
>> The Museum Bus is almost ready. This museum on wheels hopes to take the idea beyond South Mumbai, into the suburbs, and eventually, to rural Maharashtra. The project has been possible with help from the Union Ministry of Culture, and Citibank (maintenance).

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