“We were given a free hand to express and translate our vision; of course, all of this was after reviews and sanctions by the necessary committees,” revealed Wim Pijbes, general director, Rijksmuseum — the national museum of The Netherlands, during a chat with this journalist last week. Pijbes was in the city to deliver a lecture at the Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya about the new Rijksmuseum that was opened to the public in 2013. After completing a decade-long restoration process, Pijbes was hailed in the international cultural community and the media for opening up a museum unlike before.

His words resonated. It reminded us of the challenges and hurdles that our museums and cultural spaces must face from time to time — when they need to think out-of-the-box or are tempted to go beyond the obvious.

The Rijksmuseum was shut down for ten years to undertake large-scale renovation. This included breaking down of sections to create a seamless chronology of displays and exhibits. Several prized exhibits were moved to other museums for temporary display. Radical, yes, and most certainly, unheard of, especially where most museums function in the classical mould. Gradually, as one listened to him recall the experience, it was becoming increasingly clear of how Pijbes and his team re-imagined a space and were able to reach out to diverse audiences in the present, with an eye on the future as well. Throughout the conversation, he emphasised on the word ‘open’ and its multi-layered relevance in the new museum plan. So, from the hardware — the open sculpture garden to the cafeteria and the atrium to the artware, which constituted the lack of walls to divide sections, he opened up the very foundation of the museum.

All of this overwhelmed us, but also made us wonder about Mumbai and its museums. While both city museums must be given credit for creating a welcoming vibe, a lot more needs to be done. Of course, one can’t expect a change overnight, but steps are certainly being taken to ensure that interests of different audiences panning age groups and sensibilities are piqued in the right manner. More freedom and better funding is the need of the hour, undoubtedly.

Children and young adults are also being included in the scheme of things which is a refreshing change when compared to earlier, where as school kids, our idea of a museum meant stepping into
dark hallways with high ceilings where statues and exhibits stared back at us in eerie silence.

Still, change is in the air. Perhaps not of the seismic kinds but it’s evident, nevertheless. Experience it for yourself. This long weekend, why not head to the museum? Now, while it might take a while to “break down the walls”, we would love to believe that the churn has begun. One hopes that it’s just the start before the grand ‘opening’!

The writer is Features Editor of mid-day