He's got great ideas for India's museums

Apr 12, 2013, 00:05 IST | Ruchika Kher

The Guide caught up with Neil MacGregor, Director of the British Museum who is in the city as part of a course to improve India's museums. He reveals these plans, the need to move with the times, the challenges, and how social media is intrinsic to its survival in the future

Could you tell us about the Leadership Training Programme that brought you to Mumbai?
About three years ago, the Minister of Culture in India, approached the British Museum. They felt that India has great collections and great museums but wanted to invest in the people to run them. So, they decided to set up a course to train those people who would lead India’s museums; they approached the British Museum to prepare the course. Last year, we undertook the course for the first time and focused on how to reach the public, how to speak to them, what information to provide, which activities to offer, what exhibitions to plan, the conservation and display of objects, and the information around it. We constructed the course in three parts. The first part was in Delhi for two weeks; there was a six week- break; two weeks were held at the British Museum while the third section was in Mumbai at the Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya. We have begun a second leadership programme with a second team of museums.

Neil MacGregor, Director, British Museum at the Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya. Pic/Datta Kumbhar

Why is this course important?
Thirty years ago, museums were like storehouses — where objects were brought, to safeguard from weather, time, thieves and damage. All of this has changed. Today, the museum is a place that tells stories about the world. It’s important to adopt this change.

What are the challenges that India’s museums face?
Most countries are trying to acquire great collections; India already has amazing ones. So, the most difficult thing has been done. But things need attention. First, is the renewal of museum buildings, which means better air-conditioning and better lighting, so the experience is more comfortable for the visitor and is also better for the object, since the object needs controlled humidity. The second factor is a major investment in the staff so they have the skills and the capacity to bring in different public. Finally, it’s high time that India takes its place in the world family of museums. At present, museums across the world cooperate in many ways; they exchange people, ideas, objects, etc. India needs to be part
of that.

Do museums have to strive harder to get audiences in today’s time and age?
People are curious and want to understand the world, so they come in. But at the same time, museums have to attract more people and that’s where technology is handy. Firstly, when visitor comes to the museum, most would come with a phone that means if you prepare your materials, apps, etc, you could speak to the visitor in their own language. So the huge difficulty of how to explain an object doesn’t count now. Also, social networking is a great help. Facebook and Twitter activities are absolutely essential, and we know that through that we can reach thousands of people.

Real-Time Adventure
“For our big exhibitions in London, we get great crowds; there is no space but we wanted more people in the UK to be able to see these exhibitions. So, we did something new — we started to work with cinemas across UK. Now, if you buy a cinema ticket for a day, you can visit the exhibition in real-time and walk around and explore it.” 

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