Indian Museum director B. Venugopal, INTACH convener GM Kapur, Australian deputy high commissioner Bernard Philip and AustHeritage chairman Vinod Daniel at Indian Museum on Thursday. Picture by Anup Bhattacharya
Two organisations from India and Australia inked a deal on Thursday to further enhance cooperation between the two countries on preservation, promotion and management of cultural heritage.
The memorandum of understanding between AusHeritage, Australia’s international network for cultural heritage, and the Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage (INTACH) was signed at Indian Museum, a nodal agency for conservation, in the presence of museum director B. Venugopal and Australian deputy high commissioner Bernard Philip.
“We are very pleased to be able to bring the professionals of both countries together like this…. India has such a rich heritage and our professionals are already working with several museums to help them in areas of display, conservation and management,” Philip said, on the sidelines of a Indo-Australian seminar on conservation to mark Indian Museum’s bi-centenary
During a conversation with Metro at the museum, AustHeritage chairman Vinod Daniel cited the essential but ignored factors in museum renewal in India. “In terms of history it is fantastic that Indian Museum is celebrating its bi-centenary. Not many museums in the world can boast of that. Indian Museum, National Museum, Delhi, and Prince of Wales Museum, are all into museum renewal.”
Of the three things that go hand-in-hand for a museum renewal, the “most obvious and quite easy” (if funds are available) is physical renewal. “That is needed and it is good that it is happening. But even if you have a fantastic museum and don’t have trained staff to manage it — renew the vision, conserve collections and conceive exhibitions — all of it is useless,” said Daniel.
“So the second essential is the presence of specialised people. Around 90-95 per cent of the staff in museums in Indian and elsewhere are unskilled. The third essential is governance. Most museums in India work under a government system. In some ways that is good but internationally, there is usually an independent board or a statutory authority which can take decisions freely and be flexible in policy making. This ensures that the museums work smoothly and do not become the voice of the government. It’s important for a successful museum to be a neutral platform for really dangerous questions.”
Daniel also pointed out that no amount of security can protect India’s huge heritage. “It is important to raise awareness at the lowest levels and make them understand how they can gain in the long term from tourism etc.”
He stressed the need to question visitors about a museum’s relevance.
“We need to question who manages to take how much knowledge back. We need to rethink exhibitions. Take for example the large and valuable natural history collection at Indian Museum. These could be used to project something relevant like climate change, which will interest everyone. Then take the tribal exhibits, especially from the Northeast. You will find that the tribes themselves have forgotten some of the skills of making such items, so how about taking the exhibition to the tribes and help rejuvenate the arts and help them make similar articles to attract tourists.”
Another must for the renewal is audience-evaluation programme. “Earlier museums used to run the way the curators decided but today most museums try to find out if there isn’t a disconnect. And then the public collaborate with the curator. In India we need to do that.”