Museums are repositories of history, culture and societies, and in the future may display items that will remind us of the COVID-19 pandemic. Currently, museums are among the worst hit spaces and the pandemic is forcing new ways of accessing them.
As funding decreases and footfalls come to a standstill, museums in India have a tremendous opportunity to revolutionise museology by leveraging technology and taking museums to the people, according to Vinod Daniel, Member, International Council of Museums (ICOM), Paris.
“The idea should be for museums to go to people rather than people coming to you. You can redefine museology and become a world leader in museums,” Mr. Daniel told The Hindu .
Worldwide, museums are dependent largely on government funding and gate tickets, besides cafes, bookshops and restaurants within the premises. But with governments across the globe tightening the belt, they have to look at other priorities. “The fall in funding is likely to be about 60%. In India, as most museums depend on government funding, there might be only enough money to pay salaries and not to undertake major renovations,” he said.
Plus, there is the problem of people coming into museums in limited numbers as social distancing norms are put in place.
“About 60% museums in China opened in the first week of May, 19 of them in Beijing alone. The average turnout [of visitors] was only around 250, while earlier it used to be in the thousands,” he added.
Mr. Daniel said this is where museums in India can score by tying up with corporates, the entertainment industry, and universities. “India’s entertainment industry has an excellent ability in putting together packages. Universities can do background research. And we have the world’s best IT industry, which can provide the mechanisms for taking museums to homes,” he said.
Mr. Daniel, who is also chairman of the Board for AusHeritage, a network of Australian heritage management organisations, said that each museum can play to its strengths. “For example, the Bronze Collection at the Egmore Museum — you can come out with snippets on bronze-making, provide a virtual tour of places where such sculptures are seen, and put together a well-researched insight. People at home might want to spend an hour or two on an afternoon to learn something,” he said.
Such an approach would also make a world of difference to students in far-flung places, who have no access to museums anyway. “The online model can be very successful through a partnership approach. It can be done by getting companies to spend a bit of their CSR (corporate social responsibility) budget on museums, or it can even be a commercial partnership. Providing this content to schoolchildren, preferably in their local language as well, will have a great impact,” he said.
Mr. Daniel said that even in a post COVID-19 world, this approach has tremendous potential. The costs of building such technologies and systems is going to be far lower than renovating buildings, he pointed out. “Plus, you will have the ability to reach millions of people across the world,” he said.