Issues with museum in India

Context: INS Viraat, now decommissioned, is all set to be converted into India’s first ever moored maritime museum-cum-marine adventure centre

What is a museum?

  • A museum is an institution in which objects of historical, scientific, artistic, or cultural interest are stored and exhibited.
  • ICOM (International Council of Museums) defines museum as “A museum is a non-profit, permanent institution in the service of society and its development, open to the public, which acquires, conserves, researches, communicates and exhibits the tangible and intangible heritage of humanity and its environment for the purposes of education, study and enjoyment”

Types of museums:

  1. General Museums:General museums hold collections in more than one subject and are therefore sometimes known as multidisciplinary or interdisciplinary museums.
  2. Natural history and Natural Science Museums: Museums of natural history and natural science are concerned with the natural world; their collections may contain specimens of birds, mammals, insects, plants, rocks, minerals, and fossils.
  3. Science and Technology Museums: Museums of science and technology are concerned with the development and application of scientific ideas and instrumentation.
  4. Art Museums: Art museums are primarily concerned with paintings, sculpture, and the decorative arts.
  5. Archaeological Museums: It contains all the objects related to history.These museums have a large collection of artefacts, paintings, sculptures, coins etc.
  6. Living Museums: It recreates historical settings to simulate past time period, providing visitors with an experiential interpretation of history

Functions of Museum:

  1. Collection: Most important function of a museum is to collect objects of heritage since it is a custodian of the heritage of society or country
  2. Storage: The museum stores all the collected materials scientifically in a well-planned and secured area
  3. Conservation and preservation: Museum practices various preservation techniques for preventive conservation or curative conservation
  4. Documentation: Documentation is the process of preparing record of collected objects by formal entry. It is one of the most important administrative functions museums
  5. Research: For storing and dissemination of information regarding each object, every museum researches on those particular objects
  6. Exhibition: It is an important function of any museum and every museum exhibits objects by forming permanent galleries or organising temporary exhibitions.
  7. Security: Museum collects and stores antique and precious objects or piece of art and thus ensuring security and protection of these is an important function

Importance of museums:

  1. As custodian of heritage: Museums are of important custodians of heritage. They serve as cultural centres for their communities and help in preserving both tangible and intangible art and culture. As institutions possessing critical historical and cultural resources in society, they encourage, promote and foster the best of the cultural and democratic ideals of the nations.
  2. Education:In modern society, the museums enrich the educational process by exposing children and indeed the public to their history. Museums play an important role in enabling future generations to understand and appreciate their history and culture
  3. In promotion of unity: Museums promote unity in the society by using their resources to ensure understanding and appreciation for the various groups and cultures that exist in that society
  4. Aesthetic: Museums provide recreational intellectual and aesthetic enjoyment.

Museums in India:

  • The first museum collection in India started in 1796. The Asiatic Society of Bengal, Calcutta founded in 1784 decided to house and exhibit whatever it had accumulated.
  • In 1814, the society was able to establish a proper museum and since then it was known as Indian museum.
  • In 1848, the Indian Museum (Calcutta) was opened for public
  • At present there are number of national museums which come directly under the administrative control of Ministry of Culture, Government of India
  • National Museum (New Delhi),
  • 3 wings of National Gallery of Modern Art (Delhi, Bengaluru, Mumbai),
  • Indian Museum (Kolkata),
  • Victoria Memorial Hall (Kolkata),
  • Safdarjung Museum (Hyderabad),
  • 23 Science Centre under National Council of Science Museum (Kolkata)
  • Allahabad Museum (Allahabad)
  • There are site museums under the control of Archaeological Survey of India (ASI)

Issues and Challenges

The major issues and challenges that Indian Museums face are:

  1. Lack of Vision and Expertise: In India, a large number of museums do not have Directors. Further, it’s a common practice to appoint officers as Museum Directors who lack expertise and knowledge of art practices or curatorial practices.
  2. Human resources: Many museums in India are poorly staffed and the existing staff lack the expertise and skills to efficiently manage collections and educate visitors
  3. Conservation and Preservation Practices: improper conservation and preservation practices in museums have led to destruction and loss of collections. For example, 2nd BC Yakshi statue and a 3rd BC Mauryan lion, at the oldest museum of India in Kolkata were damageddue to careless handling by inadequately trained museum workers
  4. Management issues: In 2010, UNESCO brought out a report on the terrible conditions at India’s top eight museums, citing sub-standard maintenance, lighting and signage, among other issues.
  5. Audience engagement: Many museums in India fail to engage audiences. The museums lack proper guides, guidebooks and audio
  6. Disconnect between academia and museums: There is huge disconnect between academia and museums and very few option to train students art management, curatorial management, collection management, design or communication technology
  7. Funding: Lack of proper funding is a major issue which deters upgradation of museum infrastructure, use of technology and proper maintenance of collections
  8. Lack of Autonomy:Government museums make up 90 per cent of the roughly 1,000 museums in India. They are banned from partnerships with private individuals or organisations, and have to depend on Central funding even for day-to-day operations.
  9. Security: The 2011 UNESCO report observed that the national museums did not have proper security measures thus leaving museums at high theft-risk

Steps taken:

  1. 14 Point Agenda: In 2009, The Ministry of Culture, initiated a thorough survey of its museums which resulted in the 14 Point Museum Reform Programmes. It highlighted the need to enhance collection management, exhibitions, visitor experience and interpretation and use multi-technological approaches to sharing and understanding collections

  1. Museum Digitization: It aims to develop a national database of museum collections at various levels and to provide enhanced accessibility to users.
  2. Museums of India”: It is an online national portal and digital repository which provides access to heritage antiquities from national museums
  3. Capacity Building and Training (12th Plan Period: 2012-2017): Itaims to fulfil an urgent need for trained professionals at museums at various levels such as national level, state level, regional and local level museums. The scheme supports institutions who wish to depute their professionals for intensive capacity building, training programmes in order to upgrade their expertise in specific areas of museum management in collaboration with national and internationally well-known museums and institutions.

Way Forward

  1. The conditions of museums in India shows government’s apathy toward the institution and highlights the urgent need to evolve a comprehensive national policy or guidelines for museums.
  2. There is urgent need to improve funding to ensure up-gradation and modernization of the museums and facilitate better conservation practices with technology and deputing skilled staff
  3. It is important to involve private sector for effective management of the museums and facilitate infrastructural development of the museums through funding and expertise
  4. Public opinion surveys should be conducted to help continuously improve and develop marketing strategy for better outreach and engagement of audiences
  5. International collaboration can play an important role in improving conditions of museums of India through flow of expertise and technology
  6. The government should strike address the issue of autonomy and accountability, like successful models abroad, where institutions like the British Museum are run by a government-appointed board of trustees.
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