When somebody says the word ‘museum’, what comes to mind? A somber, silent, dignified environment perhaps, inside a building full of ancient history? This may be the common notion for a lot of us out there. However, one thing nobody can deny, is that COVID-19 is going to bring about several changes in all aspects of our lives. According to experts, museums are no different.
I recently attended a ‘Heritage Matters’ webinar organized by Anant National University, which featured experts in the field of artefacts, culture, and preservation and propagation of museums. One thing a lot of people in India do not often realize, as pointed out by Prof. Dr George Abungu of Nairobi, is that museums are not limited to just displaying historical artefacts. There exist museums of politics, culture, economy, science, and art, across the world. They’re not merely used to display, they are used to research and understand communities. One museum in Kenya is also researching COVID-19 and trying to develop a cure for the same at this very moment. Museums often revolve around communities and preserve artefacts valuable to them.
Now, post the COVID-19 lockdowns across the world, naturally, museums will have to revive themselves. Prof. Dr Amareshwar Galla and Dr. Alka Pande feel that museums need to expand, instead of continually regurgitating themselves. The boundaries of the four walls of the museum need to break open to revive interest to preserve and appreciate museums. Instead of the people coming to the museums, the museums need to be taken to people. For example, setting up museum displays in shopping malls. When the atmosphere lightens up from the shushing and strict décor, people will begin appreciating their own cultural artefacts more.
Another well-made point was, that schools and colleges do not introduce their students to museums from a young age, when they could develop a love for the arts. Museums will need to coordinate with the Ministries of Education and Culture across the world, to bring more attention to art and history from a tender age. Newer ideas need to be explored, like in the town of Munster in Germany, where every ten years, the “Sculpture Project” takes place. In this project, the entire town becomes a museum, with art and sculptures placed everywhere across the town.
One may think that going digital is the key, but as pointed out by the experts, a small population would want to spend time viewing artefacts online when they have entertainment options like Netflix on the go. Studies also showed that while people did visit the websites for the first five days, the viewership dropped drastically after. There is also a lack of infrastructure in many countries and museums to create a digital version of displays, and the experts also felt that the true essence of the museums would be lost if there was no physical experience with the art and culture.
Lazare Eloundou Assomo, a member of UNESCO in the webinar also said that while the UNESCO was trying to raise awareness about museums across the world, museums had to come up with fresher ideas to become more popular. Museums need to become interactive spaces, where people can discuss everything from art to beauty, to mental health and to ending discrimination.
Museums also need to display what COVID-19 is doing to humanity and how the world is dealing with it. They need to forget the past and focus on the present. While the world’s priority will be health and economy, they need to remind people how important culture and art is to humanity, because those are the things humans are passionate about. Those are what we carry forward to generations to come.
We are all in a troubled state right now, but we need to remember that we cannot forget our history, our roots and our origins, all of which are preserved in our museums. India has at least one national museum in every state, and several other private smaller ones and we as proud children of the motherland need to appreciate our rich heritage more. This year, the ‘Biennale’, which is an event that happens every two years to display large-scale international contemporary artefacts, is happening in the Bihar Museum in Patna. It was supposed to take place from March to June, but it stands postponed for now. Do try to visit it for an amazing insight into the world’s art and culture.
Museums will change for the better and will work with the community instead of just for the community, and we need to do our part in helping preserve and promote these important parts of human history.