Chennai to get three new museums, but will they be any different from the rest?

The existing museums are monotonous spaces which hardly attract repeat visitors. Unless there is enough thought given to planning and administration, the new ones may face the same fate.

On the one hand, it is good news. The Chennai Metro Water Supply and Sewerage Board (CMWSSB) is looking at creating a museum at the Kilpauk Water Works. The Police Commissioner’s Office in the city is setting up a museum at its old office in Egmore. The Corporation is debating the possibility of a city museum in Victoria Public Hall.

Three great institutions of the city almost simultaneously working on museums for themselves! What more could we ask for? The question is how sustainable will these be in the long run given that they will almost certainly be run by the Government?

Monotony surrounding Chennai museums

Let us face it. These intentions are noble. But going by past record, will the fate of these proposed museums be any different to others such as the Government Museum Egmore or the Fort Museum? Both have had the same artefacts on display for years and if you have been there often enough, you can even identify the locations blindfolded.

Victoria Public Hall. Pic: Wikimedia Commons/CC BY-SA 2.5

True, there have been improvements in the methods of display and lighting but it cannot be denied that when compared to what is happening internationally and even in cities such Delhi, Kolkata and Mumbai, our museums are way behind. There is a deadening monotony about them that do not encourage repeat visits.

Read more: Why a visit to Egmore museum fascinates and saddens us at the same time

How museums around the world sustain themselves

The world over, museums have recognised that the only way to survive is by getting repeat footfalls and tapping tourists. Yes, some such as the Louvre may get by with one or two prize exhibits but even they do not rely on just this. Museums are today into rotating what is on display, they put up special shows, curate events and have overall become lively places where people congregate. Unfortunately for us, our museums do not encourage such creative activities.

Read more: How to make our museums vibrant community spaces

One of the reasons why museums abroad go to such an extent to reinvent themselves is that funding for their existence cannot be taken for granted. Here again, we are referring to small and niche museums and not the big ones.

In Chennai for instance, the water, police and city museums will fall under the niche category. Assured funding, which takes care of existence and salaries immediately destroys any initiative to market what is on display. Museums overseas are governed by trusts and the actual operations are entrusted to salaried chief executives whose primary targets include the sourcing of funding, acquisition of artefacts and increasing footfalls. Take away these and there is very little initiative left.

Read more: From Victoria Public Hall to College of Fine Arts — who will save our heritage buildings?

Need for a board

All three proposed museums will be Government owned and Government-run. That straightaway means they will be governed by bureaucratic systems and procedures beginning from the design of galleries and the providing of toilets. That said, the Government’s reluctance to hand these over to independent trusts is an impractical idea, given that the buildings where these will be housed are all on pieces of prime real estate and there is a lot more than just land involved.

But there must at least be a board, that comprises a healthy mix of experts and bureaucrats to administer these museums and there must definitely be a staff that does not have assured tenure and wages. That is the only way in which we can have excellence.

The Police incidentally already has a museum. It is a pathetic display at the training facility near Vandalur. Not one person outside of the top echelons of the police is even aware of it. The new museums run the same risk. It will be good if the Government pauses right now, thinks over how it can create world-class museums and then see the ways and means of going about them. Just jumping into their setting up may not be the answer.

[This story was first published on Madras Musings. It has been republished with permission. The original article can be found here.]

Also read:

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Similar Story

Bardhaman town’s tourism potential: Why it must be developed

West Bengal's Bardhaman town has immense tourism potential. Its development must prioritise sustainable tourism and civic development.

Bardhaman town, renowned for its Bengali sweets like mihidana and sitabhog, is also famous for its rich tapestry of folk culture and heritage sites. The town has immense potential for tourism. But the question arises, how much of it has been explored?   This article aims to shed light on Bardhaman's historical sites, the initiatives to promote tourism while addressing the civic issues hindering its progress, and highlight the need to balance tourism with sustainable development.  Heritage sites of Bardhaman Sher Afghan’s tomb  Located beside Pir Beharam, close to Rajbati, lies the  tomb of Sher Afghan, the resting place of the last…

Similar Story

Nam Kudiyiruppu Nam Poruppu: Is the scheme doing more harm than good in Chennai?

RWA members within the community, chosen to implement the scheme in resettlement sites in Chennai, feel alienated from other residents.

In December 2021, the Tamil Nadu government introduced the Nam Kudiyiruppu Nam Poruppu scheme for residents living in low-income, government housing and resettlement sites managed by the Tamil Nadu Urban Habitat Development Board (TNUHDB). In this scheme, residents form associations to oversee the maintenance of these sites, with the intention of transferring ownership of their living spaces back to them. This move is significant, especially for the resettlement sites, considering the minimal consultation and abrupt evictions relocated families have faced during the process. What the scheme entails The scheme also aims to improve the quality of living in these sites.…