The muse of history: Digitally mapping India's museums
The online encyclopaedic body Sahapedia has announced a new venture, seeking to digitally map all the museums in India. The first-of-its-kind initiative aims to trace and create an all-inclusive database of all the museums of India, offering a dynamic platform for audiences to view information and interact with museum professionals.
A non-profit body, Sahapedia is a web-based open resource on the arts, cultures and histories of India, containing multimedia modules made of articles, interviews, photographs, performance videos, maps, walkthroughs and bibliographies on subjects that assimilate Indian history and culture.
Named the Museum Mapping Project, the initiative will be launched on International Day of Museums, this May 18th, while the platform will eventually be made available for free on the web.
A mobile-based app on India’s museums, providing relevant info about ticket prices, opening hours, amenities, disability friendliness, and more, is already in the works, being developed by Sahapedia’s Vaibhav Chauhan.
Alongside, Sahapedia is also running a social media campaign titled #ILoveMuseums to generate interest among youngsters, encouraging them to write about their love for museums. A series of short interviews on museum professionals and enthusiasts is also set to be released.
As a part of the launch, Sahapedia will also host museum walks for underprivileged children, where the costs involved will be crowd-funded. In an email exchange, Dr Sudha Gopalakrishnan, Executive Director of Sahapedia, and Vaibhav Chauhan, their Director of Resource Mobilisation, discuss their immediate challenges and vision for growth.
How would you define a museum in the new age?
Sudha Gopalakrishnan: The definition of a museum has changed over the years. Rather than being just a house with a static collection of artefacts, it has become an open and vibrant platform where there is live dialogue between people and collections, capturing the memories, lifestyles and aspirations of the people.
In recent years, the ways of interacting and engaging with a museum has also changed. Awareness that museums are not just a product, but a context, and reflection of life patterns, is becoming more prominent.
How important is the subject of arts and culture documentation today?
SG: Culture is not only about performances and exhibitions, but about processes that are a part of our daily lives. It is linked to creativity, and we engage with them everyday. There is a sense of beauty that pervades creativity, be it in handmade textile or a woven basket, as much in great traditions of music or dance.
There is a great diversity of arts and cultures in India, as there are many regions, and communities, which have their special ways of reckoning with the world through their music, food, stories, daily objects and practices. Many of these traditions are losing their specificities in today’s age.
Documenting has become very important and museums have a great role to play. Public participation can be fostered through creating real and virtual spaces of interaction and through education.
Vaibhav Chauhan: We, as a team, can only do limited documentation. We are losing treasures on a daily basis. It is urgent that the youth in India take ownership in cultural documentation. We also need cultural entrepreneurs to create economic value around these assets.
How do you intend to sensitise youngsters to matters of heritage and Indian culture?
SG: We are living in age of information explosion. There is a problem of plenty, of limitless choice. With the advance of technology and access to the internet, museums are not limited by space anymore — they can reach out to a large number of people.
The challenge is to instill a sense of pride in the younger generation for their own culture, but also for respecting difference, and other cultures. Students could learn their own mother tongue, for instance, and its dialects, learn stories and understand how things are made. They can visit local monuments, know local history, visit museums, and share this knowledge with others. That is how we can think of a more cohesive society.
In fact, educational curricula should actively encourage these things. The internet presents a great opportunity to understand many aspects of our histories and cultures that we didn’t know before. It’s also a great platform for sharing ideas.
VC: This enterprise represents a transformational vision to craft an innovative platform which finds translation in safeguarding the cultural heritage of India and its dissemination through meaningful
education. Heritage education will form a major focus of this initiative. We use social media and technology to reach to the young.
How is the #ILoveMuseums campaign coming along? Do you have more people actively looking at museums now rather than say, at the movies and sports?
VC: The #ILoveMuseums campaign is getting lots of traction, and users are coming up with interesting replies on this campaign. We have seen people across demographics participate in the campaign.
Museums have their own charm, and we have seen quite an interest from people to visit them if they have a guide who can take them through history and the journey.
Day by day, the number of people attending Sahapedia walks in museums and other historical places have increased, which is a clear indication of the power of storytelling and quality content.
How has Sahapedia’s online presence been growing, since the launch in April 2016? How have the reactions been so far?
VC: Sahapedia is a CSR-supported initiative. TCS Foundation, Infosys Foundation and ONGC are our major funders. We aim to make Sahapedia financially sustainable through Heritage Tourism, Heritage Education, Heritage Conservation and heritage-related consulting.
The Sahapedia platform is growing rapidly in terms of content, usage and users. We use multiple platforms to reach out to different user groups. For example, our Youtube channel has more than 350 videos and a dedicated user base.
We have also recently started offline activities such as heritage walks and talks series (baithaks) for wider engagement. Our audience is growing each day and is an engaged community. We have worked on developing powerful interactive content and products like The Cultural Mapping Project (culturalmapping.in/fortkochi) and The Museums of India (museumsofindia.org).