India is on the cusp of an unprecedented museum development movement. It played host to the Eighth International Conference on the Inclusive Museum in August 2015, a research conference where participants gathered to figure out how Indian museums could become inclusive. Professor Amareswar Galla gives us a post-conference briefing.
So what is the Inclusive Museum?
It is a knowledge community that was founded by Common Ground Publishing and the International Institute for the Inclusive Museum in 2008. It has since become a platform for the expression of the human condition through the institution of the museum in all its manifestations. The initiative aims to address intersectionality across cultural borders through appropriate research and development, relevant capacity building and evidence based representations and transformations.
It promotes museums as sites for the articulation of our sense of place, wherever we are as communities and groups with different reference points. It is the human face to the rampant and accelerated juggernaut of globalization in all its forms: social, economic, cultural, environmental, digital, and spiritual. Inclusive Museum is an aspirational civic space that is created and recreated based on the context and relevance to diverse stakeholders. In this context, Indian museums need to rethink the theory and practice of community engagement.
The Inclusive Museum emphasizes that connecting collections and communities is critical.
The President of India Mr. Pranab Mukherjee commended the conference theme, ‘Museums as Civic Spaces’. He referred to temples as ‘multi-purpose museums – seats of learning, studios for artists, workshops for craftsmen, and halls of music and theatre for dancers,’ and that ‘conflicts erupt, borders undergo change, regimes disintegrate, alliances take shape, and new identities are established…Objects, beliefs and ideals become an integral part of our heritage – tangible and intangible’. In concluding, he emphasized the importance of storytelling to bring multiple voices into cultural institutions.
Nobel Laureate Kailash Satyarthi, during the Presidential inauguration, challenged museums to become relevant for the non-visitors, especially children that are marginalized due to their economic and social circumstances. Eminent historian Romila Thapar gave the keynote address on the understanding of the past through critical scholarship for the contextualization of objects. She elaborated on the importance of multiple interpretations and evidence based project development in museums to enable understandings of the present. A range of plenary speakers provided meaningful insights through case studies. Peer reviewed papers were presented by participants from 22 countries. Three workshops mentioned below were facilitated on the Museum Day on August 8.
Urban Renewal – Nizamuddin Basti by Aga Khan Trust for Culture: Three main insights from the workshop: The integrated and holistic approach to renewal which started by dealing with basic needs such as sanitation and garbage before moving on to physical renewal. This was impressive. This practical approach helped to build trust with the local population in spite of the obstacles thrown up by vested interests. This was courageous. The transparency, openness and engagement the Trust displayed in dealing with all friendly interest groups and those that dissented with the Trust’s activities. This was model behavior. Overall participants left Basti believing that the Aga Khan Trust for Culture’s (AKTC) approach is exceptional. Everyone is now looking forward to the site museum that is being developed | Convener – Ratish Nanda; International rapporteur – Charles Landry. Read more about the project.
Safeguarding Intangible Heritage – INTACH: Focus was on three questions. In what ways can museums become important vehicles for promoting and empowering primary stakeholder communities in the safeguarding of their intangible heritage elements? Could you suggest new approaches for museological and museographical studies for re-contextualizing, where possible, collections in the source communities? How can museums build clarity of purpose and accountabilities in inventorization, documentation and digitization projects dealing with intangible heritage? Workshop outcomes on each question continually highlighted that whatever actions, measures, and decisions museums take, everything must be done in partnership with primary stakeholder community groups who are carriers and transmitters of intangible heritage elements. Museums could become facilitators for safeguarding intangible heritage if they develop and use new tool kits in partnership with stakeholder community groups | Convener – Nerupama Modwell; International rapporteur – Yuriko Iwata.
Inclusive aesthetics – NGMA: Focus was on museums as agents of change; as places to formulate national narratives; and as national institution to valorize art, that is getting more polycentric. The emphasis was on breaking down cultural barriers so that museums could become spaces where the visitors become participants. Study visits included discussions on the Amrita Sher-Gil show and In the Seeds of Time. Concluding remarks highlighted constraints such as limited budgets, in order to expand collections; how and whether fine art museums should expand their collections to include what is traditionally described as ‘folk art,’ a challenging issue that museums often avoid; audience development and how museums can get closer to the local and national artistic community; and development of partnerships with local communities, inviting contemporary artists to engage with historic collections, and expanding programming that is often limited on the traditional activities of art museums. Clarity of core functions and responsibilities is critical for museums to become more inclusive | Convener – Rajeev Lochan; International rapporteurs – Emily Pringle and Luigi Di Corato.
The conference encourages Indian museums to address working in culturally complex and linguistically diverse contexts; to develop a deeper understanding of the diversity of issues of collective/multiple identities based on research; and to address civil society concerns from a cultural rights perspective. The next five years are transitional for India, which aspires to become a champion of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the post-2015 UN Development Agenda. These are being adopted in the current sessions of the UN General Assembly. In this context, locating museums in the Indian schemes such as HRIDAY, PRASAD and Smart Cities offers opportunities for demonstration projects. Question remains – are there relevant capabilities and capacities in the current Indian museum sector to engage and participate in such projects? The long walk in search of the Inclusive Museum is ahead.
About the Author
Professor Amareswar Galla from India is the founding Executive Director of the International Institute for the Inclusive Museum, Australia and Denmark. Visit www.inclusivemuseum.org.