Coronavirus lockdown: When the museum comes to you!

Ambika Shaligram
Sunday, 5 April 2020

Get set for a digital tour of thematic exhibitions curated by the country’s top museums.

Amongst the online theatre experiences, live book reading sessions, chats on WhatsApp and Hangout, if you are looking for a more enriching engagement, then it’s time you visited the very active social media handles of some of the best museums in the country.

If you have a good internet connection, hop on to the digital tours of the museums facilitated by Google Arts and Culture page/app. An exciting and immersive experience awaits you. And, yes, once the coronavirus lockdown ends, do visit the museums in your cities for they have lots to share in the physical space as well.

Centenary year of Raja Kelkar Museum
Last week, a video clip giving a 3D glimpse of Raja Dinkar Kelkar Museum was shared widely. It was a sheer delight to zoom-in on to statues through the tiled corridor and the arched ceilings.

“It’s what you may call a glimpse into the museum, and hopefully this will encourage many Puneites to visit the 22,000 priceless artefacts which were painstakingly collected by Dr Dinkar Kelkar,” says Sudhanva Ranade, director of the museum.

When asked if they have plans of starting a full-fledged virtual tour, which would come as a boon to many interested connoisseurs who can’t step out because of the lockdown, Ranade says, “Dr Shreekant Kelkar, nephew of Dr Kelkar, and head of National Institute of Ophthalmology, and I presented this glimpse as a run-up to International Museum Day, (May 18). 

“As I said earlier, we want to see an increased footfall because this is the centenary year of the museum. Dr Kelkar started collecting antiquities sometime around 1920. Also, this year we observe his 125th birth anniversary.”

But all the plans might come to a nought because of the worldwide pandemic and social distancing that we are observing. “We can’t predict what the situation is going to be like in May. At the same time, we are glad with the response that the clip has fetched. It has piqued curiosity,” Ranade adds.

When asked if there was any response from the younger population or those who have come to the city for academic or livelihood reasons, Ranade says, “Traditionally, Raja Kelkar Museum has always been visited by those who have come from different states or countries. I guess, most Puneites put off paying a visit, thinking, ‘We are here, we can always come some other day.”

The website, has detailed information about the museum’s collection, the story of its creator, and a photo section. Unlike other private and public museums, it doesn’t have a very active social media presence.

“We are a team of 12 at present and to leave a footprint in the virtual world, you need more resources. Still, we can always learn from other museums and engage more on social media websites to get more visitors,” adds Ranade.

The website also has a note on Museumcity near Bavdhan, where the Raja Kelkar museum is likely to shift in the near future, with more space and infrastructure to support new initiatives and activities.

Diverse and dynamic experience
In 1905, prominent people of Bombay resolved to erect a memorial, in the form of a public museum, for the visit of Prince of Wales (later King George V). The Prince of Wales laid the foundation stone of the museum on November 11, 1905, and it was named Prince of Wales Museum of Western India. The building was completed in 1914, but it opened to the public on January 10, 1922.

Since then, a lot has changed. Bombay has become Mumbai, and the museum is now known as Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya (CSMVS). Today it houses about 50,000 artefacts and has an outstanding collection comprising sculptures, terracotta, bronze, excavated artefacts from the Harappan sites, Indian miniature paintings, European paintings etc. It also has a separate Natural History section.

In keeping with the time, it has an active social media presence too. Urvashi Jhangiani, digital media manager of the CSMVS, says, “We count on the visitors having an immersive experience at the museum, but since everything is shut because of the pandemic, we are working to ensure that they don’t miss out on any of the events they looked forward to.”

The museum is now on Google Arts and Culture page --  

And there you can go on virtual tours of the museum. “The prominent tours include the one on ‘Textile collection’, ‘India and the World’ section and ‘Natural History’ section. We are also sharing a lot of our information from our archives which was not available previously. One of the key strengths of CSMVS is that we do a lot of educational workshops, and some of these we are doing online now. 

Last week, we did an Origami workshop with Bob. We plan to do many such workshops live on Instagram (@csmvsmumbai). We also have online quizzes, puzzles, and content on art history as well,” adds Jhangiani.  

Since the lockdown, the social media handles of the museum have seen a lot more engagement. “We do a lot of fun, interactive stuff on Instagram. On our YouTube channel (CSMVS Mumbai), you will find videos of academic lectures. This is mainly for our older audiences, if they have an hour or two, they can listen/watch the lectures by prolific speakers like B V Doshi,” she says.  

The CSMVS was one of the first in the city to have a dedicated space for children. The Children’s Museum, which turned one on March 29, 2020, has many activities for the children too.

When asked if they have plans to continue with the online engagement after life returns to normal, Jhangiani says, “Our viewership is at an all-time high, and so we want to retain these strategies that we have implemented. But at the same time, we also want people to come to the museum. It’s a very diverse and dynamic experience, you get to meet so many people, and we want them to touch and feel the exhibits (wherever possible).”  

The story of the oldest Mumbai museum 
The Dr Bhau Daji Lad Mumbai City Museum, formerly known as Victoria and Albert Museum, is the oldest museum in the capital of Maharashtra. Lord Elphinstone established the Central Museum of Natural History, Economy, Geology, Industry and Arts in 1855, the first museum in the then Bombay. In 1858, George Birdwood was appointed curator of the museum. Soon, a committee was formed, comprising Birdwood, Dr Bhau Daji Lad and Jaganath Shunkerseth to raise money for the construction of a new building.

The construction of the present building in Jijamata Udyan in Byculla got completed in 1871, and the museum opened a year later on May 2, 1872. In 1975, the museum was renamed in memory of Dr Lad. In 2003, the restoration work of the museum began. After five years of painstaking and intensive work, it reopened to the public on January 4, 2008.

The restoration work is one of the videos that you can watch on Google Arts and Culture page -- 

“In fact, the Bhau Daji Lad museum was the first Indian museum to collaborate with the Google Arts and Culture page,” says Ruta Waghmare-Baptista, Assistant Curator in charge of Education and Collection, Dr Bhau Daji Lad Museum (BDL), adding, “The museum also has a very good online engagement and after the lockdown started, we have amplified it. On Instagram (@bdlmuseum), our weekly views have doubled with one of the latest posts being seen over 7000 times and receiving over 1000 likes. What we have learnt from this period is that Indian museums can go over and beyond just posting images of the objects or people or activities that are happening.” 

The BDL museum has 11 virtual exhibitions. A few were developed in collaboration, like ‘Honouring Nepal’, after the Nepal earthquake in April 2015. 

“We had collaborated with a few museums across the world, who have Nepali collections. The Los Angeles Museum has a huge Nepali art collection, and we used that. In 2017, we had gone live with ‘We Wear Culture’, which was a Google project again. It covered 182 cultural institutions across the world, including museums, brands. It was treated as a history of passion. We had three online exhibitions, and this was an excellent opportunity because these are the stories which we tell during public tours, like the ‘Story of Cotton in Mumbai’, ‘Story of Traditional Clothes in Clay Models’. These can’t be permanent exhibitions because we have limited space. Virtual exhibitions seemed a good way,” adds Waghmare. 

Currently, the museum has about 300 objects online, and the team plans on putting out more because of this crisis. The challenge is of space because the servers aren’t equipped to take on the extra data. 

“The museums across the world are talking about this on Twitter right now -- ‘this is why our collection needs to be online, because you don’t know when you won’t have access’,” informs Waghmare. 

On the anvil is a digital tour of Nalini Malani’s exhibition which was supposed to be displayed in the museum. 

“This exhibition was supposed to end on March 31, but Nalini was showcasing at Barcelona, and she was quarantined there. We have pictures of the show and we will be putting that up online. Nalini’s work is a lot like iPad animation videos, and she has a page on Instagram dedicated to that. We will be sharing a few quotes, images and ideas that she had shared with us. It’s like ‘behind-the-scenes’ of art shows,” she says. 

When asked what are the Dos and Don’ts that they have to keep in mind while putting out work on social media, Waghmare says, “We have to keep in mind the artist’s rights. Most of the times, artists are amenable to sharing their work online. But we have to ensure that there are no copyright violations. As a public government institution and a museum, we have to be very careful about the information that we put out. We have to be responsible; we have to be factually correct. The language has to be simple. Right now, the Google Arts and Culture page doesn’t have a Marathi domain. That is a challenge. One good thing about the digital platform, though it can never replace the museum experience, is that it allows you to focus and zoom in on the details of the exhibits.”

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