In the recent past, the world has seen a paradigm shift in the concept of what a museum is. Museums are no longer just edifices accommodating historical artefact displays but instead, they are living thriving celebration of culture, both historical and contemporary.
The situation in our nation, however, is abysmal. While other museums around the world are digitizing their collections and putting them online, most museums in India still lack a website or digital presence.
The Heritage Lab is an initiative by Medhavi Gandhi to promote museums in the nation. It is her motivation and passion for culture that will make you hooked to the website and her very active Twitter feed. Medhavi has well strategized the content on the website to make the content both interesting to inspire curiosity and concise enough to navigate through the content effectively. Take a look at the interesting parts of the website.
The quick guides are a series of concise articles focussing on one museum each. These articles bring limelight on museums that you probably wouldn’t even be knowing existed. Definitely a positive step towards museum literacy.
Do you visit museums or art galleries, look at the art and are confused what to make out of them?
Well, interpreting art isn’t always obvious and hence the website creates a discussion around interpreting abstract concepts in art through “Museum Mojo” – an art nerd’s cool bag of engaging and interesting resources.
Medhavi has made these interesting PDFs called Activity Sheets that deconstruct the process of appreciating art and bring the attention of children to facets of art.
Like say, here in Jamini Roy’s artwork, Medhavi presents three simple exercises to study the Faces, Shapes & Pattern and the Inspiration thus bringing the attention to these aspects which otherwise would have gone unnoticed.
The blockquotes in this section are Medhavi’s words taken from the article here.
The Heritage Lab sort of has been a culmination of Medhavi’s experiences, a distillation of her ideas and goals to make museums relevant again. She has refined the idea through active learning she has had in pursuing her dream.
In 2014, we were restructuring its work and looking at two objectives: 1) How to engage youth with heritage and take experiential learning to the classrooms and 2) How to promote design education and innovation with artisans and craftspeople from different disciplines (textiles, wood, metal, painting, etc.).
However, what we realized in working with people in these disciplines was that there was little to no understanding about what their ancestors had created or the processes they had used. How were we going to get youth to take pride in these traditions if today’s artisans were unfamiliar with them?
Medhavi’s idea of the Activity Book is the result of her previous experiences.
Then in February 2015, I led a multidisciplinary team to the ASI Museum to create a traveling exhibit based on the Vijaynagara Empire. It resulted in the creation of an activity book for children, which enthusiastic parents and kids bought multiple copies of. Yet, while the museum was appreciative of our efforts, I realized that it took too much back and forth to simply access the museum and its resources. It shouldn’t have been that difficult in this day and age, but it was.
I created The Heritage Lab to make museums more accessible for families and children but when I dug in deeper, I found that many people, like me, wanted more from these cultural institutions. Not only did they want to know which museum to visit but they also wanted more information than what was provided on the artifact labels. What could provenance, period or style really convey to them? Where could they look to find out? How would their museum visit ever be part of a conversation if they didn’t understand what they were observing? It also meant that a lot of parents weren’t comfortable taking their families to museums because they feared not being able to answer their children’s questions.
She was able to translate her learnings and disappointments into solutions and positivity.
So, I decided to reach out to friends, friends of friends, interns who were willing to conduct visitor surveys at museums in 5 major cities in India. The surveys focused on asking visitors what they wanted out of a museum. The results helped me create a Museum Manifesto that highlights 15 ways to make museums more visitor-friendly.
19 museums came forward to adopt the Manifesto. The number doesn’t matter, what matters is the willingness. I liked that these museums had the willingness to accept feedback and the eagerness to adopt change.
Medhavi’s story is not just about revitalizing museums. It is a story of how we live in a world where a heart filled with passion and a mind filled with dreams can use technology and resources to drive impact.
Medhavi probably isn’t a master at web development or coding but look at what she has been able to accomplish! She is single-handedly impacting the way India sees its museums. It is bright forces like her that the country needs today who can shape their own paths and be brave enough to tread on them. Kudos to Medhavi, a true Outlier.