India, Australia partner to upgrade museums, 2 Aug 2009

By Madhusree Chatterjee

New Delhi, Aug 2 (IANS) Are you usually disappointed when you walk into a museum in India? Now you may no longer be, thanks to a series of projects between India and Australia which will help Indian museums conserve their art and heritage and become more culturally involved.

The AusHeritage Ltd., a network of more than 40 Australian heritage conservation institutions supported by the government of Australia, is lending its expertise to the Indian culture ministry. It will help in capacity building and conservation projects in museums this year, beginning with Kolkata.

“We will begin work at the Victoria Memorial Museum in Kolkata in October on a preventive conservation project of paintings and artefacts both on permanent display at the memorial galleries and in storage,” Vinod Daniel, chairman of AusHeritage who is in the capital to draw up a blueprint for the project, told IANS Wednesday.

Chennai-born Daniel, an alumnus of the Indian Institute of Technology, New Delhi, has been working with the Australian government in conservation management since 1995. The focus of his conservation network, the largest in Australia, is the Asia-Pacific region.

Daniel said Secretary of Culture Secretary Jawahar Sircar had agreed to extend “all possible help for the conservation projects in museums”.

Built between 1906 and 1921 as a tribute to Queen Victoria of England, the Victoria Memorial Hall has a large collection of East India Company or British Raj paintings in oil, water colours and aquatints by European painters like Charles D’Oyly, Johann Zoffany, William Hadges, Thomas Hickey, Bultzar Silyyns, Thomas Hickey and Emily Eden, who documented life in India under British rule.

Daniel is scheduled to go to Kolkata soon to take stock of the Victoria Memorial collection.

“We are also collaborating with the Indian Museum in Kolkata on a textile conservation project and conducting capacity building workshops in all the museums in the northeastern states of India. Besides, we are also in talks with the Indian government to explore the needs for training and workshops on adaptive reuse of heritage buildings for sustainable tourism in Kolkata, Delhi and Mumbai,” Daniel said.

In 2007, the Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage (Intach) organised a three-day seminar on managing and conserving cultural heritage in India with AusHeritage following which both signed an MoU (memorandum of understanding) for the promotion of heritage in South Asia. “Since then, we have been working with Intach and also with the Indira Gandhi National Centre for Arts,” the chairman of AusHeritage said.

Daniel said India had the “strength to add more capacity to its museums and that Indian universities could include heritage studies in its regular module”.

The Australian network is working with Chennai-based Hindustan University for education programmes in heritage and conservation designed towards better delivery initiatives and is building skilled museum faculties, Daniel said.

“The whole art of museuology is changing dramatically. The focus has shifted from the ‘I am curator and I know best’ attitude to the third party who is either using the museum as a resource base or a visitor. The ownership is back to the people. Every museum has been going through changes and reaching out to people. More and more museums are putting their collections on the Internet and in the process becoming more responsive to what the audience wants. But each country has its own culture. They may not necessarily choose the western model to make the changes happen,” Daniel said.

“The three new idioms for museums of the future were more access, learning to operate on limited institutional or government funding and looking for new revenue-generating avenues, and finally, authorship – who tells the story in the museum,” Daniel said.

Madhusree Chatterjee can be contacted at


AusHeritage is a network of Australian cultural heritage management organisations, established by the Australian Government in 1996. The network aims to facilitate the engagement of practitioners and organisations for the Australian heritage industry in the overseas arena.

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