Sunday, February 9, 2014

India, Chicago Art Institute create common e-database for museum collectibles in India


New Delhi: Museums as repositories of history, art and living heritages in India have been in the midst of a discourse for the last decade since the custodians of the country's culture corridors realised the importance to make "cultural institutions owned by the government more relevant to the audience of tomorrow as catalysts of cultural advancements". 
In its enadeavour to enrich museums in the country and make them more experiential, the Indian government has brought on board several foreign institutions to lend their expertise in making museums across the country  "activity oriented" to cater to people and living cultures.
Last year, the culture ministry of the country entered into an agreement ith the Chicago Art Institute for a "Museum Excellence" programme on 150th year of the birth of seer Vivekananda as a memorial project. 
The seer, a Vedic scholar, took United States of America by storm in 1893 when he lectured in Chicago about syncretic spirituality at the World Parliament of Religions in the city's downtown area in South MIchigan Avenue in a building that is now home to the institute. 
The Congress was "electrified" by the seer's legendary address, who made a plea to end zealotry and bigotry.         
As part of the memorial agreement, it was decided that the Art Institute of Chicago will share the best practises with Indian museums through a series of seminars, workshops and exchange studies. Every year, a select group of professionals from India will be sent to the Art Institure for training and — experts from Chicago will travel to India to assist in care and conservation-related education projects.
Officials of the Chicago Art Institute and the ministry of culture, who met this month in New Delhi to assess the programme in its second year said it was showing remarkable progress. The programme applies to spheres of care, preservation, cataloguing and display of the rich cultural heritage of India,
Carrying the initial exchanges of in "Museum Best Practises" and "Collective Management and Preventive Conservation" a step forward — the ministry of Indian culture and Chicago art institute announced the creation of a new database — to collate and digitise museum archives. The website, "Jatan", a common database for all museums, will bring the collections of all museums under one portal and involve more museums. 
"The database will be a great boon to art history scholars, students of art appreciation and interested people to study the collections of museums," Douglas Druick, president of the Chicago Art Institute, said. The database will have many applications. "It will be a great management tool like taking inventory of the records that are on pen and paper and making them available as computer images," Druick said. 
A spokesperson for the Indian ministry of culture said, "With the art institute's assistance, all the museums directly funded by the Indian national government, including the National Museum in New Delhi, the Indian Museum in Kolkata, the Salar Jung Museum in Hyderabad, the Victoria Memorial Museum in Kolkata, the National Gallery of Modern Art in New Delhi, all the 44 site museums managed by the Archaeological Survey of India have agreed to use a single database and taxonomic system to catalogue their collections. India is the country to have adopted the system.       
Comparing the museums of India and United States in the context of integrations of archives into a common pool, Druick said "in US, all museums were independent. "We manage our own colloections unlike in India, where museums are governed by a central agency. Here one can manage 10 museums with one system," Druick said.
In the first phase of the digitisation of museum archives, nine museums have begun using "Jatan" digital management software developed by the Centre for the Development of Advanced Computing. The partnership, which has been described as the first of its kind between India and an American institution, has been set up with a grant by the Indian government to the Chicago Art Institute.
The institute is looking at India to "expand the purview and depth of its Indian collection" and add more contemporary art to its repertoire, Douglas Druick said. The Indian archive - gallery — occupies centrestage of the museum and "no visitor to the museum can miss Indian collection," the president of the institute pointed out. The institute — known as one of the most premier of American art archives and school of art — has been working with Indian contemporary artists like JItish Kallat (who created a digital art project Public Notice 3),  Zarina Hashmi (with a project Paper like Skin) and Amar Kanwar (The Lightning Testimonies) — to open a dialogue between American art lovers and Indian contemporary art on historical and aeathetic perspectives to show the "universality" of Indian practises and "rich indigenous content from the country's history". It hosted a exhibition of Rabindranath Tagore's "The Last Harvest" — to mark the poet-artist's 150th birth anniversary in 2012. 
"We are preparing to host a solo exhibitions of NIlima Sheikh and Dayanita Singh, two leading woman contemporary artists," Druick said.   

Glimpses from an conversation with Douglas Druick 

The objective of the museum excellence programme between India and Chicago Art Institute is to make musuems more "relevant places for the audience of tomorrow" as living places of art, heritage and cultural movements, Douglas Druick, the president of the Chicago Art Institute told this writer in an informal chat in New Delhi. He was in India to lecture on "The Chicago Art Institute and Museum Best Practises" in January end. He coincided his visit to tour the India Art Fair 2014 as well — hunting for "potehtial works of art".    
"We have nearly 300,000 works of art - and our primary responsbilities are to care for the art works and present them to the public in a manner that addresses the contemporary sensitivies of the younger audience," Druick said, adding that the art institute was "very encyclopaedic in nature"- oriented in raising awareness about museums among masses.
Druick said "as anywhere else, the notions of conservation have seen growing interest for sometime and several museums have enetered into collaborative museum excellence programmes to share know-how about best practises and preventive conservation across the world".       
Commenting on a new partnership between Indian museums and the Chicago Art Intitute, Druick said the need at the moment was to "create priorities" and "a plan for management of resources — including additional human resources". 
Druick said museums in the US were using the social media networks to build "recognition" about collections and "emails" to atract new audiences. "Marketing museums through the social networks is important for large shows and mass viewings— for instance to get the 15-year-olds to the museum," Druick said.   
Everyone is attracting audience of tomorrow, Druick said. "We need to remain relevant. You have to give something that people want — find out the kind of works that people want to see," he said. The Chicago Art Institute has initiated a teenage feedback programme under which "teenage teams are reaching out to peer groups across Chicago with competitions on what youngsters would "like the museum to remain relevant". "A dialogue is on," Druick said.             
The programme in India is "essentially is discussion (and exchange) on how to get people to the museum". Indian musuems have more historical material than art unlike museums in the west. "The challenge here is whether it is to put contemporary art  in spaces which have ancient art— to create present out of the past and present out of the present,' Druick pointed out.       
-Staff Writer

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