Odisha’s musuems are cost centres. But they need to move to being profit centres. If they don’t have enough revenue surplus, our heritage will wither away. They are directly correlated
Museums in Odisha have recently got makeovers and are now worth visiting. They were, however, apologies in the name of archives before renovation. I hope they continue to shine for more time because without museums, we would portray a grim picture of our culture, which is itself bereft of cultural sensitivity.
Museums play an essential role in Odisha’s cultural and social life and enrich our lives daily — feeding the hunger for knowledge and igniting our imaginations.
But beyond this cultural impact, the museum sector is also essential to the state economy — generating gross domestic product (GDP) in a state with one- third tribal districts and 62 indigenous tribes, stimulating small enterprises and contributing taxes.
Despite this, museums in Odisha have to fend for themselves. Where is our society’s involvement in our marvellous collections and stately museums?
Odisha’s architectural and art heritage is unparallelled. The state is India’s sports capital, steel capital, soft culture capital and yet our creative economy is famished. Why?
Odisha has an array of objects and history covering anthropology, archaeology, armoury, art and craft, epigraphy, geology, natural history, numismatics / coins, palm leaf manuscripts, patta painting and many more.
And yet museums in a state so culturally rich languish in neglect. Odisha’s museums are cost centres. But they need to move to being profit centres. If they don’t have enough revenue surplus, our heritage will wither away. They are directly correlated.
Protecting copyrights and garnering lucrative revenue from brand deals will enhance the glam quotient of museums and in turn would attract serious attention. Any shortfalls in footfalls can be offset by complimentary sources of revenue.
The Odisha State Museum, Tribal Museum and Maritime Museum have rare photographs and they should take up the photo business seriously. Merchandising museum masterpieces need to be encouraged.
There are many souvenir items selling in Bhubaneswar but these are of abysmally low quality and price. We need not be so apathetic about our heritage and flaunt only our Europe-purchased curios in our living rooms. Their quality is good and they are presentable. Our miniatures can also be of high quality.
Each precious item in the tribal museum in Bhubaneswar can be replicated to souvenirs. They are so distinctive and rare. They are not merely objects but ‘talking and breathing’ symbols.
Some designs can be made images of the artworks, others can be designed to look like official tickets. There is enough scope to make bold and contemporary creations, driving contemporary, Z-culture interest from younger, global audiences.
Regional Museum of Natural History, Kala Bhoomi, State Museum, Khiching Museum, Sun Temple / Konark Museum, Archaeological Museum and Netaji Museum should turn to merchandise to tap Gen Z visitors, who are more likely to access museum content online, rather than offline.
The state’s princely family collections can add to the list and weave a captivating and antique story. When antiques have a high-end global market, why are we side-lining our own valuables? At least the functional 50-odd palaces can gift artefacts and antiquarian rarities to the museums for better maintenance and publicity. Presently, many such items and stories are getting buried without any documentation.
It has been seen worldwide that many designers opt for creative mashups of the old masters (like Van Gogh’s Sunflowers). Each district of Odisha has many motifs / symbols. These patterns or designs need not be copied on to the products.
Instead, the artists can create original patterns inspired by artworks and share them on TikTok and livestreamed events. This will help transform something ancient and jaded into something modern and exciting.
Museums can become the platforms for the creative economy. It might not be possible to have so many art galleries, but museums can be much more than art galleries.
Museums and GDP
The museum sector has direct (operational) contribution to the economy and can have increased cascading impact across the districts and the Odisha economy. Museums can increase purchases, both in quality and quantity, from a wider supply chain.
Odisha’s particularly vulnerable tribal groups (PVTG), artisans, historians, academicians can develop regular engagement with museums for supply of materials and provide the fast vanquishing knowledge capital.
They can promote culture through events and majorly contribute to tourism. Odisha museums can organise marquee history and culture-related events, not seen often in India.
Each of these economic channels can be quantified in terms of contributions to the state GDP, social entrepreneurship and the resulting tax revenue that is generated for all levels of government.
In 2021-22, Odisha’s state GDP grew at 10.1 per cent which is the laudable result of sustained efforts in prudent fiscal measures, management of COVID-19 and almost parallel growth in the three sectors — agriculture, manufacturing and services.
The euphoric growth story of Odisha will have additional support from museums in adding the cultural capital quotient and social inclusion. Museums open up avenues to supplement startups and ‘Make in Odisha’.
Enterprises based on museum needs can develop last mile entrepreneurship within self help groups, PVTGs and marginalised communities who are skilled but lack market exposure or linkages. They can be trained to produce souvenirs, objects to keep in the museums, replicas, models. The weavers can directly participate in events which I have mentioned earlier.
Museums can emerge as economic engines for their communities, supporting jobs and wages that are vital to the health of the districts and villages. The sector in Odisha can directly support more than 5,000 jobs and generate twice in community livelihoods.
This apart, there are many intangible benefits. The economic contribution of museums extends far beyond these immediate transactions. The impact of ‘cultural capital’ and its power to improve life isn’t always quantifiable and need not be quantified.
In the midst of the Odia social milieu undergoing a major transition, from a self-contained one to a more cosmopolitan one, it is time to enhance our equity in our ‘cultural capital’.
Increasing cultural capital will reduce the size of social class inequalities. The handful self-claimed ‘culturati’ will have to give way to the genuine mass ‘waiting’. Every village in Odisha has a story to tell.
Picasso said, “give me a museum and I’ll fill it”. Here, we have enough of them. Let’s fill them.
Views expressed are the author’s own and don’t necessarily reflect those of Down To Earth
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