AIIS Convenes All India Museum Summit

The All India Museum Summit 2019, organized by the American Institute of Indian Studies (AIIS), was held at the India International Centre in New Delhi, July 22-24, 2019. Under the theme India’s museums in the new millennium the Summit emphasized the importance of museums in enriching the lives of India’s people and the need for building institutional capacities to manage collections and resources. The Summit also provided a valuable interaction opportunity and set the stage for further cooperation among museum professionals from India and the US.

The Museum Summit project was supported by a generous grant from the US Embassy in New Delhi, and was directed by Dr. Susan Bean, the chair of the AIIS Art and Archaeology Committee. The project co-director is Dr. Vandana Sinha, the director of the AIIS Center for Art and Archaeology.

The Museum Summit plan is radically innovative as a program for galvanizing India’s diverse museum sector to articulate new, ambitious, aspirational goals for India’s museums – to move them decisively beyond the role of caretakers of India’s artistic heritage by charting a path towards becoming cutting-edge leaders, using 21st century technologies (from smartphones to state-of-the-art gallery lighting) in the deployment of cultural heritage in its broadest sense for diverse audiences (whether local or international; school children, families or the disabled). 

Dr. Susan Bean, Professor Sumathi Ramaswamy, Mr. Arun Goel, Ambassador Kenneth I. Juster, Mrs. Purnima Mehta

The Summit was attended by more than 200 participants and speakers from India, the US, UK, Bhutan and Singapore and from cities including Aligarh, Bengaluru, Chandigarh, Chicago, Gandhinagar, New Delhi/NCR, Indiana, Jaipur, Kolhapur, London, Manipur, Massachusetts, Meghalaya, Mewar, Mumbai, New York, Paro, Pune, Rajasthan, Thimphu, and Vadodara. Attendees included curators, conservationists, educators, art book publishers, researchers, scientists, artists, architects, art critics, musicologists, archivists, art collectors, other professionals from arts and culture and students. 

The event was inaugurated on July 22 with a welcome speech and opening remarks by AIIS president Professor Sumathi Ramaswamy and AIIS director-general Purnima Mehta. Arun Goel, Secretary, Ministry of Culture, Government of India delivered the inaugural address while the keynote address was made by the US Ambassador to India, the Honorable Kenneth I. Juster.

The theme for the first day of the Summit was “Reimagining Museums for the 21st Century.” Sessions included “India’s New Museums: Aims, Challenges, Strategies,” chaired by Dr. Bean, and “Supporting and Advancing India’s Museums,” chaired by Dr. Madhuvanti Ghose, the Associate Curator of Indian, Southeast Asian, Himalayan and Islamic Art at the Art Institute of Chicago. Day one ended with a roundtable on “Leapfrogging Museums into the 21st Century: Bringing Past into the Present for the Future.”

The theme for the second day was “Constituencies, Audiences, Access” and began with the session “Installing exhibitions that engage the public,” chaired by Naman Ahuja, professor, School of Arts & Aesthetics, Jawaharlal Nehru University. This session was followed by a special lecture “Formulating Modes of Perception and Participation – Museum Audiences and Beyond” by Tasneem Mehta, managing trustee and honorary director of the Dr. Bhau Daji Lad Mumbai City Museum in Mumbai. The afternoon session “Reaching Audiences,” chaired by Joyoti Roy, head of marketing and communication at the Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya (CSMVS) in Mumbai, was followed by a visit to the Drishyakala Museum at the Red Fort in Delhi, organized by the Delhi Art Gallery.

The third day’s theme was “Collections: Care, Management, Conservation.” Sessions included “Preventative Care and Conservation,” chaired by Anupam Sah, head of conservation at CSMVS; “Realizing Collections’ Potential through Research,” chaired by Annapurna Garimella, curator at Jackfruit Research & Design, Bengaluru and New Delhi; and “Documentation, Digitization and Archives,” chaired by Pramod Kumar KG, managing director of Eka Archiving Services Pvt. Ltd. in New Delhi. One of the presenters in this session was Diane Zorich, director of the Smithsonian Institution’s Digitization Program Office. The third day concluded with an address by Nirupama Kotru, Joint Secretary (Museum) of the Ministry of Culture, Government of India.

All India Summit presenters group photo

At the close of the Summit, a working group will convene to assess the proceedings and draft a white paper for the Ministry of Culture, the content of which will also be widely disseminated in India’s museum community and made publicly available. The aim of the white paper is to articulate the needs of museums, conservation facilities and heritage institutions to become 21st century leaders in the field worldwide and to outline initiatives that are innovative, feasible and sustainable to advance towards these goals. The Summit was covered by the New Indian Express.