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(ARCHIVE) Vol. XX No. 21, February 16-28, 2011
Senate House to become a museum
– but will it be any different
from other museums in Chennai?
(By The Editor)

The University of Madras has announced that historic Senate House will soon be converted into a museum that will trace the history of modern education in the State. It has been decided that to begin with it will house an exhibition of photographs of the University. This by itself is a good development, what with the 153-year-old University definitely being in possession of a treasure trove of valuable photographs and other documents that merit being displayed. It may result in increased footfalls within the building. It will definitely result in the building being put to good use, which in turn may mean better maintenance also. However, it remains to be seen if the museum by itself will become a success. The past record of museums in the city does not fill us with great hopes.

The city has several museums, State and privately owned, and most of them receive no or very few visitors the year round. The Gandhi Mandapam, the Kamaraj Museum, MGR Museum, Clive’s Corner (in Fort St George), the Rail Museum and the Ramanujan Museum are a few. The fate of some of the others such as the Musical Instruments Museum and the RH Elliot Eye Museum (when last heard, it still existed inside the Eye Hospital) is not known. The whereabouts of the contents of Gandhi Illam, the museum dedicated to the father of the nation inside Government Estate which mysteriously went up in flames and was subsequently demolished, are also not known. There is a High Court Museum too, of which very few outside the legal circles seem to know. The only museums that see somewhat better traffic are the Fort Museum and the Government Museum in Egmore. Even in these cases, most visitors, especially those from abroad, come away with a poor impression of the quality of display and the information available on various precious displays.

The Senate House.

It cannot be denied that Chennai’s museums are in a time warp. The authorities
appear to think that simply putting up a few displays constitutes a museum. These are invariably opened with much fanfare and then left to their own devices, often with a disinterested and wholly uninformed staff to run the day-to-day affairs. There are practically no efforts made to publicise the existence of these museums and, if and when a visitor does come in, there is very little to make him/her feel welcome. The staff more often than not considers the visitors to be intrusions on their privacy.

The situation is completely different abroad. All museums are set up professionally with the understanding that these have to be continuously upgraded. There are efforts to attract funding by way of grants, apart from events being regularly hosted in museum premises right through the year which ensures good patronage. Museums become live places and the presence of coffee shops and souvenir outlets only adds to their liveliness. They also bring in additional revenue to the museums. In Chennai, even public conveniences of a certain standard are a rarity inside museums. Then how do we expect visitors to throng these places? The lack of patronage results in a vicious cycle of poor maintenance and poor attention, thereby resulting in still poorer patronage leading to the total neglect or ultimate closure of the museum.

All these issues ought to be taken into account by the University before it embarks on the museum project. It also needs to reflect on whether this would be the best possible way to keep Senate House live and throbbing. The hall was meant for grand gatherings of a public nature and even while the recent restoration work was being carried out, it was understood and planned that the hall would regularly be made available for such uses. Subsequently, however, the plan did not successfully materialise and Senate House became a storage area. Now that there is talk of a revival, why not make it a place for events rather than a museum?

In this issue

Senate House to become a museum
Monstrous Stations – will Metro learn from
From Port Trust to Cambridge
Once bustling, Pulicat now dozes
The Institute of Mental Health –
its remarkable history
Other stories

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