An award-winning cultural practitioner, Medhavi Gandhi has been widely recognised for her innovative approach to public engagement with Indian art, especially the youth. She has led several arts-based programmes. As part of The Heritage Lab, she brings together her love for museums, and arts education, providing a platform to educators, parents and travellers to explore India’s heritage, art, history and museums. She also works with schools to promote creative inquiry and multi-disciplinary learning while making history engaging for learners.
When did you start your company?
The Heritage Lab is a fairly new venture – I started it in November 2015. The Heritage Lab is a blend of school programming, consulting for museums and cultural festivals and brand-collaborations at the intersection of art, culture and museums. We also have a content platform theheritagelab.in which tries to bridge the gap between citizens and museums.
What prompted you to form The Heritage Lab?
I had already founded and led an arts non-profit based out of Delhi, working across India in 2009. It was to do with engaging people with traditional arts and crafts of India and artisan empowerment. In the year that I was moving to Chandigarh (2015), work took me to different museums – and that’s when I wondered as to why we have practically no information or interest in museums, history or art. Most of our memories of a museum-visit are from our school-time – so I decided to work on a schools program, merging history teaching with art and museums.
The initial struggle
The struggle has been to convince people as to why museums are relevant. Be it getting people to come for museum walks or convincing museums to host late nights, it’s a continuous challenge to bring people to museums. The other challenge has been to convince schools to take up museum learning or ‘creative inquiry’ as we call it. Experimenting with history, learning is great fun with students though, and we’ve had a great response from some schools in Chandigarh, as we also travel to museums outside the city!
The biggest roadblock
Most children and people switch off when they hear the word museum. To convince parents and schools was an initial challenge, but not anymore. What remains to be a continuous struggle is the amount of time it takes for a campaign/event to be planned at any museum.
Our school programmes are a huge hit. The interest in museums has gone up too. Last year, we even hosted the first Children’s Takeover of the Chandigarh Museum, and that was quite a lot of fun for students as well as visitors. I have personally enjoyed running three years of digital campaigns like UNESCO Museum Week, and Wikipedia’s Art and Feminism as their India partners, in collaboration with museums in India. It has been encouraging to see museum and people participation in these campaigns increase each year.
In collaboration with ICOM Germany and the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, The Heritage Lab will be developing a Toolkit to enable museums to build on their digital journeys and infrastructure, no matter what size they are. The idea is to also build a network of museum professionals from India and Germany so they can learn from, and engage with each other on different aspects – such as museum education, curation etc.
What role can the administration play?
There have to be changes at so many levels – but first, museums need to be promoted on the tourist circuit! Within Chandigarh too, at popular public spots, brochures, maps need to be made available. The government and administration also need to make museum management more transparent by allowing for a citizen-management or volunteer group that can host events, and make the spaces come alive. Very often, paper work and museums being understaffed stand in the way of hosting regular public engagement events. Having said that, I feel there is a bigger role that people can play than governments or the administration.
Advice to budding entrepreneurs
Remain teachable and humble.