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29 Jan, 2014

India to Boost Nationwide Museum Excellence In Pact with Art Institute of Chicago


New Delhi, Press Information Bureau, Ministry of Culture, 29-January-2014 – The Vivekananda Memorial Programme for Museum Excellence is the result of a landmark agreement signed between the Ministry of Culture and the Art Institute of Chicago on 28th January 2012. It was decided to create a living testament of Swami Vivekananda’s legacy by establishing a momentous programme for the improvement and upgradation of Indian Museums and their human resources. The Art Institute of Chicago will share best practices with Indian Museums through seminars and workshops. Every year a select number of Museum professionals from India will be sent to the Art Institute for professional training. Art Institute staff will also travel to India to conduct seminars in India on the themes mutually selected by the two sides.

This jointly developed programme is designed to foster professional exchange and development between the United States and India in the fields of care, preservation and display of the rich cultural heritage of India. Since its inception in January 2012, groups of museum professionals from both countries have gathered, in both Delhi and Chicago, for seminars in “Museum Best Practices” as well as the theme of “Collections Management and Preventive Conservation.” The results include the development of a single software system and uniform taxonomy for the cataloging of Indian national collections. This significant step makes India the first country to adopt a single, searchable database program across all its national museums, which will allow for greater access to these collections by scholars and the public.

Douglas Druick, the President and Eloise W. Martin Director of the Art Institute, is visiting India for the second time to meet with artists and collectors, give a lecture at the National Museum on January 29, 2014 and visit senior officials working with the Art Institute on the Program for Museum Excellence.

“I am very pleased to join Secretary Ravindra Singh in reporting such wonderful progress with the Vivekananda Memorial Programme for Museum Excellence,” said Douglas Druick. “We are honoured to be the only American museum to embark on such an extensive professional program with the support of the Ministry of Culture of the Government of India. While we are here today to celebrate tangible advances, the symbolic value of our collaboration is equally important, and I hope that our working partnership can provide a model for international cooperation and professional exchange.”

The Art Institute’s relationship with India began in 1893. The World’s Parliament of Religions—was held in the city’s downtown area at 111 South Michigan Avenue in a building that is now the home of the Art Institute of Chicago. The congress was electrified by the legendary address by Swami Vivekananda. Opening with the words “Sisters and Brothers of America,” Swami Vivekananda offered an impassioned plea for religious tolerance and understanding, lamenting the role that religion had played in bloodshed and war and denouncing zealotry and bigotry.

“I fervently hope that the bell that tolled this morning in honour of this convention,” Swami Vivekananda remarked, “may be the death-knell of fanaticism, of all persecutions with the sword or with the pen, and of all uncharitable feelings between persons wending their way to the same goal.” This landmark speech introduced a Hindu leader to Western audiences for the first time and opened the door between Eastern and Western religions. The block of Michigan Avenue that the Art Institute occupies was named the Honorary Swami Vivekananda Way in 1995, and a plaque at the museum has since marked the site of the Swami’s address.

In honour of this longstanding relationship, the Vivekananda Memorial Program for Museum Excellence was established with the first-ever grant made by the Indian government to an American art museum. Under this unique program, two seminars at the National Museum Institute, New Delhi, have addressed various aspects of museum management. Now in its second year, the program has given 13 professionals from 10 major Indian museums the opportunity to work directly with Art Institute staff members, both in India and USA, with expertise in care and conservation as well as information technology.

With the Art Institute’s assistance, all of the museums directly funded by the Indian national government, including the National Museum in New Delhi; the Indian Museum, Kolkata; the Salar Jung Museum, Hyderabad; the Victoria Memorial Hall, Kolkata; the Allahabad Museum; the National Gallery of Modern Art in New Delhi, Mumbai and Bengaluru; 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, making India the first country to adopt such a nationwide system. This database will be accessible to the public on a comprehensive website to be developed by the Ministry of Culture, Government of India. This progressive step will make available much of India’s rich cultural treasures that are currently inaccessible and make possible the transfer of information into a searchable, centralized database for the first time.

In addition, training in preservation and conservation has allowed the participating Indian museum professionals to implement computerized collection management projects within their individual institutions, which include the Indian Museum, India’s oldest museum, in Kolkata, the Salar Jung Museum, Hyderabad, the Victoria Memorial Hall, Kolkata, the Allahabad Museum, and several of the site museums of the Archaeological Survey of India including those at important archaeological sites of Sarnath, Nagarjunakonda, Vikramshila, Old Goa, and Fort St. George. In the first phase of the project, nine museums began utilizing the Jatan digital management software developed by the Centre for the Development of Advanced Computing (C DAC), Pune.

The Art Institute of Chicago’s commitment to India is also reflected in a robust upcoming exhibition schedule that will complement its previous offerings to American audiences of the work of Jitish Kallat (2010–11) and of Rabindranath Tagore (2012), in the first Art Institute presentation of an exhibition loaned directly by the Government of India. In 2013, the museum presented Zarina: Paper like Skin as well as a video installation by Amar Kanwar, The Lightning Testimonies, which closeson April 20, 2014. In March, the Art Institute will be hosting the work of two contemporary Indian artists, Dayanita Singh and Nilima Sheikh.

The installation devoted to Singh brings together one of her earliest series, “Myself Mona Ahmed,” with a recent related structure “Museum of Chance,” and will be on view from March 1 through June 1, 2014. Sheikh’s Each Night Put Kashmir in Your Dreams, featuring the first work of the artist collected by any American museum, consists of nine banners painted by the artist with two additional works created specifically for the Art Institute presentation. This exhibition will be on view at the Art Institute from March 8 through May 18, 2014. Further exhibitions of the work of contemporary Indian artists as well as on other aspects of Indian art are also currently being planned.