The Heritage Lab is an organisation based out of Chandigarh, North India. It connects citizens and museums through sharing content and engaging events and campaigns. Tejshvi Jain of ReReeti had the opportunity to speak with Medhavi Gandhi the Founder. Here are some interesting snippets from their dialogue.
TJ: How did The Heritage Lab come about and what is its vision?
MG: The Heritage Lab came to me as quite an organic progression to my Happy Hands Foundation experience. I have been running the Happy Hands Foundation (since 2009-present). One of our fellowships dealt with creating a Traveling Museum exhibit on Hampi and the Vijaynagar Empire. While hosting the fellowship I had the opportunity to engage with a lot of museums with collections pertaining to the time period. As my work then dealt with artisan-education, I found museums to be great resources for design-thinking and learning for next-gen artisans. My entrepreneurial journey with Happy Hands (a nonprofit) had started because I was falling in love with the crafts of India. Also, I saw an opportunity for the artisans.
It has been exactly the same sentiment and thought behind The Heritage Lab too. I feel India’s museums have immense potential. We have a great collection, so many diverse and compelling narratives. And we have a very enthusiastic group of people working at the Museums. This immense store house of knowledge needs to be shared with and made accessible to the masses. The same can be done through various mediums and technology. Hence began the journey of The Heritage Lab. Our simple vision is to create a time when museums are the preferred destination for people to spend their time at.
TJ: What were your biggest challenges when you were starting off?
MG: I think my challenge has been and continues to be the fact that I can’t physically be at the Museums. At the beginning it was about not having a team at all, but that changed pretty quickly.
TJ: There is a lot of bureaucracy and red tape when interacting with government institutions such as museums. Could you tell us a little bit about your process in making these partnerships work effectively?
MG: The key to making any partnership work I guess is to understanding. Understanding the restrictions and problems partners have vis-a-vis what results are being desired. And of course a LOT of patience and perseverance. Till now we have not faced a challenge in this area at all. On the contrary we have been lucky to have enthusiastic partners who are willing to make things work despite the hurdles.
TJ: Curators are the stewards for precious knowledge. Often making this more accessible via digital platforms seems to come with the pre-supposition that the knowledge will have to be dumbed down and people engaging with it may contaminate it. How does The Heritage Lab manage fears such as these?
MG: I feel that we are actually pretty lucky to be in India where we have such diversity – there’s ALWAYS space for engagement. The Heritage Lab too, speaks with multiple audiences – even those not in India. However, the initiative is primarily concerned with making museums accessible and providing the stimulation for an active citizen engagement. I feel once people are attuned to understanding their own preferences, there’s no dearth of specialised, curated information that they can seek.
TJ: What has been the public response as well as response from the museum community?
MG: I’ll speak about the public response first because that’s how it all started and it was overwhelming (and still is). I remember circulating a survey on visitor-suggestions and I didn’t expect more than a 100 or optimistically 200 responses. We got thousands of responses and in effect ended up creating the Manifesto for Museums. This Manifesto wasn’t just downloaded by Indian museum professionals but international ones too. The museum community has been extremely warm and welcoming. What is more, they have provided the sort of guidance and support that I needed to get started.
TJ: What has been the most rewarding aspect of all of this?
MG: I think my biggest reward is the learning. I grow each and every single day with new information from all quarters. I’ve had the incredible opportunity to engage with, and forge partnerships with people who I wouldn’t even have met otherwise.
Medhavi Gandhi is the founder of The Heritage Lab. She has also been running the Happy Hands Foundation since 2009. Her work centers around heritage-education and developing artistic capacity building with a focus on rural enterprise development. She has been awarded the Young Creative Entrepreneurs Jury Award [British Council India] in 2011. She can be reached at email@example.com.
ReReeti works with museums, galleries and heritage sites across India to plan strategies, design systems and implement programmes to increase audience engagement and institutional visibility. Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org for a free consultation or to collaborate on an upcoming travelling exhibition.