Recently, museums in Odisha have gotten makeovers and are finally welcoming. Before the renovations, the museums were apologies in the name of archives. I hope they continue to shine because without museums, we portray a grim picture that we are bereft of cultural sensitivity. Our social rhetoric on culture is growingly becoming trite and superficial. Civil society’s contribution to the upkeep of ‘museum sense’ has been zilch.

On the contrary, museums often become places for juvenile, lounging and loafing. If the weather is good, then they hang out at museums and if the weather is bad then they head to air conditioned shopping malls. I don’t blame the young ones for not realising the value of museums. We have not recognised that ourselves yet. The governments have been the sole caretakers and patrons of museums. The corporations have done little to preserve and refurbish our museums. The mineral and metal industry are living off our soil but we don’t have a single PPP (Public Private Partnership) for museum maintenance. Extractions don’t value excavations. Strange. Why?

Creative and cultural industries are key components of state economies, specifically for Odisha. Their impact on development is both economic and non-economic, tangible and intangible, subjective and objective. The prevalence of cultural sites, services and art forms will boost tourism, sustain livelihoods, and attract investments. The non-economic benefits of culture include the preservation of rich history, promotion of knowledge, and the nurturing of creativity. Knowledge needs promotion, because it is disappearing as the essence of Odia life.

Museums are a world by themselves, they tell our stories, preserve our heritage, interpret the past, and explore the future. We extract everything possible, from roots to bauxite. But why can’t we take care of our historical, architectural excavations. Museums play an essential role in Odisha’s cultural and social life and enrich our lives daily, feeding our hunger for knowledge and igniting our imaginations.

But beyond this cultural impact, the museum sector is also essential to the state economy. It generates GDP in a state which has one third tribal districts and 62 indigenous tribes, stimulating small enterprises, and contributing taxes. The GDP is not a complete measure but has the capacity to allure us to our interest in intangible, creative and social economy. GDP is the bait.

Museums are on “activist mode” and rightfully so. It is overdue. Pornhub, a porn website, was threatened to be sued by the Uffizi gallery in Florence for using its masterpieces in a nude video. Pornhub deleted the unauthorised nude images. However, our book covers use unauthorised pictures taken from the museums.

We take museums for granted, as a past which is powerless, redundant and yet decorative. Copying cultural artefacts, for example, should be done only by the government, even if the artefacts are no longer under a copyright and are in the public domain. Because there is unimaginable and horrible apathy of the civil society in matters of Museums. Museums around the globe are increasingly capitalising on the intellectual property of their priceless collections, some even collaborating with luxury fashion brands, across products.

Beijing’s Palace Museum earned about $222m (£162m) through product sales and royalties in 2018. We can learn from such initiatives and discuss innovative museum promotions, maybe during a ‘Sahitya Charcha’ in the museums.

Museums in Odisha have to fend for themselves. They are cost centres but need to move onto being profit centres. If they don’t have enough revenue surplus, our heritage will wither away. These elements are directly correlated. Protecting copyrights and garnering lucrative revenues from brand deals will enhance the “glam quotient” of museums and that in turn will attract serious attention.

In 2019, Uffizi in Florence, made about €1.2m (over £850,000) from the sales of photos of its collections. In Odisha, the State Museum, Tribal Museum, Maritime museum have rare collections and they should take up selling photos of those. These museums are unique and their management has been commendable so far. They now need to have a business plan.

In the last 10 years how many University/B School students have interned at our Museums? They come to a museum only when they need reference materials for their papers. Where is our society’s involvement in our marvellous collections and stately museums? Odisha’s architectural and art heritage is unparalleled. Merchandising museum masterpieces need to be encouraged.

There are many souvenir items selling in Bhubaneswar but are of poor quality and priced abysmally low. We do not need to be apathetic about our heritage and flaunt only ‘imported’ curios in our living rooms. Our miniatures can also be of high quality. The Louvre museum has stepped up its licensing efforts, and its brand partnerships have yielded €4.5m in 2020. Last year, it inked a four-year deal with Uniqlo, the Japanese retailer and launched a graphic T-shirt collection inspired by the artworks Mona Lisa, Venus de Milo and Liberty Leading the People.

Odisha is the sports capital, the steel capital, the soft culture capital and yet our creative economy is famished. In 2021, the British Museum launched a cosmetic product (an eye-shadow palette) influenced by ancient Egyptian artefacts, in partnership with Chinese makeup brand Zeesea. Each precious item in the tribal museum in Bhubaneswar can be replicated as souvenirs. They are so distinctive and rare. They are not merely objects but ‘talking and breathing’ symbols.

There is enough scope to make bold and contemporary creations, inviting interest from younger, global audiences. Regional Museum of Natural History, Kala Bhoomi, State Museum, Khiching Museum, Sun Temple/Konark Museum, Archaeological Museum, Netaji Museum should all turn to selling merchandise to tap young visitors, who are more likely to access museum content online, rather than in person.

The aim is to make the rare archives collections more visible. Odisha’s heritage collection has an array of objects & history covering anthropology, archaeology, armoury, art and craft, epigraphy, geology, natural history, numismatics/coins, palm leaf manuscripts, patta painting and much more.

The royal family collections add to the list and weave a captivating and antique story. When an antique has a high-end global market, why are we side-lining our own valuables? At least the functional 50 or so palaces can gift their artefacts and antiques to museums for better maintenance and publicity. Presently many such items and stories are getting buried without any documentation.

It has been seen worldwide that many designers opt for ‘creative mashups’ of the masterpieces. Each district of Odisha has many motifs/symbols. These patterns or designs need not be copied on to the products, instead the artists can create original patterns inspired by artworks and share them online. This will help transform something ancient and jaded into something modern and exciting. Museums can become the platforms for the creative economy. It might not be possible to have so many art galleries, but museums can be much more than that.

Museums have gone to great lengths to pre-empt any threat to cultural heritage. In 2019, the Louvre partnered with Airbnb to let couples stay the night in its hallowed halls, if they won a competition. Museums take us on a journey back in time and bring us to the present with a much-evolved mind space. But we need to give due respect to museums and help recreate their exotic stories.

The museum sector has direct (operational) contribution to the economy and can have increased cascading impact across the districts and the state economy. Museums can increase purchases, both in quality and quantity from a wider supply chain. The artisans, historians, and academicians can develop a regular engagement with museums and provide the knowledge capital. They can promote culture through events and majorly contribute to tourism. Each of these economic channels can be quantified in terms of contributions to the state GDP, social entrepreneurship, and the resulting tax revenue that is generated for all levels of government.

In 2021-22, Odisha’s State GDP grew at 10.1% which is a laudable result due to sustained efforts in prudent fiscal measures, management of Covid and an almost parallel growth in the three sectors – agriculture, manufacturing and service. The euphoric growth story of Odisha will have additional support from museums adding cultural capital and social inclusion. Museums open up avenues to supplement Start Ups and Make in Odisha initiatives.

Enterprises based on museum needs can develop last mile entrepreneurship within marginalised communities which are skilled but lack market exposure or linkages. They can be trained to produce souvenirs, and artefacts to display in the museums.

Museums can emerge as economic engines for their communities, supporting jobs and wages that are vital to the districts and villages. The economic contribution of museums extends far beyond these immediate transactions. The impact of “cultural capital” and its power to improve life isn’t always quantifiable and need not be quantified. As the Odia social milieu undergoes a major transition, from a self-contained one to a more cosmopolitan one, it is time to enhance our equity in our ‘cultural capital’. Increasing cultural capital will reduce social class inequalities. The handful self-claimed ‘culturati’ will have to give way to the genuine masses.

Every village in Odisha has a story to tell, the cultural capital needs to be resuscitated. Our heritage should be allowed to bolster our self-esteem. It is as if we have everything and yet nothing. Museums can enable a cultural renaissance in Odisha now. Picasso had said, “give me a museum and I'll fill it”. Here we have enough of them, let’s fill them.

Odisha Tourism : Odisha State Museum