Museum, Media, Message

By Eilean Hooper-Greenhill | Go to book overview

24

Family groups in museums: an Indian experience

B. Venugopal

Introduction

A museum is a public place where people of all ages and types meet and interact. The museum public is heterogeneous and varies with the museum concerned. Of all museum visitors, families constitute an important category (Alt 1980; Conway 1974; Falk et al. 1985; Lakota 1975; Venugopal 1986). Families cut across age and special interest groups and are represented in every socio-economic group. Museum visiting is for many people a social activity (Ambrose and Paine 1993). Families provide many facilities to their members. These are the basic nutritional, shelter and protection functions, the sexual regulation and access functions, the reproduction and nurturing functions, appropriate education functions regarding economic production and consumption, the property transmission function and the social status and placement functions (Kelly 1983).

Despite the fact that families constitute a major portion of museum visitors, specific museum-based research on family visitor behaviour in museums is generally scarce (Falk and Balling 1982; Lakota 1975; Screven 1974). In Indian museums, where visitor study is in its infancy, it is all the more difficult.

With the emergence of nationalism in the Third World, museums have become powerful tools for a radical socio-economic transformation (Ghose 1992). In order to realize this social role, the first task for the museums of the Third World is to get more baseline data about its visitors.

The museum scene in India is at a crossroads. The recent changes in the media scenario due to liberalization of the economy and an unprecedented exposure to the international market-place are going to affect Indian museums. In this critical stage of competition with other leisure/entertainment centres for the attention of visitors, it is important for Indian museums to increase their visitor services. The first step in this direction is the collection of details about its visitors.

Other than simple statistics on attendance numbers, not many data on visitors are collected in Indian museums. The National Museum of Natural History (NMNH), New Delhi, is perhaps the only museum in India to incorporate

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