Celebrating Women in Museums : Joyoti Roy

In a freewheeling conversation, Joyoti Roy, Head of Marketing and Strategy at CSMVS talks about the journey of CSMVS to becoming a #museumofideas and what is means to be part of the tribe of  #womeninmuseums

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Joyoti Roy

What is a museum of ideas and how is CSMVS defining the same?

At CSMVS we have sort of agreed that we want to be a museum of ideas and that is something we want to communicate through our programming, through our image and through all of our approaches to museum strategizing. 

We want to obviously be reaching out to different sort of audiences and continue to make the museum a relevant and meaningful institution for the public of Bombay. That is something we are looking at actively especially since the museum is going to complete 100 years in 2022. So we are all gearing towards writing a new strategy and image of the museum for the public.

Nightview CSMVS

The CSMVS has achieved a lot in the past, particularly in the past 15 years. Since Mr. Mukherjee has taken over he has enabled a lot of collaborations. Some fabulous exhibitions have happened as a result of the same and the staff of the museum itself has also grown.

There are many institutions within the country and outside that today want to work with the CSMVS for two reasons. First, they feel that the museum doesn’t really have a rigid idea of what a museum should be. This means that while there can be cultural performances here, there can also be like academic exhibition and then there can also be all kinds of fun, co creation etc. There is no one right way of being.

Young Curators of the Children’s Museum at CSMVS

We have at the recently opened the Children’s Museum which is like an extension of the larger museum but it is also about making space for the younger audience in a more substantial way not just offering it as an educational program but as an integral part of the institution. These are indications that every year, at every given opportunity the museum is trying to reinvent itself.

How do you see the role of strategy and marketing in such an institution?

I always felt that the idea of marketing, the idea of strategy for any museum in India is certainly wider than how it is defined at large in the corporate sector. In the corporate context there are extremely strict structures, defined consumer sets, well defined leaderships etc. and within that it is primarily a profit making model within which marketing works.

Now in a museum setting that is not the same and here in the idea of marketing is more about the idea of collaboration, buying into ideas, standing with the community etc.

The museum as an institution that exists in this context has to strategize within this context by keeping the public in mind and by considering its own internal resources.

Also in case of museums – the offering is different & diverse than in classical marketing context

  1. BUILDING – Firstly, in case of the CSMVS there is the building itself which is a historic building and that is sort of the biggest object of the museum.
  2. COLLECTION – Secondly, as far as the collection goes it is extremely rich and textured. We have collection of different arts, lot of European & Western art which not many museums in the country have in such large quantities.
  3. STAFF – The museum has stellar staff and leadership capabilities. They bring in the required expertise and are given a lot of freedom to express their ideas within the museum and to collaborate with each other and others.

There is lot of openness in terms of expecting & responding to change. This makes the museum very dynamic as an institution. 

How do you define the mandate of the marketing function in the museum context?

I feel that it is quite faulty to put the museum on the same page as the profit making institutions. Today the museum institutions have gone a little beyond that challenge. It is not just the number of footfalls that we are looking at. I think we are also looking at simple engagement from our audiences and that happens when we are relevant to their everyday lives.

So how do you find that relevance in people’s lives?

The old model of offering a lot of program and tracking the number of people who walk in, that is passé. We look at marketing in a slightly more expansive way.

We do it by providing a rapid response to what is happening in the world and creating that space literally and metaphorically within the museum setting. We provide a voice for what people are feeling but at times also push it beyond.

The Bookworm at CSMVS

I feel that cultural institution have a mandate of shaping a little bit of the future of the public that we are surrounded by. We can’t just be playing to the audience and we can’t also just be carrying on the legacy actions without critically analyzing it. So I think it is a little bit of both, we have to provoke the audience and we have to entertain the audience also.

A Museum of Ideas – enabling conversations, forging connections

We have to be quite mindful of the fact that the new generation is way ahead in information processing. So institutions have to also respond to that angle of things.  I think what is coming more to the surface now are the ideas that are hidden in the collections, their metaphorical value.

We tend to think that the collection is static whereas now it is not the case. The ideas that the collection represents and the concerns that the collection reflects are changing with time.

I think we need that sort of museums that recognize that mobility. I mean it can’t just be like a container now. It needs to be more like a platform you know which propels things out of the museum rather than just containing, preserving and keeping safe the collection and its image. 

What role does gender play in your line of work?

It is a very personal thing. Whatever cultural learning I have had in my life and with my exposure to theatre I had a very extroverted idea of a woman’s role in a cultural institution. But I understand that it is not how it is everywhere.

There are both examples of extroverts or introverts and I don’t mean like one is better than the other. However I do think it is the role of the listener that has to be changed w.r.t the gender perspective.

I think every cultural institution; museum should enable and prepare themselves to listen more carefully because different women will have different tones and voices.

If we really want a woman to speak up more often or if we want to acknowledge that women play an important role in culture, then the listener has to prepare himself or herself.

I think that is something that we need to look at more carefully and by this I don’t only mean women in leadership role. I mean women at large because I believe that sometimes you know the understanding that a women brings to an idea can be quite different from what a man brings so as long as the listener is open to listening both sides.

I don’t feel that we have a problem and I think practically there are more women in culture sector in our country then there are men. At least the numbers are taken care of even in the museum field where you see there are more women then there are men.  

Women, they are around, but do they have a voice, especially in leadership roles?

The idea of the leadership and voice has changed now because every individual now is able to express himself or herself in a public domain. Social media has also enabled this to a large extent. So a voice today could rise from anywhere.

When it comes to leadership I think we have got only one model of leadership which is like a top down pyramid. We look up to that one or two person at the top and everybody tends to get inspired by them and follows them.

I think the model of leadership across the world has now changed or are changing as we speak. You can have a leader as a mentor, you can have a leader as a influencer, you can have a thought leader, you can have a leader who is constantly nudging you and inspiring you. Basically I am saying our ideas of what leadership is and what voice it holds is changing. This is important to recognize so we do not judge women by unitary and old standards of leadership. They have been and they are making a contribution. We just have to learn to recognize their efforts.

If you were defining such a narrative of female leadership how would you describe it?

We need to get away from stereotype and the only way we can get away from stereotype is by introspecting our own lives so if I am a cultural practitioner of a museum today I have to actively look around at women who are influencing me. They could be younger than me, they could be older than me, they could be my boss but they could also be somebody who is not from my field.

I really have to come back from the question of idea and say that the leadership really lies in the idea. It doesn’t really lie in the person all the time and if the person is able to carry that idea you know at the human point of time I maybe a female leader and at another given point of time I may not be a female leader, I may just be a follower.

I am not saying that we need to break down and demolish the idea of gender. The reality is that historically women have not been given the power to dreams but I feel that in order to break that we can’t use the same model to make women less powerful, we have to apply a different model, different mathematical equation to solve the problem and I feel that now increasingly there are possibilities of change.

We really need to relook at how our institution work, how does the hierarchy work in an institution and what are the leadership models that we have in front of us. We need to adopt leadership models that are more democratic; idea centric and then we will see that after a point it (gender) doesn’t really matter.

Anything I didn’t ask you which you think is important w.r.t. museums & culture marketing?

I think it is very important to be political aware and active. For any cultural institution particularly in India it is important to think politically about its place in the world at large. This does not necessarily mean that you have to be from a certain party or following a certain philosophy.

However I think every cultural institution should have a little element of thinking politically which is important. I think it is a myth that cultural institutions are neutral. People are not neutral so cultural institution cannot be neutral. They have to have something to speak, a point of view.

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