From making nail-biting auction bids for a sought-after artefact or haggling at an antiques store to organising outreach programmes and workshops for the community, Sayan Bhattacharya has his hands full running the Indian Museum in Kolkata, the largest in Asia-Pacific.
Over the last seven years, Bhattacharya, a museologist, has been part of many interesting expeditions such as acquiring the 1,500-year-old Tibetan manuscript Goithongpa, written in gold and restoring a 4,000-year-old mummy. Sounds fun, right?
A museologist is someone who has studied the science of the administration and management of museums. With a thriving travel and tourism industry, there is renewed interest in museums. This has opened up several job opportunities in this field for curators and education officers.
Bhattacharya got started on this unique career path when he was barely 12. Watching Indiana Jones movies sparked his interest in archaeology. “I dreamt of adventures rescuing rare treasures from ancient temples and hidden caves,” he says.
As he pursued archaeology, he stumbled upon the field of museology, the study of museums. Training from the British Museum and Smithsonian Institute in the U.S., Bhattacharya joined the Indian Museum as an education officer.
It’s his job to make the museum relevant and interesting to the public, a challenging task in today’s mobile-driven world. He plans outreach programmes and interactive displays to reach out to the audience. “Museums are trying to become more interactive so that they can grab the attention of the tech-savvy generation,” he says. “For this reason, there is massive potential in this field today.”
Museums, especially large ones, often have different positions. Typically, a museum has a curator, a conservator and an education officer.
A curator is in charge of acquiring objects of interest for the museum and working with artists to put up exhibits. The items are maintained and preserved by the conservator, while the education officer is responsible for promoting the museum among the public and ensuring that the exhibits reach the audience.
The job responsibilities and positions vary across museums, and in most cases, one person ends up perfoming two or three roles.
So what makes a good museologist? One of the most important skills is the ability to work with academics, give their ideas a public face and make them suitable for the general audience. “You have to have good ideas, be good at editing, and be able to plot a narrative for an exhibition. You must have a good understanding of your audience, be able to tell a story and keep them entertained,” says Bhattacharya. "And be patient. There’s no instant gratification."
Selecting and caring for artefacts is part of the role, but perhaps the most important element is to know how to present them in a way that captures the public’s imagination. It demands a certain showmanship and talent.
Knowledge of history and classical languages is a prerequisite as it helps in understanding the importance of the objects they are handling. But a keen eye for beauty and an aesethic sense are equally vital as they can make the museum more attractive.
An undergraduate degree in History or Geography is a must for anyone wanting to enter this field. This can be followed by a Masters and a PhD in History, Archaeology or Anthropology. Another postgraduate degree in Museology (known as museum studies in foreign countries) is essential.
Bhattacharya says that it is best to pursue museum studies abroad as it allows you to study some of the best museums in the world.
Most museums and institutes provide internships for students who are interested in this field. Interns may work in various aspect of museums such as preservation, archives, accounting, public relations, exhibition design and many more. All these different fields of work in a museum open up a great career as a museologist.
The boom in travel and tourism has renewed interest in museums, and opened up job avenues.
—Sayan Bhattacharya, education officer, Indian Museum, Kolkata
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