Published: 15th September 2021
Experimenting in The Heritage Lab: How Medhavi Gandhi's website is getting kids to fall in love with museums again
How can history, art and culture be made interesting to people? We speak to Medhavi Gandhi, Founder of The Heritage Lab, a digital platform that will connect you to different museums, their treasures
Museums shouldn't limit themselves to displaying artefacts, but should be able to disseminate knowledge, believes Medhavi Gandhi, Founder of The Heritage Lab. A digital media platform that connects citizens to cultural heritage through stories, public engagement, campaigns and more, Medhavi says that it has been a fun journey thus far, "Our aim is to make museums more accessible, fun and inclusive by merging history with teaching art."
But even before she started The Heritage Lab, Medhavi started a project called The Happy Hands with the singular aim of reviving Indian art, crafts and culture. She recalls, "My interest in art and culture really took off during my grad studies in Delhi. During one of my internships, I learnt a lot about India's folk arts and crafts after which I began obsessively reading and researching all about it. That's when I started The Happy Hands, which was a non-profit and was based in Delhi. That's when we started conducting more public engagement workshops, museum walks and a lot more." The year was 2009 and she was all of 22, but the experience really mattered.
By 2015, Medhavi and her team had built up an impressive body of knowledge — armed with which they thought of creating a travelling museum that would spread the knowledge (and good cheer). And so, they got in touch with the Hampi Archeological Museum in Anegundi in Karnataka. "The idea was to go to different government schools to help them learn more. I was working with a lot of schools to create a folk art curriculum and it seemed like a good idea," explains Medhavi.
But she then realised that something physical could only go that far. Especially after something as debilitating as a pandemic. She continues "We realised that our parents don't know how (or why) to take children to the museum because they have never known what to look for. A lot of the time we would answer these questions. These basic FAQs started going on our website and that's how The Heritage Lab was born in 2016."
So how are they making content more fun and accessible for people across all age groups? They usually takes photos of art, paintings and old pictures that are available in different museums across India. A lot of research goes into collecting the information, verifying and posting it on the website. What they also do is it give a solid hat tip to women artists that we hardly get to hear about. The article on the five women artists in the Mughal Court is a great example.
They also roll out really fun campaigns, like their recent GIF IT UP India, which got digital natives buzzing. Medhavi explains, "GIFs and memes are the best way to express ourselves or send a strong message to the world. When we started the campaign, around 100 people participated in it and made GIFs using the classic, old paintings that we released on our website. These GIFs are available on our website and anybody can download them for free."
Since they call it The Heritage Lab, Medhavi wants to keep experimenting to ensure that the culture is kept alive for many years. "Culture, by itself, has to be loved by people irrespective of the profession that we practice. One of the projects that we are working on is bringing the repository of all open-source Indian content that exists in the world's museums on a single portal. This portal can help researchers, students and many others who look for this information."