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Learnings and lessons from building the Pradhan Mantri Sangrahalaya

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Tagbin, a Gurgaon-based design agency, has designed the recent PM museum or Pradhanmantri or Pradhan Mantri Sangrahalaya. The Tagbin team, which consists of designers, project management consultants, and technology consultants has designed a state-of-the-art display of the achievements of the Prime Ministers over the last 75 years.

The museum is the perfect amalgamation of history and art, with immersive digital technology bringing the words and lives of the Prime Ministers alive. On 14 April 2022, the Prime Minister- Narendra Modi, along with the Tagbin team, unveiled the museum for the masses to witness a new era of historical spectacle.

Tagbin’s CEO and Design & Technology Consultant of this Sangrahalaya, Saurav Bhaik, shares with us the criticality of this project, and the key lessons that other institutions or museums can learn from this project:

Museums are places where we preserve our history to understand from our past and provide knowledge to the future generation. India being a 5000 year old country, has enough to preserve and tell. India holds rich history, art and culture in abundance. However, despite being a nation with diverse culture, in India the poor presentation of showcasing and disseminating the same, out to the world has been a consistent issue.

Taking the example of China, in the last 10 years the cultural industry in China has become the  pillar of the Chinese economy, contributing 4.48% to the country’s GDP. China opens 100 museums each year. Since 2008, China has  allocated INR 5800 crores every year to build new  museums.  As of today, the country has over 3,000 museums. In India, however, at the current time, such cultural industry does not exist. But the current government initiatives are focusing towards promoting this industry.

With government initiatives like these, it is the time for a culture boom in India. One of the components of culture is museums. Museums play an important role in nation building because it helps us relive our past, to learn from it and to not make the same mistakes in the future. The past can really tell about the future.

Museums also serve as a soft power to the nation. They accelerate cultural understanding and contribute to cultural change among the great diversity of its nation’s citizens  – including visitors, policymakers, and leaders.

Museums have the power to create unity at a social and political level. Museums and other cultural institutions will always have a role to play in the learnings of the future generations by educating them about the past. They also bring about exchange of cultural ideas between visiting countries. A  social effect of the museum is that it opens for nationals of different countries to meet and share their different values, thus strengthening the relations.

The museums in the past have been dedicated to collections, but the museums today have storytelling and technology as an essential feature – which people are finding interesting and more relatable. With integration of these into concepts, theme parks and gamifications are also becoming a part of museums. These enable the audience to interact and participate. The visitor contributes and becomes a part of the process. However, the seriousness of the content should not be lost.

At Pradhanmantri Sangrahalaya, we have managed to achieve the perfect amalgamation of content, technology and the visitor. We managed to have a fine balance of audiovisual film content, graphic panels, personal objects, archival letters & documents, digital panels, art combined scenography, and interactive exhibits. The museum tells the story of 75 years of Independent India, with 43 galleries and a content of 8 hours. The idea was to make it relevant for everyone visiting. There can be a 70-year-old visitor historian or a younger person with curiosity, wanting to know more about the nation. We wanted to make content interesting for everybody.

Usually in most museums, the visitors become mute spectators and only watch and listen along the journey. Here, we made visitors the centre of the museum. Visitors coming to the museum become the engagers and interact to take part. For example, in the exhibit “India 2047”, he can give a suggestion for a vision of India in 25 years and it can become part of the policy.  Or the visitors can relive the Pokhran of 1998 with an immersive experience of a nuclear testing station. An exhibit called “Sketch and bring a mission to life” lets kids draw and complete missions such as Mangalyaan and Chandrayaan, where they learn while enjoying.

With the integration of technology in the museum, we wanted it to be interactive and involving. Technology used in the museum is one of the best tools to communicate the stories as they offer an out-of-the-box experience to what museums generally offer. The new aged technologies, like AR, VR and Robotics have been used in the Engagement zone called “Anubhuti” – A zone where the visitor learns by doing a task. The visitors become the center of the museum where everything revolves around them and they participate, play and learn.

For example – Anubhuti consists of AR integrated exhibits such as “Walk with PM” and “Selfie with PM”.  Visitors can take home a picture with their favourite PM or a recorded video of them walking with their favourite PM. Another exhibit is the VR integrated helicopter ride where viewers can see some of India’s futuristic projects.  With an AI built Handwriting Robot, visitors can also take home a personalized letter signed by a PM of their choice. Other interactive exhibits include tactile floor quizzes and engaging games.

These are technologies that are new age, state of the art technologies, different from the non-interactive traditional methods of content display. Each technology has its own meaning and gives an entirely new value to content showcase putting in the right medium of display. These technological installations increase human interactivity, breaks the monotony, gives an experiential way of remembering each exhibit and the content. We call this Infotainment, where we blend in the right content for educational/learning purposes with the correct medium of display (Entertainment/Engagement)

When one moves further to the Prime Ministers’ galleries, we have kept the use of technology minimum to keep the seriousness of the content intact. Each PM gallery is broadly divided into  5-6 themes starting from their Early life, Political Journey, Making of a Prime Minister, significant works under their Prime Ministership, challenges they faced, their retirement and lastly, Later Phase & Demise.  We wanted to strike a balance in content and look at the life and works of all the Prime Ministers through their achievements and the impacts that their contributions made to the nation and not merely by their tenures of office. So one can see, the PM galleries are based on the size of their leadership and not by the size of their tenures. Also, as we move from one PM gallery to another, there is a surprise element with each, where each gallery is designed differently to give a unique look of its own.

The spaces also include artefacts, archival documents and personal objects of the Prime Ministers. Some of the major displays of PM personal objects include Shri Lal Bahadur Shastri’s Passbook, Jail Diary of Shri Charan Singh, watch of Shri Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Shri Morarji Desai’s personal copy of Bhagvad Gita .

The museum captures not only India’s journey through these 75 years but also its pre and post time- India’s history and scenario during  Independence as well as India’s future in the years to come. So the first exhibit we start with is “India in 1947”. This is the first museum where it has past and future weaved together. Some special shows are main attractions of the museum.

The Time Machine exhibit lets the visitors travel back in time through India’s nuclear journey and with the exhibit “From the Ramparts of the Red Fort”, the visitors can get a live feel and see and listen to the historic speeches of all Prime Ministers at the Red Fort.

There are multiple exhibits with number of softwares running at the same time. All these exhibits are IOT connected. We have introduced a Museum Management Software that controls all exhibit panels in the museum with a single tablet in hand. The MMS works to direct all displays, update content and check health status of all screens on a real time basis.

This museum is beyond borders and is welcoming to all. We have developed a multi-lingual audio guide system, currently in two languages and in the future, will expand to 21 Indian languages and 6 International languages. The system acts as a personal guide on the journey. Visitors receive a headset and earphones in the kit. This multi-lingual audio guide, auto syncs with exhibits, giving a mesmerizing experience of the audio visuals in the museum. It is designed to assist the visitors in navigating through the museum and enables customization according to visitor time and convenience.

The museum brings a complete package of a never-seen-before visitor experience. There is something to absorb and take back for each and everyone from the museum.

It is the era of short attention span, internet and technology, where museums also have to adapt to that. In digital form, using gamification of cultural  content can reach at school level. Gamification of museum content helps to improve audience engagement, aid information absorption and retention, cultivates interest in learning the content, making the experience more visitor centric. Therefore, gamification is one way for museums to reach more visitors by creating  immersive and engaging experiences.

For the younger generation to become interested in consuming cultural content, use of technologies like augmented and virtual reality is the way forward. For example, creating a virtual reality tour of historical and heritage sites for students using VR headset can be used.

Across India there are so many places with so much to visit, know and learn. There are historical figures, battle grounds, monuments, forts, natural features, of people and incidents lesser known outside the area or forgotten in time. We now have reached a time to talk about and put it out there for the world to see. If we have to promote culture at a mass level, then we need to move beyond museums and adapt to other spaces. ‘‘The future of India lies in its villages’’ as said by Mahatma Gandhi.

With another ongoing project ‘Mera Gaon, Meri Dharohar’ we are documenting the cultural identity from the grassroots of India, through the 7,50,000 villages of the country. We are involving the locals to share their stories of the village, block, or district and tell the world what culture and history their place holds. The initiative is helping to strengthen the cultural footprints of the nation.

Museums and other spaces are institutions that are dedicated to preserve and showcase the knowledge of humankind and the culture we live in, and a nations identity. Many museums in India still use the conventional way of showcasing the content: static and graphical displays. The way it is currently presented is not relevant to the younger generation. To revive the museum culture, we have to bring the visitor to the center of the museum and make it relevant and relatable for them. When it revolves around them, they will take pride in what they see. Once they take pride in history, it contributes to the soft power that a country can bring forward. The technology, the content and the design then becomes the subset of the larger vision.

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