A culture finder on your phone
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New Delhi: When his three-year-old daughter wanted to visit a museum in 2014, Vaibhav Chauhan quickly agreed. Formally trained in heritage conservation, he knew how important it is to be aware of history and culture from a young age. Unfortunately for him, information about most of the museums was not easily available, even in a city like Delhi.
“We keep talking about how India is one of the oldest and biggest civilizations. We have been fed stories about how our culture is great. But what use is it if we are not using our culture for development, nor marketing it correctly,” he asks.
Chauhan is one of the founder-members and secretary at Sahapedia, an open online resource on the art, culture and heritage of India, and looks after resource development and operations. An alumnus of the Delhi Institute of Heritage Research and Management with a master’s degree in heritage management and conservation (2004), an executive MBA from the Indian Institute of Technology Bombay (2013) and a degree on corporate social responsibility from Harvard Business School (2015), Chauhan decided to use the available information and curate it for museums in the city. “I realized people were not even aware of so many wonderful artefacts which are housed in our museums and manuscripts in the libraries. But we have technology now to bring the information closer to them,” he says.
For this project, Chauhan worked in an individual capacity and put in Rs2 lakh of his own money to get the app off the ground. The core team of Sahapedia, including executive director Sudha Gopalakrishnan and former Tata Consultancy Services Ltd chairman and Sahapedia mentor S. Ramadorai, has always encouraged in-house entrepreneurial ideas and efforts. Sahapedia gave operational support for this app and will collaborate with Chauhan for the next version.
Sahapedia’s Museums in Delhi app was a finalist in the culture and tourism category at the mBillionth Award South Asia 2016, organized by the Digital Empowerment Foundation.
Chauhan started collecting information about museums in April 2014. In three months, he launched the Museums in Delhi app with the intention of giving people information about any of the museums they wanted to visit, including ticket prices, opening hours, parking locations, amenities, disability friendliness, etc. The museums are further categorized into archaeology, arts and crafts, children’s, history, personalia, science, specialized and transport. In the first phase, he listed 44 museums in the app, with the help of friends who gave him information about each of the museums. Chauhan also reached out to art historians and museologists to know about the history of star attractions in each museum. For example, the dagger of the Shah of Iran, who gave refuge to Humayun, and Bahadur Shah’s letter to Queen Victoria are housed in the Mumtaz Mahal Museum in Red Fort, while paintings by Satish Gujral and M.F. Husain find pride of place in the Ghalib Academy in Nizamuddin.
Museums in Delhi is a simple app, created with the help of Chauhan’s relative, Vaibhav Singh Tomar, who was then studying coding. They designed the app as a static one, with very basic images and information. It is GPS-enabled, making it easier for people to find direction to a particular museum or to check which museums are nearby. Chauhan’s intention was also to popularize smaller museums with the help of bigger and popular ones. “When people go to a popular museum like National Gallery of Modern Art, they can check the app and see that the Archaeological Museum, National Science Centre, and National Archives Museum are all close by. The popular museums also have a responsibility towards the smaller ones, especially because smaller museums do not usually have anyone maintaining outreach or social media for them,” says Chauhan.
But museum officials haven’t always been very helpful. He says that heads of several museums neither supplied information nor agreed to let their visitors know about the app. “A simple step like letting them know about the app when they are buying the ticket, can actually help other museums,” points out Chauhan. He now hopes to use a digital campaign called #ILoveMuseumsBecause to start a conversation about museums among the younger crowd. This is required because there has been no publicity for the app, and with very limited support from museums, the app has seen only about 1,000 downloads on the Google Play store in two years—that too mostly from Indians, though it would be a good resource for travellers to India as well. The reason, according to Chauhan, might be that tourists, especially from the US and Europe use iPhones, while the app is compatible with only Android phones currently.
“I think our entry was quite smooth from a technology point of view. However, we were a bit too early. I noticed that during the International Museum Day (18 May) last year, there was a lot of interest around our museums. There were a lot of social media conversations as well. Had we launched it in the same time, we could have used the opportunity to make people aware of our app more,” he adds.
Chauhan plans to expand the app to five-six more cities within a year and include art galleries, cultural centres, and information on cultural events and tour guides. “In the future, it will also allow individuals to post photographs and geotag museums they visit. I am hoping to get financial support from corporates under their corporate social responsibility programme because it is a qualified activity under schedule VII of Companies Act 2013,” says Chauhan.
Mint has a strategic partnership with Digital Empowerment Foundation, which hosts the Manthan and mBillionth awards.