Sabyasachi Mukherjee revived a once-grand but dilapidated museum

Sabyasachi Mukherjee“Change is good,” reads a sign in a century-old museum in Mumbai. Its burgeoning crop of new visitors would seem to agree.

Until recently, the once-grand art and history museum, known as the Prince of Wales when it was constructed under British rule, was something of a joke: The 50,000-plus artifacts were badly displayed and poorly labeled, the “visitor center” was no more than a tarpaulin-covered area, the “cafe” was a filthy cart, and there were no children’s programs to speak of.

The magnificent dome of the beautiful Indo-Saracenic Revival building, now known by the imposing name Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya (CSMVS), has long been a major landmark in South Mumbai: Everyone knew where it was – but nobody actually visited.

Now, visitors walk into a well-lighted space with new display cases; there’s a museum shop, a modern indoor cafe, and a host of spiffy new galleries. In a change from the old “don’t touch” policy, children can make replicas of coins in the numismatics section or handle stone tools from the Neolithic Period.

In the past couple of years, the museum has hosted international exhibitions such as “Mummy: The Inside Story” (with its 3,000-year-old mummy on loan from the British Museum). Other visiting exhibits have included Persian artifacts; Flemish paintings, including those of Peter Paul Rubens; and two of the Xian terracotta warriors from China.

The man behind this massive makeover is museum director Sabyasachi Mukherjee, who took charge in 2007. He immediately set about changing things.

“The old attitude was: ‘Hey, our job is to keep the museum open. If people want to come, they will come. But we aren’t going to do anything to attract them,’ ” Mr. Mukherjee says. He describes the staff, diplomatically, as “unmotivated.”

“But eventually, they started believing in a new vision,” he says, “one where we weren’t just a warehouse for artifacts but actively engaging with the community.”

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