On 16 February, when the Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya opened to the public after 11 months of closure wrought by the covid-19 pandemic, one saw small groups of people come in to revisit their favourite cultural space in the city. “On the first day, 275 people came to visit. Yesterday, we also saw groups coming in,” says Joyoti Roy, head of marketing and strategy at the CSMVS. The museum has gone about the opening in a phased manner to ensure safety of both the staff and the guests. Out of the 22 galleries, only six have been opened to the public. “First, of course, is the Natural History gallery, which is large and spacious. It allows enough space for circulation,” she adds.
Last year, in February, the museum had also opened a new money and jewellery gallery. However, people didn’t get much of a chance to view this new space as the lockdown was enforced soon after in March. Those who hadn’t seen this gallery then have an opportunity to do so now. “Another gallery we have opened is the Karl J Khandalavala Gallery of Indian Artefacts, and also the children’s museum. There, we have a new exhibition, Entwined: The Relationship between Humans and Animals. Of course, parts of the children’s museum opens up to lawns, and people can relax in the shade,” elaborates Roy.
The team is hoping to maintain as much social distancing as possible, with gallery guards having been oriented to help keep the journey as contactless as possible. “We are trying to work on online ticketing, but at the moment, you have to get tickets at the counter. But there are enough sanitisers in place. We haven’t kept the interactive features open yet as touching is not allowed,” she adds. For those who wish to engage in a bit of retail therapy while indulging in a dose of culture, the shops in the museum, one on the first floor and other near the entrance gates, are open. Of course, you can’t try on the clothes but all the merchandise is available for sale. The cafe, though, is not open yet. “The direction and safety signages are in place. Toilets are being sanitised every half an hour. And most importantly, we have ample amount of open spaces. In case any gallery ever gets too crowded, people can be encouraged to move out there,” says Roy.
Even during the months of closure, the CSMVS didn’t stay silent. It carried forth with its online programming and social media presence. “We continued with our academic lectures, numbering at one or two a month. There were talks organised with the Museum Society of Mumbai. The memorial lectures were happening online as were lots of sessions for kids. The social media was buzzing as we were sharing stories and collections. We will continue this online programming as well for now as we are still not ready for a situation where people gather in one place for too long,” says Roy. So, there will be no on-site lectures for now, and academic and children’s programmes will continue to be online. “The public will be able to see at least two new exhibitions within the next four or five months. We are working on the details as of now,” she adds.