Understatement: What about the craft of marketing


Understatement: What about the craft of marketing

The National Crafts Museum at Delhi’s Pragati Maidan has been an interesting and important institute at least since the Eighties. Whether you are passionate about local art and textiles or not, this space offers authenticity in its representation of the Indian way of life that is calm and reassuring. Far from the madding crowd of malls, the Crafts Museum has, for many decades, been a haunt only for those who light an occasional candle at the feet of indigenous craft. Also for curious foreign tourists.

But even today you will find a number of Delhiites who have never set foot here. There are also those both in Delhi and outside who visit the capital frequently for work or pleasure who are simply unaware about its existence. Run by the Ministry of Textiles (MoT), government of India, and set up over the Fifties and Sixties with work continuing into the Eighties, the museum has a village complex, finely maintained and well-appointed art galleries and open spaces designed by architect Charles Correa that link ancient concepts of Indian living with modern design.

Why doesn’t it get footfalls then? It’s an old lament but one with a new ringtone because under Ruchira Ghose, the chairperson, the Crafts Museum has in the last three years or so, been trying to stand up and walk with more strength in its arthritic knees. This year you can actually see some visible difference. From the 1st of October, Ghose and her team initiated a Year of Indian Textiles that will carry on till the October of 2014. Within this, craftsmen, weavers and artisans from various Indian regions will continue to show and sell their wares here in rotation. To add to the permanent exhibition blocks, new white tents have been put up in the village complex as stalls. Instead of camping at the museum despite poor facilities of lodging and boarding, visiting artisans have now been assigned dormitories inside the museum complex.

I sauntered in recently to look inside Lota, the museum store that was refurbished earlier this year and eat at Café Lota, the new Indian restaurant. The café has regional Indian cuisine and promises to develop its menu to include local produce from different states and authentic recipes that tell us about the diverse kitchens of this country. It is a nice restaurant with reasonably good food. The museum shop which is run by the Handicrafts and Handloom Exports Corporation of India Ltd though has a long way to go in terms of depth and variety. It may have been jazzed up but it still resonates with a tiresome and repetitive selection instead of the best of best in Indian luxury. Brass and ivory artifacts, Kashmiri stoles, scarves and Phulkari pieces, wooden and indigenous jewellery, embroidered Kutchi blouses and ebony wood combs amongst other stuff may make it quaint but this is no powerhouse of retail objects sourced from the heat and dust of India’s artisanal clusters. When will it be the clichéd “high time” that these products are mounted, packaged and labeled as luxury objects deserve to be? I also found the store staff generally disinterested and amenable largely to foreign visitors, a smart strategy given sales potential but not an equable one.

Outside in the village complex, the artisans’ stalls looked desolate waiting endlessly for buyers. A pity because there was a stall with some rare khadi saris with tribal Lambadi mirror-work on them, something unusual even in the diverse fare we now get to buy at crafts bazaars in cities now. A majority of the white tents were closed. Besides three or four foreigners, the other people hanging around that area that day was a group of young girls dressed in branded fashion from head to toe, carrying their bags like badges of honour. They bought nothing.

When I met Ms. Ghose, a very impressive lady with silver hair, a red bindi and dressed in a lovely textile sari, she agreed without a moment’s ado that while Café Lota was attracting people, it was important for people to walk deeper into the museum complex towards the galleries and where the craftsmen showed their wares.

What the Crafts museum needs is not a Facebook page which Ms Ghose said they had started but an avalanche of attractive commercials and promos in print and TV; a big and bold marketing push that could pull the crowds. Weekend discounts and shopping points. Café Lota’s menu specials plastered everywhere. Another well-curated branch of the museum store could be opened in shopping areas and malls in different cities. The official website certainly needs an update: it was last updated on 7th March 2013.

It doesn’t take a crafts expert or a professional lamenter like me to see what a wasted opportunity the Crafts Museum is in its current state. As Delhi goes to polls and a lot about the heart, soul and form of the city becomes a debate, it is fair to ask why can’t the Ministry of Textiles loosen its purse strings, inhale deeply and then blow its trumpet loudly?