Communities and Kings

Sustaining Patan Museum through Community Engagement

A whole generation of Nepalis has grown up with the notion that the beautiful monuments at Patan Durbar Square were built by kings. If you take a closer look at Krishna Mandir, you will notice that the many gajurs or pinnacles on the temple are different. If the king had built them or if the state had paid for them they would all be the same.

The reason for them being different is because different communities must have crafted them separately and then contributed to the building of the globally unique temple dedicated to Krishna. If the kings had done this on purpose, then we must recognize how wise they must have been in those days. This is how we also need to approach the sustainability of the Patan Museum. Community engagement is the key.

Tea and coffee economy

At the Patan Durbar Square, we can buy tea from Ilam and coffee from Syanja. The three communities are already linked but not in a formal manner. If these local governments could work together, the volume and quality could be upgraded. There are huge benefits to all these communities in terms of job creation, income and the ability to pay for health and education. We have not told the story of how this linkage is actually functioning and the value being created in all the three places. This could be the first step.

You can meet a waitress from Myagdi, a metal craftsman from Gajuri and the fruit and vegetable vendor from the terai and all are supporting their families back home. It is because so many people benefit from these monument zone that it has become easier to generate support for heritage conservation in Patan and across Nepal. The tour guide, the handicraft vendor, the tourist bus drivers and the staff at Patan museum all have jobs because of the Patan Durbar Square and the Patan museum. The multiplier effects in the local community are even greater.

Museum without walls

The first and critical step towards engaging the community to sustain Patan museum must begin by understanding that there are no walls between the museum and the community. Patan itself is a living museum and the people who are engaged in art and craft, food and festivals are all contributing to making Patan a truly wonderful experience for locals and foreigners alike. The museum just happens to be a great place to tell the story of Patan, the Kathmandu valley, Nepal and the entire Asian continent and its communities.

photocredit: photokhichuwa

One big challenge is that the word “museum”. It is not a good word to describe what happens here. A museum means a place to store and display dead and inert objects and hence young people tend to stay away. Patan museum is a happening place with events and festivities all year around. The beautiful buildings and courtyards are part of the bigger city and connected to the daily life of the people. The water spout, Manga Hiti, still flows, the annual Krishna Janma-astami attracts people from near and far. The annual Bhimsen-jatra makes the monument all part of our life and living heritage.

Only if young people visit

Like all things in the world, sustainability has to do with young people and whether they like what they see at Patan Museum. If young people do not come here, then we know we need to change the way things are being done. All across Nepal, young people are travelling with their friends, their family and school. Why would they come to Patan? Do we have housing for young people? Where will they eat? Is transportation affordable for young people?

Bringing young people from schools all over Nepal will be a great way to ensure that the Patan museum, the city and its entrepreneurs can sustain. The heritage passport, that is now becoming popular, needs to be launched across Nepal so that young people come to the Patan museum and Patan city. They need to travel, they need to eat and need safe and secure places to spend the night. All this sounds like revenue for the city and hence for the museum.  The reverse is also true. Kathmandu school children need to travel across the country. We need to create a win-win economy for all. This will be a unique souvenir for school children and visitors who visits the Patan museum.

Federal Nepal and local leadership

A federal Nepal demands that local governments not just seek more power but also begin to generate local resources to serve the people. If the Patan museum is a critical part of the revenue stream for Patan municipality, resources must be set aside for its up keep. Resources are not just money, but skilled people and services that will ensure Patan Museum remains a world class venue. Municipal leaders have travelled on enough study tours to know what is needed and how things need to be done. Before federalism, you could blame the central government, but not anymore.

Home-stays have become an important part of ensuring that visitors have a truly lifetime experience. The local government has to think beyond taxes and must facilitate the supply of essential services such as water, clean energy, security and access to medical services. Here again, the revenue generated must be used to sustain the museum and all the areas around it. We cannot “kill the goose that lays the golden egg.” In creating the win-win economy the Patan museum must benefit as well. It is a means to a much greater end.

Management for sustainability

In the past, resources came from donors and this reliance on aid and charity must be diversified for long term sustainability. We need to thank all the countries and foreign agencies who have helped the Patan museum in the past. A part of the available resources must now be invested to ensure financial and broader sustainability. We must develop more skills than those associated with writing donor proposals. We cannot just highlight our weakness and gaps but show our strengths and opportunities.

We can start by launching a “friends of Patan museum” campaign. The museum shop and restaurant need to be marketed better. Ticket sales are good but visitors who pay need better facilitates including parking, toilets and drinking water. Events at the museum have to be selected better to add value and cover the revenue gap. All this requires better management skills and re-orientation. We may need new skills and a more corporate approach. Sustainability will depend on how we manage the business of Patan Museum.