Pi of Life: Creating Cultural Capital

By Dr. George Jacob-

Dr.George Jacob

[Dr. George Jacob FRCGS is an award-winning museologist, designer, author of 8 books on the future of museum practice and serves on the Board of Directors, International Council of Museums US. The views expressed in this article are his own.]

The proverbial Pi has a connotation of fractal infinium. The acronym re-imagined is the Philanthropic Impact (Pi) of giving back with unimaginable possibilities of shaping the sustainable future of civil societies.

For the last three decades, I have dedicated myself to leveraging the Pi of purpose-driven life that spurs societal sensibilities towards a greater good, playing it forward through the creative currency of curation.

When I am asked what I do for a living- I have many competing and conflicting thoughts that eventually find refuge in an under-statement – I plan and design museums– which is often met with sheepish curiosity and a questioning wonderment on whether this could be a viable career, if such a function exists.

The first step of a difficult journey is often fraught with many unknowns. Yet, as inquisitive humans, we may stumble, stray or choose to take it to explore the unexplored and discover the undiscovered. Museum Studies was a relatively unknown academic path at Birla Institute of Technology and Science- the only science-based Master’s program in India focused on museums of science, technology, industry, environment and medicine- one of the least sought-after degrees. Yet I was drawn to it. It felt like a logical bridge to connect the growing schism between science and society, between theory and practice.

Decades later in hind sight, I am convinced that idealistic as this journey may have seemed, we are on the right side of an inspired generation of thinkers, doers and givers. I do realize that giving back is not all monetary- enabling the creation of museums as souls and archival anchors of collective memories that serve as triggers of inspiration, are worth their weight in gold.

Nouveau museums, art galleries and similar destinations of non-formal learning, experimentation and visual repositories of lifestyle, are vehicles of economic regeneration and capacity building. Often leisure destinations with interesting contemporary twists attract not only tourists but other investments in allied sectors keen on offering the quality of life that the ambient connective tissue of the ecosystem enables.

Apart from generating direct revenues, employment, e-commerce, tourism, hospitality, restaurant investments, real estate, retail and rentals, museums serve as cultural ambassadors for political diplomacy, strategic partnerships and a range of joint ventures. Cities and destinations with a soul attract creative minds. The timeless haunts become hubs and hot-beds of debate, discussion and innovative ideas, often egged on by patrons, philanthropies and sponsors.

The last several decades are witness to what can happen when scouting venture capitalists start giving credence to the creative inventiveness of Silicon Valley. The synergy between the patrons and the passionate impacts how form and function rearrange the metrics of success. Design drives a significant portion of our cyclical economy. From the latest trends in wrist watches, mobile phones, clothes, models of automobiles, luggage, and eyewear to whatever else is sold at malls by the millions, are all fundamentally driven by design. Corporate and individual giving philanthropy coupled with the business acumen of the entrepreneurial human spirit that has seen the success of many design-driven themed-commercial environments have the capacity to recognize the potential of modern thematic museums. Giving is indeed a hungry cup that paradoxically and perpetually brimmeth over.

A working formula that offers a combination of tax incentives and targeted philanthropic edge at regional and national levels, can aid harness a significant portion of national taxable income towards a higher societal purpose. Imagine what a fractional 1% of the current GDP of nations can unleash towards education! Such an investment in the non-profit sector of contemporary museums has the potential to strengthen our social fabric and trigger the need for infrastructural development, offering new destinations looking beyond the ancient bastions of heritage.

In the last three decades, I have been fortunate to have designed, built and led over 100 museum experiences around the world in an overwhelming realm still devoid of visible minorities in thought leadership. These learning destinations and immersive exhibits continue to be visited by millions each year. However, public service often comes with a price of scrutiny and a lens of judgment where there is more than what meets the myopic eye. Not every vision becomes an intended reality. Envisioning a future requires an Arjun-like focus on lakshya- the greater aim that looks beyond the impediments.

The Climate Resilience and Ocean Conservation Living Museum initiative that I conceived for San Francisco has the potential of $2.2 billion impact on Bay Area tourism if implemented. Its floating spatial symphony on the Pacific could one day manifest into a museum, creating a generational movement for the sustainability of the blue planet we call home.

With meta-verse and Ai, the rising tide of shared learning is forcing conventional museums to seek a fresh perspective on outreach beyond their walls. Emerging tech power needs to recognize the enormous potential of riding this tiger in terms of investing and reinvesting the accrued commercial gains into an establishment to fuel further transformative growth that could continue to exponentially expand and celebrate learning in unimaginable ways. Such a public-private partnership can play the role of a facilitator, a think-tank service provider that aids advocacy and the creation of a comprehensive cohesive policy framework for a new promethean era. Add to this a new generation of museum visitors- the tweens- who wouldn’t be caught dead in an already fossilized museum environment. Keeping in step with the changing times is an evolving need that gleans intelligent input and constant feedback from the mobile app-laden generation where information spills at the feather touch of an icon beamed on a palm-held device powered by processors that defied imagination just a decade ago.

Understanding the immediate needs of institutional planning, while addressing the larger human needs to learn from our shared and unshared histories, our present continuum and our collective future, will increasingly shape the mission of new museums in times to come. The great meta-narrative awaits museums of contemporary culture, living traditions, purpose, events, crafts, the curious and the quirky. There is no dearth of content and certainly no shortage of diverse demographic demand.

The canvas is always blank before a painting. It behooves us to pledge painting a life of hope, liberty, and the joy of giving back!


[Above photo: Dr. George Jacob with Concept design for a 2.2 million gallon saltwater Oceanarium in Jamaica inspired by elk-horn corals, living rooftop mangroves and cascading waterfalls, rendered in oxidized titanium developed with X-TU.]