Alexandre Fernandes, Audience Development Director and Luiz Alberto Oliveira, Curator, Museum of Tomorrow (Rio) joined us for MuseumNext Dublin, sharing the philosophy of their recently opened museum in Rio de Janeiro.
Luiz: Hello. Good afternoon. It’s a pleasure to be here. I’m Luiz Alberto Oliveira. I’ve been involved in the project of the Museum of Tomorrow since 2009. I will start by showing you the conceptual project of the museum, and afterwards, my colleague, Alexandre Fernandes will show you the actual practics that we have been accomplished in these four months that we have been born. We are still a baby calf trembling on our legs, you see.
So, well, what is a Museum of Tomorrow? This question, just a notion, is puzzling for some people. The first thing we have to do is to show you what tomorrow we’re speaking about. So, the Museum of Tomorrow, first and foremost, is a science museum. In fact, we are a museum of applied science. We applied resources of contemporary science to offer to our users or our visitors an experience of exploring possibly future scenarios.
So, every museum has a collection; the collection of the Museum of Tomorrow is our possibilities. So, in this sense, we are a new kind of museum. You have science museums, in which you have, for instance, in the natural history museums, you collect traces of the past, or in what we call demonstrative, factual museums, you show evidence of the present, the ways the laws of nature function. But, at the Museum of Tomorrow, we aim to be a museum of questions, and an exploration of possibilities.
The quick question here is, what tomorrow are we speaking about? So, the museum is about a philosophical question supported by scientific content, and conveyed to the visitors by the powerful language of art. So, the key concept, or the key philosophical foundation of the museum is that tomorrow is not ready. Tomorrow is not a date on the calendar; tomorrow is not a place where we will arrive. Tomorrow is a construction, and we will take part in that construction as people, as citizens, as members of the humankind.
So, about the scientific content of the museum, we do not work with the usual position between natural sciences and humanities, or exact sciences and historical sciences, [with all] dedication of Victor Weisskopf, the American physicist, and we work with the separation of Sciences [of the Unity], cosmic sciences, and sciences of plurality, earth sciences.
On the one hand, you have cosmology, astrophysics, the universe to which we belong, and particle physics, atomic physics, chemistry, the materials that we are all made of. And you have, on the other hand, all the science that deals with the peak of complexity that we find here in our earth, in our home, in ourselves. So, for us, geology and psychology stand on the same place.
We also have ethical guidelines, values, that we offer to the consideration of our visitors. Sustainability – how do you want to live with the world. Conviviality – how do we want to live with each other, is our values that belongs to the museum since its conception, and we affirm these values to the consideration of our visitors.
And, well, another aspect of the museum is the fact that it’s this architectural icon, of one of the largest process of urban renewal taking place today, the Porto Maravilha project, the process of revitalising the harbour area of Rio, 5 million square meters of intervention, the largest intervention, human intervention in this city the last five decades. And, as you can see, we are together with the Museum of Art of Rio, we have the new opening aquarium of the city, and we are at the end of a rosary of more than 15 cultural institutions that will be joined [together by a tram], so this will be a new life for the culture in the town.
The architecture, we invited Santiago Calatrava, accomplished Catalan architect, and he was inspired by a flower from the Botanical Garden of Rio, a typical flower of the Atlantic forest which surrounds Rio, which is the Bromeliad, and so he got inspired to create this [longelinea] modular structure that we set up on the waterfront between two gardens. So, this was a solution on the Maua Square.
And, this is, the Museum of Tomorrow [is an equipment] for probing the next decades, but it is rooted in the very historical heart of Rio. The five centuries of our history evolved around Maua Square, so it’s a very important process of renewal – we’re connecting the past and the future.
So, this is to give you a taste of Calatrava’s style. On the ground floor, you have an auditorium; you have a space for temporary exhibitions of about 20,000 square meters, and we have also two particular sectors. As you can imagine, the most challenging, the greatest challenge in a Museum of Tomorrow is not becoming very fast a museum of yesterday. So, to avoid that, we set two different sectors.
The first one is the Observatory of Tomorrow, which gets together, gets connected with many institutions that provides us with data, with reports, that we use to constantly update our exhibitions. So, other museums who are devised and created preserve [unintelligible 00:06:46], we have to update and substitute ours constantly. We have already carried out 12 updatings of the museum’s content. So, whenever you come back to the Museum of Tomorrow, it will be a Museum of Tomorrow, a new museum.
Also, to keep in pace with the fantastic acceleration of changes that are happening in our times, we have the Tomorrow Activities Lab, in which we carry out very short term exhibitions and innovations, and prototyping, and [unintelligible 00:07:19], and citizen project science, a place of [unintelligible 00:07:24], a place in which groups from everywhere, they can go and the museum will offer them the possibilities to, the conditions for developing any projects whatsoever. So, with this, we have a long term exhibition, medium term, temporary exhibitions, and very, very fast, short term exhibitions.
For instance, we can have a data visualisation for the [MIT], and the [unintelligible 00:07:51] showing how they, in three days, can make [unintelligible 00:07:56].
Also, technology – in order to be able to update constantly the museum, we choose the museum to be entirely digital, except for one single physical piece. So, with these resources at our hands, we try to make the museum work like an organism, that is, it can have a sense of its own metabolism, of its own functioning, by a record of the course of the visitors inside the museum, through a device called the Iris. So, the Iris is the digital [assistant] that every visitor can register, and afterwards, the visitor can receive further information about [unintelligible 00:08:44] the issues that matters, that interested them most, and the museum can receive this image of this flow of its blood or visitors flowing across it.
The Museography was inspired on the concept of a musical score. So, whereas in a symphony, you have different tempi, different movements, so here we wanted to create areas in which you have intensity, or areas when you have tranquillity, ups and downs, so this concept was accomplished to five exposition areas in the dialogue with the cathedral nave that Calatrava gave us, 180 meters long, 14 meters wide, 14 meters height, with five [unintelligible 00:09:41], the roof. And, each one of these areas, they converse with the architecture.
Each one of them comprises a specific scientific content, incarnating one of the great questions that mankind has always asked itself – where they come from, who you are, where are we, where are we heading to, how do you want to go? So, we offer the visitors a journey of exploration of these possibilities of future.
So, the first area is a very huge black egg. We call it the Cosmos area. Where do we come from is the question. It’s an immersive experience, in which the visitor is taken away from his everyday perspective. So, he’ll travel between galaxies, dive deeply into the nucleus of an atom, see the formation of the earth, the emergence of [light], the appearance of [mind to art]. 13.7 billion years in eight minutes. Not so an easy task, if you ask me.
The second moment is the earth, it’s who we are. We are earthlings; we are combinations of matter, life and mind. So, there are three huge cubes; in each cube, one of these dimensions of our existence. On the outside, on the skins of the cubes, is always the point of view of unity. For instance, the first cube is the earth, seen from the outside, as one single body. No separations, no [unintelligible 00:11:14]. On the insides is the workings of the earth as a system, the changes of the seasons as the basic symptom of these workings of the earth as a system.
The second cube is the cube of life; on the outside, what is common in every organism. The manual, the instructions manual in [DNA-ish] that comprises the instructions for the [unintelligible 00:11:38] organisms to build their own components. On the inside, the notion of our ecosystem, exemplified by the ecosystem of Atlantic Forests of Guanabara Bay, where the museum is located.
On the third [curve, the curve] of mind, on the outside, what is common, our [nervous] system is the same for all of us, essentially. On the inside, the incredible variety of culture. 1020 pictures showing all different aspects of different cultures in [unintelligible 00:12:07] of explorations. 140 musical tones that are played randomly, so that you get lost in this maze of information about what humans are able to do.
Where are we now? We are now in [unintelligible 00:12:26] becoming aware of the fact that we have become … our activities, taken as a whole, has become a [planetary] shaping force, and the consequences of our actions are very far reaching. We live now [in the age] of the humans and Anthropocene. So, where are we? We show this, inspired on a huge moment on [Stonehenge], six towers, ten meters high, 3.5 meters wide, 2010 square meters of light telling the people, you are here. You are now in this moment where we have become this planetary shaping force. We and our descendants, we live in this planet, profoundly changed by our own actions.
The main area of the museum, the tomorrows, where are we heading two, which we have three areas. Society, planet, and human, and in the centre of each one of these areas, we have a table of games, to deal with the idea of possibilities or probabilities. So, we identified with our consultants six major trends that [unintelligible 00:13:41] the next decades, the museum will be always focussed 50 years ahead. So, population growth and longevity, we are around 70 billion people today. In 2050, we will be about 10 billion people, 3 billion people more, born on a [unintelligible 00:13:56] belt of tropical, poor countries. Not only 3 billion people more, 3 billion poor people more.
Also, the fact that we have, in many places, increasing our longevity in such a way that in 2050, there will be no more [unintelligible 00:14:16]. We will have as many elders as you have children. No human society has ever lived according to this age distribution.
The integration and differentiation of locals and places, to the [unintelligible 00:14:33] transport, now especially in the great cities, we have the material means to create a real global, human community.
On the same time, and by the same reasons, local traditions and customs are reinforced, so the general political clash of integrating and differentiation, due to the same actions, the same powers, will be a very important political issue the next decades.
Climate change, of course, we show local, regional and global scenarios, and that’s [unintelligible 00:15:12] soft, medium, and an intense change, the effects on cities, the effects on agriculture, the effects on migrations, and of course, the causes connected to energy, the uses of energy.
The changes in the biodiversity, and [unintelligible 00:15:31] location of the species [the disappearing of] the species, the very frightening risk that about 2100, we will have carried out the sixth greatest extinction in life on earth.
The increase of the artefacts in number, quality and capacity, its [integration] with our bodies, with our nervous systems, with our ways of living, we are putting in motion to technology the very limits of what is to be a human.
And, the expansion of knowledge, the amazing fact that today, for the first time in the human history, more than half of humanity is [unintelligible 00:16:10] in some language. And, of this half, more than half are women. If we recall that, at the beginning of the 20th century, just a century ago, the number of learned women in all the world was nil, we understand the immense psychosocial transformation that we are currently experiencing.
The [final] moment of the museum, is it earth, how do you want to go, which values we want to convey to the future. We were inspired by a house of knowledge of the Brazilian tribesmen, and we created [this ambient] soundscape and light-scape, just to show two concepts. One, that somewhere, everywhere, the sun is rising in the east; it’s already tomorrow there. So, it’s not a museum of the future, which is far away; it’s a museum of tomorrow, because tomorrow is always happening now, and tomorrow is always the same. It’s always the sun rising in the east, but it’s always different.
So, this idea, we convey, organised the space, with the one single material piece of the museum, which is a piece from the other side of the world – it’s a tjurunga; it’s a piece of an Australian symbolic tool that the Australian Aboriginals used to connect the past and the future, to show the continuity of the [unintelligible 00:17:35] culture.
So, we can be aware that the Museum of Tomorrow wants to become a tjurunga for the 21 century, so this is the only physical object of the museum, the only object that symbolises the museum itself.
Then, we come back to the present, with the view of Guanabara Bay – if you’ll excuse me for being a little bit parochial, perhaps everything you saw before, you can see elsewhere, but this, only in the Museum of Tomorrow in Rio de Janeiro. So, please welcome Alex.
Alex: So, good afternoon, everyone. My name is Alex Fernandes. I’m Audience Development Director of the Museum of Tomorrow. Firstly, I’d like to say thanks to MuseumNext for inviting us, and to [Mark Dixon] and British Council, thank you for advocating for us to be here.
Before I start talking about audience development, I would like to say that, today, April 19th, we are celebrating four months since our big opening to the public last December. Like Luiz said, we are a baby museum. We have a lot to learn, and we’re all aware of the long ways we have to go in order to understand our audience.
We believe that our audience development programmes should be created as a sparkle, a starting point, propagating a shared understanding of the world. That sparkle, that starting point, began at the heart of Rio de Janeiro’s historic centre, where Louis showed earlier in the map. It is a region with a very powerful, sophisticated and affirmative culture. It is the birthplace of samba and other important Brazilian culture expressions.
So, about a year ago, in partnership with the City of Rio de Janeiro, we started to map and understand the region, and we found out some key figures. There are about 30,000 residents at the port region, about 12,000 households; 150 social organisations, including public schools, clinics, etc. More than half of the people living there earn less than $400 a month.
So, about six months before opening, we ask ourselves, how can we introduce the Museum of Tomorrow to the local community, when there is no Museum of Tomorrow to visit? We realised that, let’s do it anyway. So, we invited local residents to visit the museum during the final stages of the building construction. We were able to bring 500 local residents to visit the Tomorrow. The number might appear small, but the word of mouth afterwards was huge.
Part of our community engagement plan was to launch a neighbour free membership programme before the big opening. That means every port region resident is eligible to be a neighbour member with free access to the museum.
However, how can we get those residents interested in becoming a member? We only knew where they live, and that was enough. We sent out those postcards, as you see, to every household in the region. We’re talking about a region that the mail service barely gets there, so we were able to send those 12,000 postcards to every household, inviting them to register for the programme, and for attending the big opening.
So, on December 19th, exactly four months ago, the day before the big opening to the general public, we opened our doors only to our neighbours, so for our surprise, we didn’t expect that many, but we had over 4,000 people for this event.
The next day, when we really opened our doors to everyone, it was a whole different story. The museum has received lots of attention from the public and from the media, which reflected on a big number of visitors, so we expected about 10,000 people for the big opening. We opened our doors for 36 hours in a row, and we had over, as you see, 26,000 visitors. That was a big number for us.
Then, it is a huge challenge for us to manage the success. That number gave us a lot of joy, but also enormous responsibility to make sure that all visitors could have a good experience. Already in January, our audience research and evaluation team conducted a profile, a satisfaction survey, that showed us that 98% of visitors had a great experience and would recommend the museum for friends and family. That showed us that the museum is mainly a family programme, so 94% of the people went there accompanied by someone, mostly family.
We became a huge touristic attraction – as you see, 43% live outside of the Rio de Janeiro state. That is a big finding for us – almost half of our visitors, about 42% are not museum visitors, and 10% never visited a museum. So, we understand that a good first experience at a museum will encourage those visitors to be more interested in other museums as well.
About our public programming: the aim is to invite the audience to participate in investigating the past, understand the changes of the present, and explore possible futures.
I’m going to give a couple of examples of our programming. Maua 360 consisted in a training programme that enabled 374 participants to investigate the past with four historians and specialists of the Rio Port region. Most of the participants who actually live in the region were unaware of the historic importance of the region.
Those are examples of Facebook cards used to invite users to our programming at the Observatory of Tomorrow, as Louis mentioned earlier. On our left side, you see one of our workshops that monitors the vital signs of the earth, such as the dynamics of the oceans, and on the right, there was a workshop, that a scientist shared findings regarding the Zika Virus, a huge current health issue in Brazil right now.
Then, exploring possible futures: those are examples – on your left, you see the big [finding of] gravitational waves, and how that opens a new window to the universe. On your right are the perspectives for 2030, when you look at current rates of deforestation and climate change.
So, I’m happy to say that we are launching, this May, our membership programme, with the aim at creating a community of shared interests. So, everything you see here, you’re seeing at first hand.
Both the museum and the membership programme share the same ethical pillars of sustainability and conviviality. The main concept of the programme is that it will permanently be on beta version, in other words, it would be always under construction, a collective construction.
So, to start with, I highlight some key characteristics. We’re going to start with only one category. Of course, we have different profiles as family, individual, [dual], but the amount, the value that the member will provide to the museum will be the same, and the benefits, as well.
Members will be able to elect which projects they would like to engage, such as community gardening, build your community library, or monitoring the quality of the water at the Guanabara Bay, where the museum is.
So, I go back to that sparkle, that starting point, to invite you all to visit the Museum of Tomorrow, Rio de Janeiro in Brazil, and participate on this ongoing construction of tomorrows, towards a shared understanding of the world.
I’d like to say hello to my colleagues at the Museum of Tomorrow – they are all watching us in Brazil, and they are like in a football match, cheering for us to have a good presentation. So, hi, guys.
Alexandre Fernandes, Audience Development Director and Luiz Alberto Oliveira, Curator, Museum of Tomorrow (Rio) joined us for MuseumNext Dublin, sharing the philosophy of their recently opened museum in Rio de Janeiro. To stay informed about our International Museum Conferences follow MuseumNext on Twitter or like MuseumNext on Facebook.