Museum of Natural Sciences

Wim De Vos

communication Manager

Museum of Natural Sciences

Rue Vautier 29 B-1000 Brussels Belgium

www.naturalsciences.be

Implicating the public

The Museum of Natural Sciences hosts the national Belgian zoological, palaeontological, mineralogical and geological collections. It's the public interface of the Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences, involved in fundamental and applied research in biology, geology, mineralogy, palaeontology and (physical) anthropology. 

Exhibition Olympics of the Animals (2004)

Conceived at the origin as an instrument to explore the young Belgian state, the political and public interest for the Museum declined after World War II.

Around 1990, the Museum decided to an "aggiornamento". Scientific staff was encouraged to undertake research at a European level, and thanks to pre-financings by a Belgian bank, some blockbuster exhibitions about dinosaurs and other topics of large interest could be organized. The guided tours and the workshops also attracted numerous visitors.

This made deciders realize the enormous potential of the Museum. The research is virtually an important aid to public policy, e.g. in the field of sustainable development; the fascination of young visitors is a mean to bring them to scientific studies, so necessary in the European Union; the Museum is situated in a district with many socially disadvantaged inhabitants, and is a way to enlarge theirs and their children's fields of interest ; and finally, the Museum is also situated in the back-garden of the expanding European institutions and is one of the rump cards that contribute to the international aura of Brussels.

Evolution in society made us change, and we realize that we can change society. 

Exhibition Simply Mussels (2005)

Over the years, the Museum enlarged its integrated approach of different audiences. New types of workshops are meant to renew the public every year. Disabled persons easily get access to our buildings. Travelling exhibitions bring around our realizations in every district of the capital, whereas international collaboration on exhibitions opens our horizon to all of Europe and even to other continents. Our website expanded from 300,000 visitors in 2003 to 2,000,000 in 2006, thanks to newsflashes about scientific discoveries and about the expeditions - in real time - of our researchers, who are active on all continents and all seas. Volunteers even could join our palaeontologists on two dinosaur expeditions, "palaeotrips", in Russia.

For the friendliness of our way to welcome and implicate various publics and for the dynamic and innovative website, we were granted with the "Museumprijs - Prix des Museacute;es 2006" for the Brussels Capital Region. At the same time, we also received the "publieksprijs - prix du public" for the same Region, attributed by popular vote. 

Simultaneously to the expansion of its public services, the Museum submitted an ambitious project to federal and Brussels regional authorities to finance the renovation and modernization of the building hosting, since 1905, the 30 complete skeletons of iguanodons found in Belgium. The innovated spaces were to tell the story of the dinosaurs in Belgium and everywhere, and the evolution of life, in two exhibition halls integrating all modern museological applications and ICT, and appealing fully to active participation of the public. The architectural dimension of the project, restoring the spirit of the architect, added an important heritage dimension to the project. A first new exhibition room, about dinosaurs, will be inaugurated by king Albert II on October 24th, 2007.

Renovating the dinosaur gallery (2007)

A science museum may be somehow different from other museums, but as in other museums, major changes can only be the results of positive dynamics at all levels. The Brussels Museum of Natural Sciences employs a young staff (39 years is the average age). More and more, new colleagues are recruited on the basis of their qualities and professional experience, and also on the basis of the ideas and proposals they bring with them. New professions (museologists, ICT, communicators hellip;) take priority in the recruitments. Mostly these colleagues already went through a career outside museums. This brings together a team that can aspire to excellence. The will to realise the assumed goals is the binding agent of the team.

Nothing is easy, neither in constructing new exhibition rooms nor in elaborating new public activities on a large scale. Mostly, practical difficulties can be tackled when studied in a serene way, not by circumventing them. In every crisis, dialogue is the key word. Personal problems or conflicts don't have to interfere with professional exchanges. Maybe professional excellence can be defined as dialogue.

As a conclusion, for museums, when innovating all aspects of their offer, dialogue with society and dialogue between qualified team members, with respect of the fundamental philosophy and the concerted objectives of the project, seem to be a key to success. Success is never guaranteed, but success seems impossible without a well-considered voluntarism. And, as an element of hope for all the colleagues who lack the budgets to innovate their infrastructures, in 2006, with our dinosaur hall closed and the prehistory section reduced to 1/3 of the previous one, the Museum attendance was the same as in 2004 with te Museum fully open. Our team loves the various publics, and the various publics like the offer of our team.