FOREWORDMUSE, the newest science museum of Italy, embodies the current generation of the natural history museums at international level. It opened its brand-new flagship building just two years ago (end of July 2013) and the outcomes thus far, as for innovative museological approach, audience development and new programmes offer, provide the museum community with a remarkable case-study, interesting to be evaluated by both the insiders and the decision makers.
MUSE is the development of the very traditional natural history museum settled in the18th Century by the local Municipality of Trento (a little town in the NE Alpine area of Italy) to preserve collections essentially including Alpine mountain natural specimens. Since the nineties, the new staff of the museum started to provide the public with innovative temporary exhibition formats and with a number of educational programs tailored to different curricula, thereby becoming increasingly an active reference point, capable to attract the attention of the public and to engage the community in science and society issues. Ten years after, the opportunity given by the urban redevelopment plan of a hitherto deprived post-industrial area of the outskirt, was the trigger for the development of MUSE cultural project.
TEN YEARS LONG STORYA cultural driver was needed for this coming neighbourhood, a distinctive attracting pole. The idea was to let a cultural institution be the enliven "hearth" and by then, the natural history museum was the very dynamic entity, which attracted citizens by offering multiple participative science communication projects. In the new premises, the museum would have shown its collections in a different light, providing its visitors with a contemporary narrative about the mountain environments.
SOME FIGURESThe investment for MUSE (building + exhibition design) was 100 million Euro. The yearly operational budget amounts to 9.8 million Euro (data referred to 2014; 42% are self-generated revenues). Before the “new deal” the museum’s permanent staff counted on 23 people, including few with University degree. The team constantly grew since: today total staff is 250, corresponding to 180 FTE. MUSE is also the central hub of a territorial network of 9 small local science museum, including a well-organized field research station at the edge of the pluvial forest in Tanzanian Eastern Arc, were community based biodiversity researches are carried on.
OUR GOALThe motto which summarize the philosophy of MUSE: think globally, act locally. As the narrative of the museum shows, the specific story of each different mountain environment is situated in its global context and refers also to similar environments around the world. MUSE mission statement underlines the ultimate goal: “To interpret Nature, starting from the mountains, through the eyes and with the tools and applications of scientific research. To allow everyone to face the challenges of the contemporary world, to stimulate curiosity for science and technology, to share the pleasure of knowledge, giving value to science, innovation and sustainability.”
FORM ENCOUNTERS CONTENTThe motto and the mission statement are skilfully translated into the architectural forms and the content displayed in the museum. Both the building and the exhibition interior are designed by architect Renzo Piano: externally the roof slopes form recalls the skyline of the surrounding mountains. Internally, the light and clear arrangement of the galleries and their contents offer an object-rich exhibition tour. The “low gravity” principle, i.e. the focus on the displayed objects or specimens and not on their supports, is mostly visible in the iconic 18 meters high central void area. This calls to mind the idea of free exploration, what any visitor is invited to do. The architecture allow people to immediately perceive the quality of the open space, to freely make a journey through its comfortable, well-lit galleries.
THE IMPACT OF NUMBERSBy the end of the 21st month after opening, MUSE issued the number 1 million admission ticket. Quite a big result for the city that counts only 115,000 inhabitants (the whole region 450,000). During the second year of operation, visitors went up 20% thanks to school classes in Spring, and tourists in Summer and Winter. Family audience during weekends made up for the rest of the year; only 27% of the visitors were local inhabitants. Undoubtedly MUSE changed the appeal of the city: Trento is now considered a tourist destination, mostly thanks to the science museum. In a recent marketing research study 89% of retailers in town admitted that the MUSE has positive effect on the city economy (41% rated it “considerable”), the 43% reports an increase in the turnover of sales, and the 35% refers of special offers promoted with MUSE.
A STEP FORWARDThe future of MUSE, of course, is still to be invented. It will definitely count on the major strengths and key factor of success: the capacity and enthusiasm of MUSE staff, including the highly qualified science research team. This staff allows MUSE to have a voice in the current science international arena (the patent for a molecular taxonomic identification field tool is currently submitted). Researchers contribution merges “first hand science knowledge” with the skills of the experienced educational and the exhibition staff, providing information and inspiration to the community.
CONCLUSIONTo face new challenges, to set new goals we need to move away from the reputation of being “a nice place”. Science museums are often perceived pleasant, joyful places to spend some time, whereas they should be considered “relevant”. To be relevant entails to go beyond the educational role and the family-oriented leisure approach. It means to become part of the on-going societal dynamics by supporting “culture oriented” incisive actions - science centres and museums are “cultural actors” (not direct economic agents). We need to promote public participation, actively engage them in any choice. We need to enhance information access, public deliberation, cohesion, responsible consume and production. All this is not only a matter of Pedagogy, it’s strictly linked to the policy agenda, to a sound strategy for our growing society, for our future.
There are few key-words to summarize these needs and translate them into possible actions:• Innovation and support of RRI, because it is the area of the EU flagship projects for the next decade; • Sustainability, because sharing knowledge and wider participation are better than rules and laws;• Entrepreneurship, even by the “gaming approach”, because serious games and play-role approaches inspire enterprises set ups;• Welfare, because in our rapidly changing world participation, commitment and knowledge about our physical, technological and social environment foster the wiser use of community resources; • Lifelong learning, because helps to develop the learning society;• Social cohesion, for the acknowledgement of differences can be mediated by a common transitional language, i.e. the scientific method; • Local identity and the Soft power to support citizen’s awareness “to be the essential part” of their territory, to enhance the role of science museums, to contribute for increasing the visibility and the reputation of the territory by promoting the above mentioned.
At MUSE we daily commit ourselves to become relevant for our community, we're earnestly working for the cultural welfare of our community, and we wish to continue to build on this positive experience, thus hopefully contributing also to the European science museum field.
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