The Natural History Museum of Rijeka is a small regional museum founded in 1876 and opened to visitors in 1946. The Museum continuously researches and systematically collects the natural heritage of the wider region so it currently holds around 90.000 specimens organized in minerals, rocks, fossils, plants and animals collections some of which have international importance. It currently employs 12 people, of which 9 are museum experts.
Since its establishment, the Museum has been situated in a family villa of count Negroni dating from the beginning of 20th century. Although the building itself is beautiful and situated in the city centre, it was noT built for museum purposes and hides certain disadvantages. The exhibition area is broken into small rooms connected with halls and staircases,the visitor flow is not clear and the access for visitors with disabilities is not easy. Because of the architectural limitations, but also in order to give visitors a more dynamic experience, the Museum’s permanent exhibition is organised in modular parts, using the particular exhibition rooms, hallways, staircases and even the surrounding garden to present parts of the permanent exhibition, each presenting different collections. Parts of the permanent exhibition share the general idea and messages, while each offering different and fresh experiences.
The Museum takes special care in communicating and bonding with it's audiences through exhibitions and rich educational programmes, always trying to find new and innovative ways and viewpoints in doing so. The educational projects for children, families, students and adults with a special interest in natural sciences and nature protection are especially popular, so more than 150 workshops, 40 lectures and 200 children'S birthday celebrations are held each year. Different art exhibitions and performances, concerts, special events or sleep-over nights are less numerous but well appreciated by the public. This continuous effort in elaborating programmes and services suiting the needs and expectations of mostly the local public has helped build strong bonds between the Museum and the local community.
However, teenagers and young people up to 25 years of age very rarely visit the Museum if it is not organized as part of their school or university education, as shown by the visitors survey. An opportunity to reach out to this important group of visitors arose from working on a project MUSEUMCULTOUR (“Adriatic museums enrich cultural tourism”) co-financed by the European Union through the IPA Cross Border Cooperation Programme. Within the Project a new part of the permanent exhibition covering the thematic of undersea life diversity in Kvarner bay was set up with the use of modern museographic techniques and technologies.
A team of museum experts consisting of curators (Milvana Arko-Pijevac, Marin Kirinčić and Marcelo Kovačić, museum educators (Željka Modrić Surina, Anita Hodak), documentalist / technical menager (Borut Kružić), museum technician / sound expert (Lado Bartoniček) and financial manager (Tea Mirth) working on the exhibition has been set up. Curators Milvana Arko-Pijevac, Marin Kirinčić and Marcelo Kovačić wrote a very detailed exhibition concept stating the themes and topics to be covered, stories to be told together with a complete list of exhibits to be presented, according to their relevance. The exhibition was to present the undersea life diversity in Kvarner Bay and important habitats and life communities, with the emphasis on conservational issues and provoking the visitors to feel the need to protect the marine ecosystem as well as to understand it. It was targeting not only the usual audience of the Museum, consisting mostly of children, families, preschool and school children and adults with a special interest in natural history and nature protection, but primarily to teenagers and young people with an interest in technology and virtual reality.
Based on the public procurement procedure a renowned exhibition designer Klaudio Cetina was selected as a creative director of the Project. He elaborated and proposed a Mood board and a Conceptual design of the exhibition following the concept, accepting a great number of exhibits to be presented in a rather small area and contrasting with the hard, scientific, almost industrial structures of glass and steel metal shelves covering the floor and walls to soft and fragile beauty of sea creatures and fluidity of sea water. The concept was very demanding and almost experimental in it's approach to the visitors: the exhibits would be in the dark, enlightened only if the visitor chooses to see them and willingly turns on the light operated by the motion sensors. Then the exhibit could be seen in all its beauty but naked, stripped of any interpretation and only if the visitor wishes that he or she could read the information on it using a sensor triggered smart phone application. Also, the concept supposed active exploring of the undersea world by using different senses, like touching and feeling different textures, smelling, hearing the sea animals and the sea itself, seeing the colours in different depths etc.
Following this ambitious concept, and after thoroughly discussing the details, especially the approach to the different target audiences, technical and multimedia solutions and the financial frame a final design and interpretation plan were developed by the whole team working together with the authors and the creative director. Although the whole team agreed on the final design, a couple of questions remained: How will this anti-exhibition where nothing is actually exhibited at first sight actually be accepted by the audience and different target groups? Are the technological solutions that we chose going to work properly? Will it all be finished in line with the deadlines? and , finally, Will we be able to stretch the budget to cover all that we want to be delivered?
After seven months of hard work of all the contractors and all of the Museum employees, some times (and some nights) all together in the exhibition room, our anti-exhibition was opened to the public at the end of 2014. We have received very positive feedback from our visitors, especially the teenagers and young people that liked exploring and feeling the sea with the help of new technologies, recorded a 10% increase in the number of visitors and a 50% increase IN the time spent at the exhibition within the first six months.
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