The Museum of Tomorrow is a new variety of science museum . The first science museums - natural history museums, for instance - provided glimpses of the past through their collections of fossils, relics, vestiges; then came demonstrative museums, showing the ways of science, its methods and discoveries, and presenting facts and laws of nature. The proposal of the Museum of Tomorrow is to employ the resources of contemporary science to offer to its visitors a journey of exploration of possible future scenarios. In this sense, it is a museum of applied sciences, which provide for a peculiar collection of possible futures.
The main philosophical concept supporting such an approach is that, contrary to our common sense about time - which, since the diffusion of an extraordinary artifact, the mechanical clock, we conceive of as a straight line of instants, upon which a marker called “now” moves uniformly, carrying with it all of reality - tomorrow is not a date in the calendar, or a place where we will arrive, that is, tomorrow is not finished and ready, waiting for us to arrive there. Rather, “tomorrow” is to be understood as construction, and we will all take part in this construction, as persons, citizens, members of the human civilization. Thus, each “today” may give rise to different possible tomorrows, because the actions that we choose to take now will shape the road ahead and select among various possible outcomes. Causes give place to effects; that is what science is about, and causal connections is what the Museum wishes to invite its users to reflect upon.
Such an innovative project exhibits some unusual features. Science is an ever-evolving endeavor, always reviewing and, if evidence thus imposes, renewing its concepts and statements. If the future scenarios exhibited by the Museum are science-based then they will be, necessarily, transient, so the Museum needs to be able to update its contents accordingly - otherwise, it would become a Museum of Yesterday very quickly. Other museums are built to preserve a given repertory; the Museum of Tomorrow must constantly renew his own. This leads to the requirement that all of its exhibiting content should be digital, that is, amenable to cybernetic manipulation. Thus, a system called the Cerebro was developed in order to receive and manage all the digital information comprising the exhibit contents, from videos and images to interactive programs and recorded data. Also, a cohort of academic and scientific institutions was selected to perform as trusted providers of science news and reports, and a Scientific Committee was chosen to supervise the academic integrity of the Museum’s presentations.
Another fundamental aspect of the project is of an ethical nature. The college of consultants that helped develop the scientific contents presented in the main exhibition posed a very important interrogation: the Museum works with future scenarios and forecasts, and while some of these future perspectives are certainly stimulating , there are others that can be frankly disturbing (as is the case with some extreme climate change projections). Is it ethically correct to invite people, in a public education installation, to contemplate threatening or even ominous possible events? These questionings led to the understanding that the Museum’s statements should be entangled in a set of permanent values, that is, all of the Museum’s contents and activities should abide by fundamental ethical guidelines. These directives were reunited under the labels of Sustainability - how do we want to live with the world? - and Conviviality - how do we want to live with each other? Together with the diffusion of Knowledge and the fostering of Innovation, these ethical guidelines are the mainstays of the Museum operation.
And now one last aspect can be addressed - that of the relation of the Museum with its publics. Already in the course of the construction of the premises, it became evident that the city area where the Museum was being installed, in spite of the neglect and decay it suffered during the last decades, had an immensely important role in the history of Rio de Janeiro City and, in fact, of the whole Country. Urban landmarks surrounding the Museum’s building accounted for this foundational narrative, and more than one hundred cultural institutions were active within its neighborhood - many connected to the “Little Africa” tradition . It was clear that the Museum would arise in an already rich, albeit troublesome, cultural environment, and so the relation with the neighbors was indeed of crucial importance to achieving its objectives as an education equipment.
In order to face this pluridimensional challenge, it was required that programs were developed for the local neighbors, for city dwellers, for Brazilian visitors as well as for international tourists, that is, the Museum should be simultaneously profoundly local and global so as to take in all sorts of publics - while giving special attention to children, families and high school students. Integrity and persuasion were the features most required to accomplish such tasks, and strong investments should be made so as the Museum team could display the kind of soft power necessary to succeed in this challenge.
Three and a half years after its opening, here are some figures about the Museum: close to 3.8 million visitors; 50 thousand students received per year; 50 percent of the visitors are not regular museum users, and 12 percent had never been to a museum before (that's about 450 thousand newbies); 96 percent enjoyed the visitation; 80 percent want to change their habits; 37 percent do engage with recommended institutions after the visitation; of the 30 thousand neighbors, 4.5 thousand became a friend of the Museum; InterMuseums, a program of a combined visitation to pairs of museums, has reached 25 members; 10 international museums and galleries were inspired by the Museum, and are on the way to establish a network of future-oriented museums.
One could say, the Museum of Tomorrow indeed became a powerhouse for knowledge - but without ever losing its softness.
Luiz Alberto Oliveira
Museum of Tomorrow | IDG
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