"I loved it so much. I thought that it was going to be boring”. An anonymous visitor, October 2017.
1922: in front of the door, a lot of people and a bicycle. Two years earlier, Martín Rodríguez Galisteo had started construction on a museum he would donate to the Province and its people. A building to house a collection of works and a library inaugurated on a revolutionary day in Argentina: the 25th of May.
The "Rosa Galisteo de Rodríguez" Provincial Museum of Fine Arts – “El Rosa” – is a public museum, with free admission, which recently turned 100 years old. Dependent on the Ministry of Culture of the government of Santa Fe, it holds a collection considered one of the most important in Argentina. An interdisciplinary team develops its museological plan with a strong pedagogical approach, working in the region and with the community, building innovative experiences to rethink the management of space.
Museums protect, preserve and restore heritage: the Rosa Galisteo Museum democratizes heritage by activating unconventional experiences that attract new audiences that usually do not visit these institutions. At the same time, it stimulates contemporary artistic production through exhibitions and the National Salon of Santa Fe, which has also become a space for critical thinking, with the creation in 2017 of the "Hugo Padeletti" Contest, which promotes research in the field of the arts, proposing that memory coexist with the creation of new discourses and debates. This pedagogical curatorship crosses over from the educational programs into the exhibitions, generating collective projects that activate the construction of collaborative knowledge.
In 2012, new cultural public policies were promoted by the province’s socialist administration. The then Ministry of Innovation and Culture, in tune with the paradigm shift from the conventional museological vision, proposed improving the quality of the cultural service and building a management project in which the center was the citizens, turning them from mere spectators to active creative protagonists. The cultural service to the community aims to promote social coexistence as a value, citizen participation as a critical exercise and promote the construction of a sense of collective belonging among past, present and future generations.
A few years later, when I assumed the direction of the Museum through a competitive process, I proposed implementing a museological plan that would implement these policies in an institution that still maintained a management model anchored in modernity, distant from the new audiences and contemporary practices. In 2016, the artist Elian Chali, invited by curator Florencia Magaril, painted on a wall measuring 24 by 8 meters in the central exhibition hall of the Museum in red letters: “What is a museum?”
From 2018 to date, the exhibition project "Museo Tomado" (“Museum Taken Over”) has proposed to answer this question, visualizing and democratizing the collection, showing the daily tasks that take place in a museum, work that is generally hidden from the visitor's gaze. All the works protected in the reserve have been progressively transferred and exhibited in their entirety in the halls. Today the walls are covered with paintings and the floors with sculptures. The storage space, now emptied, has entered a process of reconditioning and improvement of the storage, lighting and ventilation systems.
In opening the museum to the public, the daily tasks have been exposed. Between scaffolding and stairs, the team in charge of mounting exhibitions, have been organizing the work, defining the criteria as they go along – by color, by size – because they know gaze at each other, works that had never seen the light of day, now occupying a space in this constellation of art objects. The restoration teams cleans the works and have updated the reports on the state of conservation of the more than 2,800 pieces. The action also allows for updating the photographic documentation and inventory. The exhibition activates the Museum's research tream, opening new paths of exploration, serving historians who "discover" new topics of study. The communications team brings this event to life on social networks, inviting the public to participate in the "taking over"; the community of artists, students, school groups come to know what has been stored away for so long, unveiling the mystery of that which was not known. On a day-to-day basis, the administrative team coordinates the actions that allow each of the tasks to be carried out and the educational program has implemented active mediated tours that are updated, searching for new narratives, appealing to the interest of those who attend the Museum, children, families, university students and the solitary visitor who may sets up their own tour among the works.
"Museo Tomado" works actively with the collection, resulting in public actions such as "Women in El Rosa" where women artists of all ages were invited to talk with the work teams about their pieces, sharing life anecdotes, details of their practice and production processes, thus strengthening the link between the artists and the Museum. At the same time, it generates the opportunity to breakdown the borders of the institution with "Trueque", a piece by the collective of artists Barrio sin Plaza made up of Ariana Beilis and Malcom D'Stefano who selected works from the walls of the Museum and exhibited them in the neighborhood of Villa del Parque —a neighborhood far from the city center— to later set up an exhibition in El Rosa with documents, photographs and cultural expressions. The neighborhood and the museum sharing their heritages with each other.
On the other hand, showing the entire collection triggered requests from curators for works by Rosa Galisteo to be included in shows throughout the country. The museological plan once again placed El Rosa as a reference point on the cultural map of Argentina, as it was in its founding years.
The large-scale exhibition "Museo Tomado" has also generated controversy and resistance. The exhibition format, a baroque assembly without labels, hierarchies or indications of "the great masters" is disconcerting at times. The public looks for the white card, references of the work, detailed information. One of the strategies used by the mediation team has been to provide this information to the public, inviting them to dialogue, proposing to complete the history of the work with anecdotes that visitors have shared. Similarly, the demand for information from the public has led us to review the decision to omit the labels and revealed the urgent need to have a digital catalog of works of national heritage.
Although the Museo Tomado is perfectible, it undoubtedly has drawn attention to an innovative form of management and proposed a model to be replicated. Receiving the CIMAM Outstanding Museum Practice Award has highlighted the power of the museological plan that, through projects such as this, aroused attention by proposing an alternative model to the persistent patriarchal and colonial structures of the European museum. It also highlights that the Museum has promoted alternative spaces for social and intergenerational exchange; and activates access to unconventional experiences, thus considering this practice exemplary, that of a local museum that expands beyond its fictitious limits and, through its close ties with its region, inspires metropolitan centers.
The Rosa Galisteo Museum hopes that this experience continues to inspire and remains in the memory of future generations.
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