N°3-4 2013 | ICOMNEWS 11
T
he power of museums to influence
and significantly change aperson’s
life, no matter his or her origin, age,
educational backgroundor financial status
should be widely known. Yet in Brazil,
and undoubtedly in many other areas of
the world, museums are often viewed as
boring, old-fashioned places, reminiscent
of dusty 17
th
century curiosity cabinets.
Even if they feature hi-tech exhibitions and
engage in social programmes on cultural
identity and citizenship, many Brazilians
continue to perceive museums as
detached from daily life and more impor-
tantly, from their nation’s future.
The first Brazilian museological school
was founded in 1932
at the
Museu Histórico
Nacional
(
National
Historical Museum)
in Rio de Janeiro.
Since then, Brazil has
witnessed the emergence of more than
3,000
museums and 14 museological
schools throughout the country, according
to the Brazilian Institute of Museums
(
IBRAM). Now, traditional museums
co-exist with innovative technological
and interactive ones, such as the
Museu
da Língua Por tuguesa
(
Portuguese
Language Museum) in São Paulo, and the
Museu da Gente Sergipana
(
Museum of
the People of Sergipe) in the north-east of
the country.
Social museology has become a
mantra for Brazilian museums, encour-
aging the creation of the
Museu de Favela
(
Favela Museum) in Rio de Janeiro,
or the
Museu da Maré
,
a community
museum located in one of Rio’s biggest
and most populous favela complexes.
Both museums were created within their
communities and are deeply involved in
the economic, social and cultural devel-
opment of their surrounding populations.
They offer courses and programmes such
as the
Marias Maré
,
an income-generating
initiative designed to preserve textile
techniques in order to empower women in
the community.
But these community museums are
not the only institutions that interact with
the local population. For example, the
Galeria do Lago
at the
Museu da República
(
Republic Museum) displays contempo-
rary art in a 19
th
century environment that
served as Brazil’s presidential palace
from 1894 to 1960. The
gallery aims to estab-
lish a vivid dialogue
between citizenship,
human rights, political
reflection and art.
Another example is the
Museu da
Pessoa
,
a virtual andcollaborativemuseum
that collects and publishes the real lives of
real people in Brazil. Founded in 1991, the
museum has developed its own method-
ology of collecting oral narratives — both
online and offline ­— and now stores more
than 15,000 narratives and 72,000 digital
documents and photographs.
These innovativemuseums aremaking
huge efforts to engage their public. Sowhy
do Brazilian audiences still viewmuseums
as old-fashioned, archaic institutions?
Drinking about museums
In July 2013 a journalist friend and I brought
an initiative to Brazil that had first appeared
in 2012 in Boston, USA, and spread rapidly
throughout the US and countries such as
the UK, Australia and Qatar. It was called
Drinking About Museums (#drinking-
aboutmuseums). The movement has a
simple yet appealingpurpose: to talk about
museums in a fun, relaxing atmosphere.
In Brazil, all museum lovers are invited,
regardless of age or profession and
everyone is encouraged to express their
opinion. Participants meet and discuss
one or more themes that can change over
the course of the evening. Our goal was
to chat with museum audiences face-to-
face in a more informal way, and to foster
the exchange of information between
museums themselves (for example,
research results or the success of a
new app).
So far three meetings have been held in
Brazil: two in Rio and one simultaneously
in three different states: Rio, São Paulo and
Belo Horizonte. During these meetings,
it became clear that ordinary people
like talking about museums. They enjoy
speaking freely about them, about what
moves audiences and what doesn’t. They
are happy to exchange ideaswithmuseum
specialists, and they are interested in being
part of the process of improvingmuseums.
One of the most important lessons
learned so far during these fun, informal
meetings is that changing the stereotype
might be easier than expected. By inter-
actingmorewithaudiencesand responding
to major events, from flooding to street
protests,museums canconnect withwhat’s
important today in people’s lives.
Mia Couto, a Mozambican writer that
everyone should read at least once in their
lifetime, says that museums should only
collect the past if they can shape the future.
So, let’s do it. Let’s shape the future.
n
Shaping the future
Breaking museum stereotypes in Brazil
by Claudia Porto, independent museology consultant and board member
of the ICOM International Committee for Collecting (COMCOL)
Social museology has
become a mantra for
Brazilian museums
©DIAPORTO
The author’s illustration conveys museums’ ability
to make visitors see the world in different ways