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2001 "Museums: building community"


INNOVATION - Cyberspace Communities: MUVA, the Virtual Museum Of Arts El Pais

Alicia Haber
Director of the Museum and Project Director, Museo Virtual de Artes El Pais, Montevideo, Uruguay

MUVA has been on-line since 1997, run from its headquarters in Montevideo, Uruguay. It is a virtual museum (http://www.diarioelpais.com/muva (Spanish) and http://www.diarioelpais.com/muva2 (English)), devoted to Uruguayan art and culture, and constitutes the biggest Website in Uruguay. Its collections include works from artists's studios, private collections and items from museums which could not otherwise be seen. Although the MUVA exists in cyberspace, it is mindful of the importance of the authenticity, accessibility and verifiability of the data it presents and maintains the professional standards of a regular museum.
The rationale behind the creation of a virtual museum in a Third World country like Uruguay is to be found in the situation of the arts there. The country's art scene faces problems linked to its socio-economic condition which hinder the accessibility to and dissemination of knowledge about its art. Museums in Uruguay have poor infrastructure, limited collections (in which contemporary art is under-represented) and have almost no budget for acquisitions, with many works remaining in artists's studios or seen only at temporary exhibitions. Furthermore, most books and catalogues on Uruguayan art are published in Spanish and sold nationally, so they are not always available for an international audience.

Some of these constraints disappear in cyberspace. MUVA provides interpretation, accounts of experience and information, as well as access to material not generally available. It supports and promotes Uruguayan art and art history in a cost-effective way which is economically viable for a small developing nation. By means of this virtual museum, visitors from all over the world can get to know the little-explored, often inaccessible aspects of a peripheral and small country, through images and texts. Virtual museums like MUVA are especially useful in freeing museum curators and art historians from the restrictions of time and space so that they may build a community of visitors in ways that are not possible in the "real world".
MUVA attracts visitors from all over the world. Some of these visitors belong to the Uruguayan Diaspora, formed during the late 1960s (due to the economic crisis which began in 1955) and which increased during the 1970s (the main reason being the coup d'état and the military dictatorship between 1973 and 1984). There are some 350,000 Uruguayans living abroad (mainly in the U.S.A., Argentina, Brazil, Australia, Israel, Canada, and Italy) and they are well educated and maintain strong ties with Uruguay but lack sufficient information on Uruguayan contemporary culture.
However, it is not an easy task for a virtual museum in a peripheral country to be visible. The museum has to cope with the hegemonic countries on the Web and present itself also in the lingua franca of today: English. Although the Internet represents decentralisation, democratisation and empowerment, most of the sites are dominated by the presence of the U.S.A. and peripheral but interesting cultures, sites and countries do not get enough attention from American sites or First World countries. So the Internet is not exactly a cyber-democracy: English-language sites predominate, as does the presence of First World countries.
MUVA is therefore also encouraging the Internet to become more multicultural, multilingual and varied, since it disseminates, in both Spanish and English, a culture and an art history that are not widely known. This use of the Internet additionally helps to fight prejudice and stereotypes, in this case by providing a deeper understanding of the differences between the different Latin American countries as regards their art and culture. MUVA, by building a virtual community of museum visitors from the standpoint of a small and little-known country, makes the most of the positive aspects of the Internet, which breaks down geographical barriers, is increasingly cheap and allows large numbers of people to share information globally.

Museo Virtual de Artes El País
Pza. Cagancha 1166/802, Montevideo 11100 Uruguay.
Tel. (598 2) 902 0115 ext. 289.
Email: muva@diarioelpais.com


Articles around the theme:

EXCHANGE - Key to memory
INNOVATION - Cyberspace Communities: MUVA, the Virtual Museum Of Arts El País
DEVELOPEMENT - A model community museum in a village in the High Atlas
INTEGRATION - Celebrating Australia's multicultural history
PARTICIPATION - A community regulates its own heritage

Articles published in: "ICOM News", Volume 54 - 2001 N°1

Updated: 22 September 2005