ADMIRING the sea from the cabin of an English ship, performing traditional dances, handling iron shackles, or learning about the architecture of the city of Havana, are just some of the experiences on offer to those who visit the Cuba-Europe Center for the Interpretation of Relations.
The space, which opened to the public last May 9, is based in the Palacio del Segundo Cabo. The idea to create the center emerged in 2009 following an international cooperation project between the Havana City Historian’s Office, European Union and UNESCO.
Unlike all of the country’s other museums, the Center’s main appeal resides in the use of technology and other communications media to make learning fun and interactive
VISITORS, EXPLORERS & HISTORY
Over five centuries of history between the two cultures are explored across 14 rooms, including expositions on part of Cuba’s history and that of other nations, as well as the island’s process of nation-building.
On arrival, the meeting of two cultures is symbolized through a large globe, depicting different ideas people had about the Planet in 1492.
Next comes a time-line tracing important political, religious and economic events in Cuba and Europe from 1492 through 1962. The chart also features prominent figures from the worlds of science, literature, art, and architecture among others; all of whom are linked by events which took place in one region or the other.
One of the museum’s many attractions are photos of Dr. Antonio Núñez Jiménez’s canoe, which he used to prove one of his theories regarding pre-Columbian emigration in Cuba, while audiovisuals allow visitors to trace the different waves of European immigration to the island and their contribution to the formation of Cuban identity.
Sound is a key feature in the next room where visitors can learn about more than 50 Cuban, Latin American and European explorers, whose travel accounts provide information on cultural conflicts over different periods.
Meanwhile, a cabinet displaying objects such as astrolabes, vases, handheld-fans, and other items reveals the material contributions made by the two cultures.
Interactive tables allow visitors to broaden their knowledge through images, videos and games. Unlike other museums, touching, exploring and seeking a more sensory experience are all part of the visit.
MUSIC, DANCE & LITERATURE
The music and dance section features genres ranging from trova to rock and roll and ends with a huge screen which uses motion sensors to track visitors’ moves as they dance to son, cha cha chá and other traditional styles of Cuban dance.
Meanwhile, visitors can find a printing-press in the literature room, while tablets with digital versions of magazines and publications, all available to download for free, constitute one of the unique features of the space.
Later on Cartography, Cuba, and Urban Planning and Architecture rooms display information on important figures linked to these fields, as well as examples of their tools, lifestyles, and architectural styles; with a game to test visitors’ knowledge at the end.
FIRST EXPERIENCE IN CUBA
“Creating this new type of museum in the country has been a challenge,” according to Yainet Rodríguez Rodríguez, head specialist at the Center.
“We didn’t want objects to dominate the space, but rather that people focused more on the historic, cultural, scientific phenomena. Through the use of different features we wanted to outline in a permanent exposition how relations between both regions developed, the contribution Europe and Cuba made to each other,” she added.
In addition to the fact that the technologies offer multiple opportunities for communication within the project, the use of specific software means that information can be constantly changed and up-dated. The interactive aspect of the Center makes learning a more complete experience as opposed to the idea of just consuming information.
“Our aim is to make a museum which creates levels of participation and establishes closer contact with spectators. We are looking for ways to make information enjoyable, attractive and for people to feel like they are learning and having fun at the same time,” explained Rodríguez.
Over the last eight years the project has been led by Dr. Eusebio Leal Spengler with the support of a multidisciplinary team of researchers, art historians, cooperation project specialists, architects, urban planners, and designers; all of whom have helped to create this pioneering space.
The Center has also benefited from the contribution of institutions such as the Havana City Historian’s Office Cultural Heritage, Investments, Informatics and Communication, and International Cooperation departments, the Restaura entity, and the Cuban delegation to the United Nations.
Despite having achieved important results, many more spaces are set to be opened in the coming months. The Palacio del Segundo Cabo will soon have a media library dedicated to leisure and learning, as well as two new halls, one related to visual arts and the other to interiors.
“We hope that the latter will be very interactive. There visitors will be able to learn about specific environments, representative of the European influence in Cuba, through furniture design,” stated Yainet Rodríguez.
“This type of institution is not only important for those who visit us, but also those who work here. Developing communication strategies to support heritage initiatives and creating the fewest barriers to knowledge, is a challenge for us. Participation is the link which allows you to learn in a more lasting way and this is what we are looking to achieve.
“We hope that people take everything they have learned with them when they leave the Palacio. We want to provide cultural references and for Cubans to learn more about their history, culture and identity,” explained the Center’s head specialist.
Cuba is one of the countries with the highest number of museums in Latin America.
Modernizing and ensuring that these institutions meet the expectations of younger generations is vital when talking about teaching, learning and connecting people with their heritage. A visit to the Cuba-Europe Center for the Interpretation of Relations can become an adventure, proving that museums are far from boring.