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A Virtual Museum for the 21st century

A Virtual Museum for the 21st century

The MVUB was the first virtual museum of a Spanish university, created to disseminate the material heritage of the institution

The new Virtual Museum of the UB (MVUB), which incorporates new software improving the previous one, opened this Monday, November 15. Four new collections have been added to the seventeen that it had until now, in a new, more modern interface that improves its usability. New features have also been added: virtual exhibitions by theme, and access to the virtual tour of the Historic Building in Catalan, Spanish and English.

"The Virtual Museum is an essential part of the aim of the UB regarding its cultural heritage".

The Virtual Museum of the University of Barcelona (MVUB) was the first virtual museum of a university created in Spain and was born with the aim of sharing the rich material heritage of the UB. Especially aimed at students, it was created with the aim of transcending the university community and making its heritage known to the general public. One of its main singularities is the heterogeneity of the collections, which are, in fact, a reflection of the diversity of the academic areas of the University, as well as the diversity of genesis, work processes and locations that characterise them. The exhibited pieces range from paintings from the 16th to the 21st centuries to scientific instruments, biodiversity collections and bibliographic collections from various fields.

In this report we want to collect the opinions of the three vice-rectors who have been involved in the project since its creation.

The promoter of the MVUB was the emeritus professor of Art History Lourdes Cirlot, who was vice-rector for Institutional Relations and Culture at the University of Barcelona from 2008 to 2016. Cirlot recalls that the motivation that led her to promote the Museum was that no university in Spain had any at that time, and she had seen that they existed in other parts of the world: “I knew about the existence of collections spread across many faculties, the work of professors who had dedicated hours to creating them in a disinterested and altruistic way. I realized the heritage of the UB was huge, and it was not properly catalogued, not even photographed, with the risk it involves”. “Our work, therefore, should be preserved and kept in a museum”, she notes. The creation of the Museum was extraordinarily difficult: “I couldn’t have done it without a magnificent team, formed by Isabel Garcia Malet, Oriol Silvestre and Pili Mateos, who in a year and a half were able to finish the work”, she says. There are always some things that can be improved, and Lourdes Cirlot says that she would have loved “to have been able to create a physical museum as well, but for budgetary reasons, we had to give it up”. She also mentions that there is clearly room for improvement in terms of disseminating information about the Museum, especially among students: “We have students coming from all over the world, and I have the feeling that we have not been able to stimulate them or involve them. We have the best university in Spain, and the success of the UB could be even greater if we could find a way to exploit the dissemination of our museum” she says.

The lecturer of the Department of Arts and Conservation-Restoration of the Faculty of Fine Arts Salvador Garcia Fortes was vice-rector for Arts, Culture and Heritage from 2016 to 2020. He dedicated his mandate to the consolidation and management of the MVUB. “The collections are the core element of the Virtual Museum and were precisely the stars of the heritage policy of my vice-rectorship, within the Comprehensive Plan for the Management, Preservation and Enrichment of the Cultural Heritage of the University of Barcelona,” he says. An overall vision that broadened the concept of heritage beyond the material one, also including the unmaterial and the human, with their respective new collections. “For all these reasons” —says Garcia Fortes—, “we worked during this time on a comprehensive system for inventorying and cataloguing our cultural heritage and on a methodology for describing and making the collections visible”. As a result of this process, the conclusion was that it was necessary to provide the UB’s heritage collections with “integrated, versatile, efficient and standardised” documentation tools, which were to replace MuseumPlus RIA, the basic application of the Virtual Museum.

The definitive change was to take place in 2021. For Garcia Fortes, the Virtual Museum has been “a space, a structure, a concept that has made it possible to build this comprehensive model of the cultural heritage of the UB, which is very necessary for knowing and recognizing our material, immaterial and human heritage”. Despite the amount of work, he is aware that “the Virtual Museum is not sufficiently well known either by the university community or by society”. In his opinion, the future of the Museum should be “versatile and adapted to the new demands of management and dissemination of our cultural heritage”. The former vice-rector assures that “it should be the fundamental tool for the knowledge and recognition of the cultural heritage of the UB, both by our university community and by society as a whole”. Last, he concludes that “it is an essential part of the mission of the UB and obligations to protect, conserve, enhance, research, disseminate and promote its cultural heritage”.

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Agustí Alcoberro, lecturer at the Department of History and Archaeology, has been the current vice-rector for Cultural Heritage and Activities since last year. An expert on Modern History, he was also the director of the Museum of the History of Catalonia from 2008 to 2014, which gives him a highly specialised profile in museography issues when it comes to the management of the MVUB. As he says, “the Virtual Museum presents the most emblematic pieces from a large number of collections of the University of Barcelona, with a wide variety of themes and profiles”. “And it does so, —he points out—, with a fully up-to-date computer language that encourages interaction and aims to stimulate the curiosity of the users”. There are still some collections to go, and there is also a “stage of gymnastics to go through, that is to say, testing what works and what has to improve”. “But the most important thing, —says Alcoberro—, is that the Museum must be a living tool, it must generate news on a permanent basis and it must create community”.

Well acquainted with the museographic map of the country, Alcoberro believes that the Virtual Museum is the permanent exhibition of the collections of the University of Barcelona. “All museums have a permanent exhibition, made up of some of the most emblematic pieces; temporary exhibitions, which occasionally show some of their collections; and storage areas, which are often many times the size of the permanent exhibition. The MVUB must also generate digital exhibitions and other initiatives that must become, at the same time, the Museum’s digital exhibition collection”, says Alcoberro. According to the vice-rector, “the relationship with the classical museums of Catalonia can only be one of collaboration and friendliness, as it has always been”. In fact, the University of Barcelona carries out joint projects with major institutions such as the MNAC, the CCCB, the Museum of Natural Sciences and the Museum of the History of Catalonia, and with private foundations such as the Vila Casas Foundation. Regarding the social projection of the Museum, the real cornerstone of the project, he contextualises: “When you go back to the founding project of the Historic Building of our University, in the mid-19th century, you realise that the university institution rested on three legs: the library, the garden and the museum. Out of the three foundational elements, the only thing that has not been achieved as such is the museum”. However, many collections linked to faculties and departments have been deployed, and now have a very rich heritage. According to Alcoberro, the Virtual Museum is the realisation, today, of the idea that the founders of the Historical Building had in mind. “I must say, —he adds—, that it is a shared success, in which the responsible vice-rectors for cultural heritage at various stages have believed and participated in, and for which we have had a prepared and committed technical team.

Lourdes Cirlot, vici-rector for Institutional Relations and Culture (2008-2016). 
Salvador Garcia Fortes, vici-rector for Arts, Culture and Heritage (2016-2020). 
Agustí Alcoberro, vici-rector for Heritage and Cultural Activities.