In an article by The Telegraph, I read about 21 reasons why museums are unattractive or 21 reasons why you can love them. Controversial topic?! And when it comes to travelling to another city, museums are surely open to everyone, they are doors to the past which can provide answers about the present, excellent for active learning. Museums are about us. Self-knowledge can begin there. Cultural tourism is not only about the past but also about the present, the actual cultural identity, and no matter where a tourist comes from, he will be able to take it with himself, as a memory packed in an invisible suitcase.

But, in fact, what does it mean to be a tourist in Sibiu? The flyers dedicated to tourists focus on the museums in the city. Sibiu was the European Capital of Culture in 2007 and ever since the cultural dimension of this tourist destination has grown more and more. We have an open-air museum, a natural history museum, an ethnographic museum, a hunting museum, but also the Art Galleries. They are all about cultural goods covering a wide range of concerns and this diversity is present in more and more statistical studies. Every year, thousands, tens of thousands, even hundreds of thousands of tourists visit the museums in Sibiu.

The city’s touristic potential does not exist in a vacuum, but it is rather the sum of some elements such as history, architecture but also cultural institutions and its people. And it definitely cannot exist as a finished good, because stagnation equals reversal. This is what we talked about with the director of the Astra National Museum Complex, Ciprian Ștefan:

The last European statistics mention museums, heritage buildings, etc., as main interest points for vacations. In this context, Sibiu has a huge opportunity for having two of the most significant Romanian museums, ASTRA and Brukenthal, which, from my point of view, are very important in the cultural offer of the city, the county and even the country. It is a great challenge to diversify the cultural offer for new types of audiences without turning the museum in a Disneyland. At ASTRA, we value the research of museographers, restorers, musical pedagogues, by taking it to a level of communication and interpretation that is accessible to all ages and all education levels. At the same time, without a marketing policy, PR and strategic partnerships with external factors, it would be impossible for us to develop the cultural offer and promote it to our direct beneficiaries through the best channels. Sibiu has developed because of culture, starting with the year 2007, and 2019 should have been a relaunch, generated by the programs that should have started through the program European Region of Gastronomy, but for objective reasons, the much needed refresh is still on hold, hopefully for a short while. Meanwhile, the public comes to Sibiu, to the International Theatre Festival, to the two museums and to a couple of events on cultural agendas. Unfortunately, we have become a transit city and not at all a city proposing concrete offers, for two-three days. At ASTRA Museum, you can spend a whole day, but then what? Now, I’m saying this with all responsibility, if we don’t build a long-term strategy, with the local and county authorities alongside the authorities in the field, I don’t see a bright future. But I still hope we will wake up from the year 2007 and understand that for the future we need something else to get at the top, where we belong.”

On the other end, at the Brukenthal National Museum, director Sabin Adrian Luca says that in his capacity as museum manager since 2006, the books he has read and which left a mark on him have helped a lot, “starting with reading under the sheets”:

I have tried to make of this museum what I dreamt of when I was young and what I’ve seen in great museums in other countries. For me, the museum is a perpetual work, we are rebuilding in order to have vision on the future by looking at the past. One important lesson however is that not only momentum matters, but also patience… Culture is a blessing. It is an eight-out-of-seven-days’ worth of work. I took no days off during all these years because I’m very attracted to this place and it motivates my work.”

Mirror, mirror on the wall…

As one of the fastest-growing economic and social phenomena, cultural tourism is a volatile space. Even when infrastructure exists, as is the case in Sibiu, where you can walk through the historical city, through festivals and museums, this pastime competes more and more with new types of entertainment that easily catch people’s attention. Artists must face the realities of the century, always fast and changing, but also by the infrastructure made available to them by cultural institutions. This is what I talked about with Lia Perjovschi. Lia was born in Sibiu and now she is the founder and coordinator of AAC/CAA — The Archive of Contemporary Art/Centre for Art Analysis, an informal institution which has existed since 1985 under various names, and of KM — Knowledge Museum, an interdisciplinary and educational project based on the research that the artist began in 1999 and which continues until today. In the attic of the Astra Library, she founded the Knowledge Museum. We contacted her to get an artist’s perspective on the cultural offer in Sibiu.

Museums should respond to the present with passion, empathy, freshness, curiosity… they should do everything in their power (with what they have, their modest budgets) for all generations. They should mediate and translate culture, redefine it with the best intentions, without putting on manipulative shows. The kit of the Knowledge Museum at Astra Library is a wonder for me. I’m worried it will disappear if I blink, because in Romania, people prefer destruction and short memory instead of construction and long-term memory. I am grateful to the director Silviu Borș and his entire team for being so open. Readers also have the possibility to see the visual map of knowledge, as the library is a democratic place with a multitude of universes based on the principle of show and tell, includes a few marks of what we call general knowledge, something about the human body, the planet we live on, the universe where we are, art, culture and science, (what man has created in his journey). A 35-40-year-old lady told me she didn’t know what the Milky Way or the Solar System were, and I couldn’t believe it, but I tried to remember when I found out, because yes, I hadn’t learned about it in school, but somewhere else, I think after 1990, at the Observatory in Bucharest. Then I read about it in my nieces’ books. The project is an open space that is ready to grow in time. This is it, I’m glad I got to make this proposal, I hope it will last and I will get to expand it. People who take tours are impressed by the idea, by the space. More and more people have found out about it and they are starting to come to Sibiu – Romanians, foreigners, specialists in different fields, to see the reading room differently. Education, self-education never ends. For our common and individual good, we should all have access (time, money) to information, to knowledge, to be able to create better and better possibilities for the present, the future…”

Lia also said that we are lucky here in Sibiu. And she’s right. Spaces that generate unique cultural experiences are starting to be visible on the walls of the city as part of the biggest action of urban space revitalization through art: Sibiu International Street ART Festival, which spans throughout the year. All the works created in the five editions of the festival can be seen in three hours by bike, during the Street Art Tour.

“Tourists look for something else than traditional attractions and street art seems to draw their attention more and more as a form of alternative tourism. Sibiu Street Art Tour now includes 81 murals (8,400 sqm of colour) which can be discovered all around the city, either individually, using a printed map or the online tour, or through the guided circuit. Thanks to tens of works painted on schools, Sibiu is now known internationally for being different from any other street art destination.” – Andrei Oltean – President ART Factory Transylvania, organizer of Sibiu International Street Art Festival

Another form of alternative tourism is the digital museum Micro-Folie, a cultural project hosted by Casa Artelor in the Small Square and created by the Ministry of Culture in France, coordinated by La Villette. It was first brought in Romania by the 2018 Sibiu International Theatre Festival and starting this year it will be permanently open in Sibiu. As a complex space allowing the audience to become familiar with the most important works of art hosted by art institutions in France and a space for learning through games, Micro-Folie (which has been implemented in about 200 cities around the world so far) proposes three complimentary structures to audiences of all ages, each with its own specificity: the Digital Museum, Virtual Reality, and Fab Lab.

Andrei Șerban is the coordinator of the project on behalf of the Radu Stanca National Theatre and says that “it all started from a visit by Constantin Chiriac to Paris, where he was so impressed by the cultural and educational potential of Micro-Folie, hosted in Parc de la Villette, that he wanted Sibiu to benefit from the overwhelming information in this project. After a pilot edition of Micro-Folie during the 2018 Sibiu International Theatre Festival, starting with 7 June 2019, Sibiu has entirely adopted this cultural concept, giving national and international audiences permanent access to the three sections that make up this structure: the Digital Museum, Virtual Reality, and FabLab. The main objective of Micro-Folie is to allow democratic access to culture by means of technology, offering audiences of all ages the opportunity to see works of art of all periods that are part of the collections of the most important museums and cultural institutions in France. In Virtual Reality, people can watch 360-degree mini documentaries, videos or fragments of concerts offered by Arte channels, while FabLab is dedicated to educational activities, where visitors can create all kinds of objects using 3D printers, 3D markers and the T-shirt printer. The impact of Micro-Folie Sibiu has been impressive even starting with the pilot-edition, where during FITS 2018, Casa Artelor (which hosts Micro-Folie Sibiu) has seen 1,500 visitors. This year, starting with June, the number of people coming to Micro-Folie has exceeded 3,000 visitors of all ages.

Having a promotional platform for the city can be very useful in planning a short stop in Sibiu, and the City Hall relies heavily on the importance of the internet for holiday management. The mechanism of this city seen as a cultural destination is triggered by its high potential for an experimental tourism focused on authenticity, on discovering the local community, on knowing history.“Sibiu is a good combination of cultural and touristic qualities, which is confirmed by its status as international tourist destination and even more, of cultural tourism. As the only Romanian city awarded 3 Michelin stars, Sibiu combines a well-preserved historical centre with a valuable heritage that is very well emphasized and a programme of cultural and sports events that attract not only citizens of Sibiu, but also tourists from Europe and around the world. The highly appreciated museums of the city, the cultural institutions, as well as the surroundings of the city, with interesting villages that still preserve traditions through conscious efforts, complete the offer of a touristic destination that is impressive through its history, culture, heritage and especially its atmosphere. Due to its diverse cultural offer, Sibiu fits with any kind of tourist profile, offering something for everyone’s taste. Fortunately, it still has a lot of potential for growth. As local administration, we strive to promote the city’s strong points in a very professional manner and to continue to support culture through substantial funding and by communicating these events as part of the city brand. The hospitality industry in Sibiu has opportunities for growth, as we need more accommodation facilities and especially higher quality tourist services.” (Mirela Gligore – Head of the Communication Department, External Relations and Marketing at Sibiu City Hall).

Ilustrations: Diana Blaga