M9 and the Dream Project: Together for Innovative Didactics

27/01/2022 3:00 pm

M9 is a project launched by the Fondazione di Venezia in 2005 to promote the urban regeneration of Mestre, the largest part of the Venetian mainland. It aims to open a central area – closed since the beginning of the 19th century – to the public and reinvent it as a new district of the knowledge economy. The new museum will be the main asset of this project of cultural and social development.

The Fondazione di Venezia is giving the city, Italy and the world a national museum so that Italians can learn about the century that has contributed most to shaping their modern identity, in the belief that knowledge is an indispensable starting point for planning an individual and collective future. Previously, Italy did not have a museum of this kind. With the conception and creation of the Museo del Novecento (M9), the Fondazione di Venezia fills this gap and creates a place where Italians can not only rediscover where they came from but also understand how their rich but contradictory past helps to build the future.

M9 is an ambitious and complex project occupying an area of one hectare. With the renovation of a 16th-century convent and the construction of two new buildings – both tasks assigned to Berlin-based architects Sauerbruch & Hutton, who won an international competition in 2011 – M9 includes:

– two floors (43k sq. ft) with an interactive museum on 20th-century Italian history;

– a 15,000 sq. ft. space for temporary exhibitions that reflect on the future;

– a 180-seat auditorium, equipped for 4K cinema and with Oculus technology for conferences, meetings, concerts and performances;

– a 4,000-square-foot Children’s Museum for those aged 4 to 10;

– two classrooms for educational and training activities;

– a museum bookstore/shop,

– a cafeteria/restaurant;

As far as what we have seen so far is concerned, Italy can boast an uncommon case of avant-garde and experimentation: the newborn M9 – Museo del Novecento Italiano.

Storia d’Italia del XX secolo. Opened just over a year ago, it is an experiment in building a semi-permanent exhibition space that may defy the common term “museum.” To do so, it uses a massive amount of technology to support a certain narrative on a fairly large dimensional scale, focused on a theme that is little investigated in the Italian museum system, and dedicated to a public – composed of young and very young people – who, within the museological choices of our Peninsula, has often been considered ancillary.

Italy has few other cultural institutions like this one. Even if there are some other examples of all-digital and interactive museums in the country – i.e. without exhibits on display – such as the Joe Petrosino Museum in Padula (Salerno) or the Truffle Museum in Acqualagna (Pesaro Urbino) or Stupor Mundi – Museo Federico II (Jesi, Ancona), M9 is the largest experiment, counting on almost 3k square meters of permanent exhibition.

M9 wants to be a collective journey into the rich heritage of modern Italian history, a bridge between past and present, since younger citizens do not know their own past. The curators of M9 wanted to create a different kind of place where visitors would be free to find their own path and would not be constrained by chronology. In addition, in each section the narrative seeks to combine the educational elements related to the main theme of the exhibition with the entertainment aspects that allow visitors to have fun while they learn.

They will have the thrill of being in a crowded piazza listening to important speakers; they will feel crushed by the experience of two huge wars. They will also understand the harshness of factory work, being subjected to the rhythm of the assembly line. They will be able to immerse themselves in the clothes, homes and kitchens of their great-grandparents, grandparents and parents, reliving their daily lives. They will play with all the Italian dialects and much more.

Created without a ready-made collection of objects, the museum’s exhibitions were developed by first writing a narrative framework and then connecting a network of partner archives that provide specific objects to be shown. M9 illustrates the past century using its own cultural heritage: the twentieth century brought photography, film, television, radio, and mass media. Huge quantities of cartographic, printed, audio, video, and photographic materials have been digitized and assembled into interactive, sound, and tactile installations.

An unusual crowd-designing system, which involved 5 multimedia and interactive design studios, was implemented. Multimedia and interactive design studios, an architect, and a graphics coordinator – as well as more than 42 specialists from different disciplines in history, humanities, social sciences, statistics, and ICT, have led to the staging of more than 60 different interactive installations that call the visitors to new approaches to knowledge. On the one hand, the focus is on adapting the visual language to the scientific content to be conveyed in each section; on the other hand, it is on keeping the visitors’ attention during a long exhibition path.

M9 is a multisensory and multimedia space, a museum with few objects but with a lot of constantly renewed content. It is built around seven core technologies:

  • 3D graphic development using 2D sources;
  • virtual reality scenarios
  • immersive scenarios;
  • motion sensing and tracking,
  • digital displays;
  • holographic 3D interactive installations;
  • audio-oriented distribution;
  • laser tracking;
  • digital signage.

 

The two floors of the permanent exhibition present two different approaches to the revolutionary process that changed the lives of Italians in the 20th century. The first floor will start from the everyday life experiences of visitors. It will show how the bodies and faces of Italians changed radically, how habits and consumption changed, how technology changed our life with a massive impact on every object used, how economic development and revolutionary production systems transformed the lives and well-being of thousands of Italians. The second floor will illustrate collective and public spaces: from the transformation of landscapes and massive urbanization through political participation and showing the masses in a public setting, to reflecting on cultural and national identity from the perspective of schooling, literacy, pop culture and religion.

The contents of the permanent exhibition are:

  1. How we were, how we are. Demographics and social structures;
  2. The Italian way of life. Consumption, traditions and lifestyles;
  3. The race to the future. Science, technology, innovation;
  4. Money, money, money. Economics, labor, production, and welfare;
  5. Looking around. Urban landscapes and habitats;
  6. Res publica. The state, institutions, politics;
  7. Making Italians. Education, training and information;
  8. Who we are. What makes us feel Italian.

In this broad context of digital innovation, the Dream call has found, in M9 and M9Children, its natural development and consolidation.

One of the prerogatives during the design of M9 was to change the function and passive role of the traditional museum visitor. In a new museum concept, the visitor takes on a proactive role and becomes the protagonist and creator of the interactive experience; this naturally applies also to the educational sector of the museum that works on a target from 4 years old up to adulthood.

The Dream project asks exactly this to the participating classes: to play an active role, starting from some contents chosen in the museum, to then go on to create and develop theatrical itineraries thought and developed directly by the children under the guidance of the teacher.

The M9-Children project is based on the creation of a highly experiential cognitive learning path characterized by multimedia and interactive exhibits. Using the new technologies and the languages of multimedia, familiar to the younger public, we wanted to develop a museum proposal that respects, updating and innovating them, the pedagogical principles that characterize the museum exhibitions defined hands-on[1].

This type of exhibition foresees the creation of an informal learning context in which the educational path is mainly based on direct experience.

In the design phase, therefore, the fundamental elements of this museographic and museological methodology were developed, in particular:

  1. encouraging holistic learning that is based on the activation in the user of cognitive, emotional and physical mechanisms: the more all three aspects are involved, the more the experiential power of the proposed educational activities is raised;
  2. creating exhibits that stimulate the creativity of the user: the public can confront itself with unknown topics, interacting even without knowing all the answers but challenging its own skills and putting itself into “play”, or, with more familiar topics and activities, managing and processing them from different points of view, thus stimulating its own lateral thinking;
  3. activating a strong involvement of the user who becomes an active protagonist of the workshops: no pre-packaged models and techniques valid for all are provided, but the activation of personal resources is facilitated: the operator/educator therefore becomes a “facilitator”;
  4. stimulating observation of one’s own behavior and that of others: in this way, a learning process is stimulated not only “by trial and error” but also by structured moments in which “one stops and reflects” and the group reflection becomes an opportunity for growth.[2]

 

This is based on Montessori’s reflection that “hands are the tools of human intelligence”[3]. Working in a hands-on way is considered by active pedagogy to be the best way to foster learning in children. Alongside experiences that envisage the massive use of technology, such as our museum, it is necessary and fundamental to include the workshop as an educational strategy and as a space for experimentation. This necessity stems, therefore, from the need to emphasize manual work as a pedagogical tool, as a privileged place for discovery and as a source of new and fruitful relationships.

Today’s children are tomorrow’s adults let’s help them grow up free from stereotypes let’s help them develop all their senses let’s help them become more sensitive, a creative child is a happy child [4] Bruno Munari

I would add: not only is a creative child a happy child, but a creative child is a child (who then becomes an adult) who has acquired over time multiple skills and solutions to deal with, for example, the unexpected, to find solutions that are never trivial and, above all, to refine a way of thinking that is free from mass homologation. It is precisely by doing this that we discover the different qualities of materials, the characteristics of the tools, the techniques, the rules of the game, the strategies for solving questions and problems that arise during the courses… that’s why the motto – also by B. Munari – “learning by doing” is a rule that should never be forgotten in an educational experience even when our tools come from the digital world. The methodology adopted for the paths and experiences of the M9 educational department is inspired by this pedagogical philosophy: “don’t say what to do but how”.[5]

Activities that are too “pre-packaged”, with already developed ideas, that need to be accompanied by long explanations, do not offer many possibilities for action and interpretation, and give few suggestions; it is preferable, instead, to offer solutions that stimulate divergent thinking, creativity and personalization.

An innovative didactic museum approach, therefore, is to open the doors to the territory and to the schools, for a wide-ranging cultural and aesthetic education.

The workshop, as a privileged tool to facilitate exchange and relationships, can thus take on the fundamental role of “gym” in which to concretely experience the ability of devices to create countless forms of communication and to become vehicles of true and authentic interpersonal relationships.

 

[1] International Hands On Association, founded in 1988, which gathers the best experiences in this field.

[2] Silvia Fabris, M Children: a didactic infrastructure on the frontier of innovation, chapter in the book “A New Educational Frontier” Carocci editor 2019

[3] www. http://operanazionalemontessori.it.

[4] B. Restelli “Playing with Tact” Franco Angeli editor 2002

[5] Silvia Fabris, M Children: a didactic infrastructure on the frontier of innovation, chapter in the book “A New Educational Frontier” Carocci editor 2019