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The Warsaw Voice » Destination Warsaw » August 26, 2010
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Holding the Moment
August 26, 2010   
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Alicja Knast, curator of the Fryderyk Chopin Museum in Warsaw, talks to Jolanta Wolska.

How long did it take to build the Chopin Museum and what did you take into consideration when planning the exhibition space?
We started in 2005 with a concept to determine the functionality of the Ostrogski Palace for the museum, which today also includes a concert hall and office space. The whole project took five years, but the development of the exhibition concept commenced in September 2007. Because it is a music museum, celebrating the life and works of Fryderyk Chopin, it was obvious that the major design concept would have to focus on auditory experience, and of course it would have to be within a visual domain. We wanted to provide a very intimate experience, as listening to music is a very personal activity. We wanted to find a way to provide a moving and memorable experience for every visitor.

We received 23 proposals from around the world for the exhibition scenario that we had conceptualized. In the end we chose a group of designers, Migliore e Servetto Architetti Associati from Milan, Italy.

Do you have any gems in the exhibition?
We have 419 items and 70 original objects on display. Regrettably, even though it is the largest collection of objects related to Chopin in one place in the world, it does not include everything there is about Chopin. But we have digital representations of objects held at other museums and libraries around the world.

The whole “Death Room” is fascinating, in that it shows the impact Chopin’s death had on everyone at the time. Jane Stirling, Chopin’s student, was an incredible woman with great foresight. Even before Chopin died she bought the grand piano that is exhibited in our museum, located in the “Paris Salon.” She encouraged Ludwika Jędrzejewiczowa not to sell anything from Chopin’s collection to dubious buyers; she felt it was important that Chopin’s items went into good hands, as she could not buy everything. And that is why today the collection is scattered all over the place. But it is thanks to Jane Stirling’s foresight and devotion that we have such a big collection here. The grand piano embodies Chopin; it is the last instrument he ever touched, in a sense it holds the last moment.

What is unique about this museum?
I don’t want to say that we are trendsetters, but I would like to think that we designed the museum in such a way that will allow us to modify the exhibition within the five years of shelf life that is the usual time span for museum exhibits such as ours.

We are also observing how our visitors react in the museum, what they prefer, what interests them most, at which elements they spend more time. That is so that we can continue to adapt the exhibition design and give our visitors the best experience that they expect.

What proportion of visitors to the museum are foreigners?
We opened the museum in March this year, so it is early days yet. However, currently there are about 20 percent of visitors who use the English language coding with their entry card, which then gives them access to log into the audiovisual materials and content in English.

Our optimum number is 70 people per hour, so that the museum is not too crowded. We don’t want people to stand in line to access individual screens throughout the museum, nor for people to feel rushed. We prefer people to book a few days in advance, as we always have a full house.

Also, there is facility at the top level of the museum to organize corporate meetings and we organize private tours and concerts for business delegations. It is an excellent way to promote the museum and Warsaw and Poland in general. We are considered to be an epitome of Polishness here. When someone from abroad wants to invest in Poland he wants to know what this country is like, and this museum gives him that extra dimension. For the corporate world this is a value added when they are looking to work with partners from abroad. We have requests from general managers of major companies to have special tours of the museum. And without exception they are all thrilled with what they see and experience here. And that translates into excellent promotion of Chopin and Poland in general.
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