Bilbao’s Euskal Museoa – a lost opportunity to integrate the Museum

Alongside its urban imagineering and architecture, where does the museum fit into the city?

In Bilbao, Northern Spain, the role of new museums has had a definite role in place making and the branding of the tourist city. In the past decades Bilbao has been increasingly defined by a fascinating city branding sculpted via its architectural landscape, with a score of new buildings and museums by “signature architects”. Spearheaded by the construction of Guggenheim Bilbao (Frank Gerry, 1997) the city has since been shaped by the likes of Alvaro Siza, Norman Foster, Zaha Hadid, Santiago Calatrava…. The list goes on.

The city bathes in the glamour of its modern tourist destination of new architecture, creativity and transformation, washed down with culinary flair with the iconic pinxto and Michelin star gourmet making it a true “foodie” capital.

Yet whilst celebrating the new face of the city and its value, there is limited attempt to integrate the traditional cultural heritage of its older museums and cultural institutes into the city. Maybe this intentional, but it feels like a lost opportunity to discover the history alongside the modern as part of the visitor experience and education.

A lost opportunity…

Visiting the city for the first time in February 2018, I stopped into the Euskal Museoa in the old town, a fantastic small display of the Basque culture and history with stunning cultural heritage explanations via photography and multi-media.

However, how many tourists really take the time to visit this museum within their Bilbao itinerary? It is a small collection, costing only 3 euro when I was there, but with an incredible rich archive that could be easily transformed into a more immersive experience. instead, it remains a bit static within its 17th century building but overshadowed by the flair of new Bilbao.

A few small changes could be made to bring the museum to the public, instead of waiting for the public to take initiative to come and visit. The city and visitors alike would benefit from this connection and sharing of the culture heritage, to create an extra lens within the signature new architecture of the city.

If given the chance, there is one change I would jump to implement, which the potential (missed) opportunity of photography.

Bring the museum to life by exhibiting its photography via public expos in the city.

The Euskal Museoa showcases an incredible archive of photography from the region. These photographs should not be isolated in the museum, but incorporated into the city to provide an experience of old and new Bilbao and its heritages and identities.

Imagine these archives presented along the water ways, within industrial sites, or along the main city plaza and squares. A visual image can be extremely powerful to draw visitor attention, and to share a moment of cultural interest and value.

Above, Portrait photographs from the Euskal Museoa, juxtaposed with the new architecture and an industrial views of the city.

PhotoCredit: Brittany Groot-2018