In July 1996, the inauguration of the third and last Tyrolean Exhibition Trail dedicated to the artistic legacy of the Habsburg Renaissance Emperor Maximilian I, was attended by representatives of the ministries in charge of Tourism and Cultural Heritage from Algeria, Cyprus, Egypt, Israel, Italy, Morocco, Palestine, Portugal, Spain and Tunisia. The guests – with whom Javier Muñiz and I had met previously in the various countries – were offered a three days field trip programme to get familiar with the methodology, infrastructure and impact of the Tyrolean Exhibition Trails. The field trips were followed by a two days meeting at the head office of the Bank of Tyrol, one of our sponsors, to discuss the realisation of an “Islamic Art in the Mediterranean” Exhibition Trail project based on the Tyrolean experience. Each country presented the proposed specific theme and some examples of monuments and sites to be included. At the end of this meeting, all participants left with a clear idea about the overall structure and potential of the project.
In the meantime (in 1995) together with a team of specialised publishers and experts in cultural communication from France, Italy, Spain, Morocco, Tunisia and Turkey I had set up an international association (“Lights of the Mediterranean”) to promote research, documentation and tourism development of the Mediterranean cultural heritage. In autumn 1996 the name of the association was then changed into “Musée Sans Frontières”. Between 1995 and 1996 there was practically no relevant event, including in November 1995 the Barcelona Declaration by the Ministers of Foreign Affairs of all Euro-Mediterranean countries, where MWNF was not invited to present its experience and planned project to set up a cycle of Exhibition Trails dedicated to “Islamic Art in the Mediterranean”. In this context it should, however, be mentioned that at that time the topic of Islamic art was perceived as something totally unusual and we had to face many obstacles, also in countries on the southern shore of the Mediterranean to convince our interlocutors about the importance of promoting awareness ad knowledge about the Islamic heritage. The tradition to promote the roots of Western culture only was deeply anchored in the minds and strategic planning of our interlocutors on both sides of the Mediterranean and more than once it happened that we were asked why we didn’t focus on the “Ancient Roman civilisation, which more than any other has united the Mediterranean”. Happily, since then, the situation has changed radically, whereby it is probably also thanks to the work and determination of MWNF that documentation, conservation and promotion of the cultural legacy of Islam became a priority on the political agenda and that many new institutions (museums, institutes, research programmes) have been set up to take care of it.
But back to the main stream our history: in September 1996, when the European Union announced its first programme with specific focus on the cultural heritage of the Mediterranean region, the project presented by MWNF (Exhibition Trails “Islamic Art in the Mediterranean”) was approved by the majority of the participants thus getting green light for EU funding under the Euromed Heritage I programme. At that time there was no call or tender but potential coordinators had been involved by the concerned ministries directly and I attended the meeting in Brussels as part of the Austrian delegation. However, the support of Egypt and Spain was crucial for the success of our project within that meeting where I met for the first time our colleague and current vice-president of MWNF, Cristina Correia.
For us it was impossible to keep the project on hold for all that time after the efforts that had already been invested to set up the network and agree on a joint working method.After the meeting in Brussels it took almost two years, until August 1998, until the contract with the European Commission could be signed.
Thus, thanks to support from the Spanish Ministry of Culture and local sponsors in each country, we took advantage of the two years to consolidate our network, define the contents of the project in each country and train the future project coordinators in the various countries. Between September 1996 and August 1998 four scientific coordination meetings took place in Barcelona, Rabat, Amman / Ramallah and Madrid. And between 14 July and 2 August 1997 a group of 20 young managers who had been selected by the institutions heading the Exhibition Trail project in the various countries, attended a three weeks workshop in Innsbruck to get familiar with the methodology and production process of the Tyrolean Exhibition Trails. Many of the colleagues who participated in that workshop are still with us and continue being pillars of the work of MWNF.
To know more about the history of MWNF: