The history of MWNF is the history of the people who have made it happen.
Our story starts in Innsbruck, the main city of the Austrian region of Tyrol, where I had been in charge of Hispania-Austria, one of the very first big art exhibitions, jointly organised by the Spanish and Austrian governments on the occasion of the big events that took place in Spain in 1992 (EXPO Sevilla, etc.). The great success of that exhibition and excellent relations with the local authorities were the basis for my decision to implement in Tyrol the pilot project for a new exhibition format, the “Exhibition Trail”: instead of moving the works of art it is the visitor who travels to discover artefacts and monuments within their natural environment. The exhibition catalogue, conceived as a thematic guide book, becomes the key element for a new exhibition experience. The idea for what was at that time a totally new approach came through the contacts I had established between 1992 and 1993 with cultural and tourism authorities in many countries around the Mediterranean and, subsequently, my involvement as an independent expert in the preparation of the so-called Barcelona Process.
These were the years of the Oslo talks, and optimism, sometimes even enthusiasm, about the chances for real peace in the Middle East was widespread all over the region. From those very first talks – normally with the ministers in charge of Culture Heritage or Tourism – it was clear to me that cultural heritage could play a major role in this process but that it was necessary to invent something that combined impact in the media (such as a big art exhibition) with something sustainable (such as the development of thematic trails). The idea of the “Exhibition Trail” was born.
The pilot project was implemented in Tyrol, in cooperation with the local authorities, and included three Exhibition Trails and related catalogues: 1994 The Gothic, 1995 Baroque & Rococo, 1996 Maximilian I. The catalogues, by the way, are still on sale!
Some weeks before the inauguration of The Gothic, the Tunisian Embassy in Vienna announced the visit of a representative of the Directorate for Cultural Heritage at the Tunisian Ministry of Culture to learn more about the concept of the “Exhibition Trails”. Aware of the importance of that visit, publishers from different Mediterranean countries were invited to attend the opening ceremony and to participate in a discussion about the possibilities of transferring the Tyrolean experience to the Mediterranean.
This first meeting was totally informal and brainstorming took place during meals and visits to different itineraries of The Gothic Exhibition Trails. The result of these first talks was the decision to set up the “Lights of the Mediterranean” Exhibition Trails, and the Tunisian government offered to host a second meeting of the publishers to discuss the concrete possibilities of its realisation.
At this phase of the beginning of MWNF the role of Javier Muñiz, who shared with me most of those experiences, was crucial. Javier is still with us and I would like to thank him for so many years of friendship and close collaboration.
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