Paper presented at the ICOM International Conference in Barcelona on 4 July 2001.

University Art Museums in Brazil: in search of new and old audiences1.

Adriana Mortara Almeida (Brazil)

Museums are institutions that should offer exhibits and other public programs to attract different kinds of audiences. The case of university museums is somewhat different for the university community is expected to be their main audience with the non-university audience coming second. Therefore, what we usually call "old audience" in a university museum is the university community itself and "new audience" is the non-university community.

Nevertheless, in Brazil, this has not been the case for every university museum.

We are going to discuss how university museums strive to increase their audiences, inside the university community and outside their community, attracting— school groups, teachers, elderly people etc.

This discussion should include the importance that society in general places on university museum programs. University museums could be one of the links between universities and society, as museums are also places for relaxation and informal learning.

The university is an institution that must be modernized in order to face the new social challenges made by society, or it will become more and more isolated and might loose its raison d’être. Marcia Lord, the editor of the Museum International magazine issue dedicated to university museums, presented some arguments extracted from the report of the International Commission on Education for the Twenty-first Century, chaired by Jacques Delors, about the pressures facing universities and therefore, their museums:

"Higher education is at one and the same time one of the driving forces of economic development and the focal point of learning in a society. It is both repository and creator of knowledge. Moreover, it is the principal instrument for passing on the accumulated experience, cultural and scientific, of humanity…

As autonomous centers for research and the creation of knowledge, universities can address some of the developmental issues facing society. They educate the intellectual and political leaders and company heads of tomorrow, as well as many of the teachers. In their social role, universities can use their autonomy in the service of debate on the great ethical and scientific issues facing the society of the future, and serve as links with the rest of the education system by providing further learning opportunities for adults and acting as a center for the study, enrichment and preservation of culture. There is increasing pressure on higher education to respond to social concerns, while the other precious and indispensable features of universities, their academic freedom and institutional autonomy, have also been the focus of attention. Those features, although no guarantee of excellence, are a prerequisite for it…

Thus, everyone should be able to count more or less directly on higher education for access to the common heritage of knowledge and the most recent findings. The university must accept a kind of moral contract with society in exchange for the resources assigned to it by society…

In addition to preparing large numbers of young people either for research or for specialized occupations, the university must continue to be the fountainhead at which the growing numbers of people who find in their own sense of curiosity a way of giving meaning to their lives may slake their thirst for knowledge. Culture should here be considered in its widest sense, ranging from the most mathematical of science to poetry, by way of all the fields of the mind and the imagination." 2.

The Commission suggested that universities continue to form specialized professionals and to be a cultural center for all society. Universities must participate in and provoke discussions about issues that are important to society, bringing up its knowledge in an autonomous way to develop better solutions. So should do university museums.

University Art Museums

"To most people, the university art museum seems sheltered indeed,
a tranquil garden in the groves of academe…" (Brett Waller, 1980)

There are many types of university museums — science, history, art etc. — and among all possibilities we have chosen to discuss art museums in this paper since we consider that there is no agreement about their functions and necessity. While science and history museum have a definite link with graduate and undergraduate courses taught at the university, university art museum seem to escape this function. University art museums could attract art students and professors, other university students and professors and also non-university audiences, if their collections, programs and location are accessible and interesting to them.

There are different functions generally attributed to university art museums. They go from a "decorative" place for the campus to a higher education center.

In USA, many university art museums were created to show original works of art to Art students, so collections are usually part of a History of Art Department. Their audiences are mainly university undergraduates and graduates. In 1942, Coleman emphasized that art collections were indispensable to higher education:

"Creditable museums are needed on every campus, in the fields of art and of biological and geological science, which are unneglectable in higher education, museum material is the only ground on which a large part of teaching and research can rest; and collections, together with fitting arrangements for their care and use, are essential. Other fields, especially history, make some use of museums; but art and natural science must have museums or there are bound to be gaps in the educational programs." 3.

In Coleman’s point of view, the major audience of university museums should be university students4., and they are the "old audience" expected in these museums. But after some years, the university museums in the USA seemed to have lost their university audience. In 1956, S. Borhegyi wrote about the "alarming problem faced by university museums":

"The majority of the visitors are no longer students or campus personnel but are people from neighboring communities, high school and elementary students ands out-of state visitors." 5.

Borhegyi suggested some strategies - which he applied at that time in the Oklahoma University Museum with good results to attract university community, back to museums.

Brett Waller recommended that university art museums must serve art historians (students and faculty), artists (students and faculty), students preparing for museum careers and students and scholars from the university in this case of the University of Michigan. These people that were the museum "active users" constituted the minority of museum total audience and non-specialist visitors were the majority. Nevertheless, this minority audience should be uppermost in museum’s personnel’s minds when exhibition arrangements, selection of works of art and activities are planned. 6.

In Great Britain, as in USA, art collections were used to teach Art History, but some of them were not only seen like teaching material, as we can see in these texts of 1968 and 1992:

"But the academic study of fine art can never be the raison d’être of these collections or the measure of their value to the universities." 7.

"Art collections such as those at Liverpool, Nottingham and Hull may be used for teaching purposes, but principally supply a cultural and aesthetic quality to university life." 8.

All authors value university art collections and indicate that they should have a wider role in university campus life. For them, the university community is the expected audience to these museums, but they may also be open to other people. School children and teachers, elderly people, minorities, handicapped people are some examples of other possible interested audiences for university art museums.

Brazilian University Art Museums

In Brazil, the history of university art museums is quite similar in some aspects. Many of them were created because private collections were donated to the universities without any link to the art courses themselves. In some cases, this link has never been developed even after many years.

From the 92 art museums existing in Brazil9., 17 belong to universities. These are located in 4 out of the 5 Brazilian geopolitical areas, known as "regions" 10., mainly in the Northeast and Southeast regions. The latter is the most crowded and industrialized Brazilian region in which the cities of São Paulo and Rio of Janeiro are located.

In our research we registered 110 university museums. Here we present some features of the 17 university art museums identified:

Museum Name (and University)

State / Region


Number of objects

Year of opening


Undergradu-ate courses

Number of visitors11.,

Museum of Sacred Art of Bahia (UFBA)

Bahia / NE

Sacred Art




Fine arts



Regional Museum of Art (UEFS)

Bahia / NE

Modern Art





1999: 1,693

2000: 2,808

Museum of Art of UFC — MAUC (UFC)

Ceará / NE

Contemporary Art





2000: 6,000

Assis Chateaubriand Art Museum — MAAC (UEPB)

Paraíba / NE




City Park


1995: 14,130

Museum of Popular Art (UFPB)

Paraíba / NE

Local Art




Plastic Arts


Pinacotheca (UFPB)

Paraíba / NE

Local Art




Plastic Arts

Mean: 726

Museum of Seridó (UFRN)

R.Grande Norte / NE

Sacred Art / History





1999: 1,583

2000: 444

Museum of Art and Popular Culture (UFMT)

Mato Grosso / CO

Contemporary Art




Art Education

2000: 9,000

Leopoldo Gotuzzo Art Museum (UFPel)

R.Grande Sul / S

Local Art




Fine Arts


Museum of Brazilian Engraving (URCAMP)

R.Grande Sul / S

Brazilian Engraving




Plastic Arts

1998: 4,800

Gallery of Art University Space (UFES)

Espírito Santo / SE

Contemporary Art




Fine Arts

Plastic Arts

Mean: 6,000

Brasiliana Gallery (UFMG)

Minas Gerais / SE



1966 and 2000



Fine Arts *


D. João VI Museum (UFRJ)

Rio de Janeiro / SE

Art Teaching History

10,000 and 9,000 docum.



Fine Arts *

Mean: 1,000

Museum of Contemporary Art — MAC (USP)

São Paulo / SE

Contemporary Art



Campus and City Park

Plastic Arts *

1999: 162,850 2000: 64,904

Collection of Visual Arts — IEB (USP)

São Paulo / SE

Brazilian Art




Plastic Arts *


1997: 1,055

1998: 449

Museum of Brazilian Art — MAB (FAAP)

São Paulo / SE

Brazilian Art




Plastic Arts

1999: 82,500 2000: 35,353

UNICAMP Gallery of Art (UNICAMP)

São Paulo / SE

Contemporary Art




Fine Arts *

1998: 5,200

* This university has also post-graduation courses in Arts or Visual Arts.

U= University; F=Federal; E=State; USP=University of São Paulo; UNICAMP=University of Campinas.

The Collections

The majority of all university art collections studied was formed by non-university people (or people not from the art departments) and afterwards donated to the university. We observed a regional tendency of forming collections of objects related to local artists and local popular art objects, what seems to be more feasible, due to the usual lack of university funds.

The collections favor Brazilian artists, with the exception of those museums that have works dating back to the colonial period (XVI and XVII centuries) — D. João VI Museum and Museum of Sacred Art -, those that were created by Assis Chateaubriand's regional museums project - Assis Chateaubriand Art Museum of UEPB, Brasiliana Gallery, Regional Museum of Art — and the Museum of Contemporary Art of USP, which received a national and international collection of modern and contemporary arts.

The ones most recently created, mainly the Art Galleries, have their collections formed by works donated by local artists and present usually temporary exhibits. The exception is the Brasiliana Gallery, whose original collection is eclectic and includes works created by foreign artists, but its contemporary works of art came from Minas Gerais artists and were donated by the local community.

Museum of Sacred Art, Museum of Contemporary Art and Collection of Visual Arts owns the only collections considered of national and international relevance. The Assis Chateaubriand Art Museum collection is unique to the region where it is located, the countryside of Northeast Brazil.

The Audiences

We studied some of the São Paulo city art museums and we compared the number of visitors of university and non-university art museums. There are three university art museums in São Paulo: Museum of Brazilian Art (MAB/FAAP), Museum of Contemporary Art (MAC/USP) and Collection of Visual Arts (IEB/USP) and only the latter receives fewer visitors than the other art museums in São Paulo— the Pinacotheca of São Paulo State, Museum of Modern Art of São Paulo (MAM/SP) and Lasar Segall Museum (MLS).




































The Armando Álvares Penteado Foundation (FAAP) is a private institution that provides higher education courses in humanities and engineering. Besides the museum, they also have a theatre opened for the general public. The differences among the number of visitors in the four years considered are due to the powerful attraction of temporary exhibitions not based on their own collections. The collection exhibitions are always the less visited ones. We may conclude that the MAB audience is mostly from outside15.,, in spite of the fact that the University offers a Fine Arts course. Officially there isn’t any formal program that involves students with the museum and seldom the art professors ask the museum to present its collection to their students.

If the numbers of visitors were to be estimated according to the collections excellence we would expect that MAC and IEB (USP) should have more visitors. IEB has fewer visitors because it is mainly a research institute rather than a museum, for the staff is more devoted to researching the collection than to exhibiting it. The Visual Arts Collection is very important for the study of Brazilian Modernism Movement and part of it is in the permanent exhibit. However, the most visited section of IEB continues to be its library, unique to the study of several fields of Brazilian culture. The opening hours also do not help — it is only opened from Tuesday to Friday in the afternoons.

MAC has the best national and international modern and contemporary arts collection in Brazil. The University of São Paulo has an Art course since 1970 and graduate Art courses since 1973 but there isn’t any formal link between the museum and the Art Department of the School of Communication and Arts.

University students are a minority of MAC’s audience which is formed by a majority of elementary and secondary school groups. In the last two years the number of people in groups has increased due to the policy of guided tours at FIESP Cultural Center exhibitions.


General public





3,632 (3.4%)




3,917 (3.5%)




21,889 (17.4%)




13,297 (20.5%)


When the University of São Paulo accepted what is today known as the MAC collection it did not count with any specialized staff or any proper building to keep it. All they had was the feeling that they would be able to handle it. USP, as other Brazilian universities, has accepted those chattels and afterwards has not given very good conservation conditions to the collections. Universities do not value the collections as they should and they usually spend little money on their conservation.

If USP and other Brazilian universities give more importance and more financial and human resources to their museums, they would create a privileged locus to communicate with society, which demands a quick answer to its needs of educational and cultural programs.

Public Programs

All 17 Brazilian university art museums offer activities to the general public; however, some museums are rather inaccessible — hard to find in the campus, limited opening hours and limited transportation facilities — that they are almost closed to the public. It is the case of the Visual Arts Collection of IEB/USP and the D. João VI Museum of UFRJ16,. The result is that they receive few visitors; usually people that are already acquainted with them and their collections and that have specific interest in the subject.


The main activity offered to the public, by museums, is the exhibition of its collection or the loan of other collections for exhibition purposes (temporary exhibits). As we have seen, some of the university art museums in Brazil have a small quantity of objects in their collections, shown usually in temporary exhibits. The Brazilian Art Museum (MAB/FAAP) is known for producing exhibits of very famous artists or polemic ones which attract large number of visitors. Other museums prefer to show local artists, being a divulging center of local art, as the UNICAMP Gallery and the Museum of Art and Popular Culture do. In both cases the institutions are looking for non-university audience and working as any other art museum.


The university art museums and galleries courses are offered to the general community and their content is mostly technical, as engraving, painting or embroidery arts. The teachers are outdoors artists and specialists more often than museum staff. There are also courses for elementary and secondary teachers offered by museum staff. The exception is the Museum of Contemporary Art that has a group of teachers and professors in the staff, who offers undergraduate and graduate courses.

We found out that the education promoted by Brazilian university art museums is mainly for the broad community and not for higher education students.

In other countries there are many university art museums that promote higher education courses, as in Manchester, U.K.:

"At Manchester University the Whitworth Art Gallery is used annually for students of the post-graduate Art Gallery and Museum Studies diploma course for learning the process of mounting a major art exhibition in co-operation with staff of the gallery and a professional designer. There are many instances where university museum staff who are fully engaged in a curatorial role lecture to students as part of the curriculum of academic courses." 17.

Museum courses could be one way to attract new audiences to the exhibitions and other public programs if they were systematically offered within the specific profile of the museum collection and research. In Brazil university students are the "new" audience and non-university community the "old" audience for almost all university museums,

Other Public Programs

Music concerts, conferences, and even libraries that are opened to all kinds of people may bring visitors to the museum. University museums normally organise conferences and seminars for specialised audiences. All these events may bring more people to visit the museum. The challenge is to convert them into frequent visitors. This strategy works well if there is continuous offer of good and understandable exhibitions and activities.

The production of interesting exhibitions targeting both the academic audience and the general public has always been described as a challenge by museum professionals. According to Alma Wittlin, 1949:

"A compromise between a students’ gallery and an exhibition for the general public is bound to end in failure. The student approaches the exhibits with a body of information and with a definite aim in mind; what the exhibition presents to him is but a supplement to an already more or less defined pattern of meaning. To the general public, however, the pattern, both of contents and form, is to be supplied by the exhibition, a complete experience which presupposes on the part of the spectator nothing but common sense. Any attempt at combining the two contradictory kinds of display, must leave part of either of the implied functions unfulfilled." 18.

Museums succeeded to surpass this difficulty by developing different kind of programs, having a special design project to respond to the needs of different audiences. The great challenge is to attract new audiences and convert them into frequent visitors not losing the old audience.

For example, the policy of presenting huge loaned temporary exhibitions followed by the of Brazilian Art Museum of FAAP results in the temporary increase of audience without the development of frequent visitors. Depending on the exhibit theme and importance of the displayed objects, people will come to the museum, but they won’t necessarily come back again.

Among university art museums, few have good permanent exhibits that may attract the visitor many times. In the Northeast, the Assis Chateaubriand Art Museum is an exception even if it has a small collection because it is unique in the Northeast Region. In São Paulo, the Museum of Contemporary Art, after almost 40 years of existence, has just opened a new version of a permanent exhibition with part of its modern and contemporary art collection offering the possibility for the visitors to come again and see the same works of art.

There are many ways to bring new audiences to a museum: good permanent exhibitions, temporary exhibits, music concerts, conferences, guided visits; however, it is the systematic and continuous work, which guarantees the return of public.

Systematic Activities for New Audiences

In our research we have found some examples of the way university art museums strive to increase audience by proposing systematic programs.

The Museum of Art of the Federal University of Ceará (MAUC/UFC) is promoting a group art workshop with university students and employees to build a common work of art after periodical meetings. At the same time, many of the participants are working as trainees or volunteers in the museum. For example, the school guided visits and the Internet site of the museum are responsibility of those students; some university employees also give some work hours per week to the museum besides participating in the common work of art.

The Museum of Contemporary Art (MAC/USP) maintains a permanent programme, which includes an especially designed exhibit and workshop for handicapped people; another for 4 to 10 year old children and their teachers; and a yearlong programme for senior citizens. As part of the intellectual accessibility programme, the museum offers several courses on modern and contemporary art history; on art appreciation and interpretation; semester courses on drawing and workshops for the community and the general public and an especial elementary teacher’s training programme. MAC/USP also needs to attract new audiences among the students, professors and employees who spend the whole day in the campus. With this in mind, the Education and Cultural Action Division staff has prepared in 1999, 2000 and 2001 several different activities for freshmen who were invited to interpret, look up information at the museum’s internet site, draw and discuss the works of art they had chosen. MAC intends also to invite each School individually for a visit and have activities planned for teachers, personnel and students. The museum is also preparing half hour gallery talks given by the staff on Fridays at lunchtime, in an effort to attract the people who eat at the museum restaurant19.,.

The Leopoldo Gotuzzo Art Museum (MALG/UFPel) started to offer courses to the university community, and to offer room to art courses of the Art Department and also to offer training programs to undergraduates promoting a better relationship with the Humanities departments so that undergraduate students will regularly come to the museum.

However, Brazilian university museums still lack a clear public policy for building audiences stating the kind of audience they intend to attract and maintain as frequent visitors before promoting programmes to attract them. First of all, they must know whom their old and their new audiences are and could be. Nowadays society is pressing universities in order to respond to community needs. Museums are institutions that could be the link between university and society, offering motivating and understandable educational and cultural public programs.

The constitution of UMAC will surely bring new ideas and exchange of important experiences that will help Brazilian university museums find new ways to satisfy the demands of society.


An overview of Brazilian University Art museum, their function and their problems to attract visitors. A comparison between the number of visitors in Brazilian university and non-university art museums is made in order to explain how universities strive to increase their audiences, inside the university community (sometimes old/new audiences) and outside — school groups, professors, elderly people, etc, (sometimes new/old audiences).
1. This paper is part of a doctoral thesis advised by Professor Maria Helena Pires Martins presented to the School of Communication and Arts of the University of São Paulo, which was partially supported by FAPESP (Fundação de Amparo à Pesquisa do Estado de São Paulo)
2. Lord, M. Museum International, UNESCO, Paris, n. 207 (Vol. 52, n.3, 2000:3).
3. Coleman, L. V. College and University Museums: a message for college and university presidents, AAM, Washington DC, 1942:3. More than 30 years after, the same idea continues to give support to university art collections: "Unless we bring in the work of art as an original, we are bound to get into trouble and to stimulate generalizations, abstractions, and theoretical views that are unsound... Therefore the involvement of the students in the works of art is essential…" Newson, Barbara Y. & Silver, Adele Z. (Eds.) The Art Museum as Educator: a collection of studies as guides to practice and police, University of California Press, Berkeley, 1978:519.
4. Coleman wrote: "Community service is not the business of a college or university museum, but circumstances often dictate some overstepping of this logic. (...) public service at expense of effective work with students would be wrong." Coleman, L. V. College and University Museums, The Museum in America, AAM, Washington DC, vol.1, chap. X, 1939:174-175.
5. Borhegyi, S.F. American University Museums, Museums Journal, 55(12):1956:309.
6. Waller, B. Museums in the Grove of Academe, Museum News, Jan/Feb 1980, vol,58(3):20-21.
7. Standing Commission on Museums and Galleries, Universities and Museums: Report on the Universities in relation to their own and other Museums, Her Majesty’s Stationary Office, London, 1968:10.
8. Warhurst, A, University Museums. In Thompson, J.M.A. (Ed.) Manual of Curatorship: a Guide to Museum Practice, Oxford, Butterworth-Heinemann, 2nd ed., 1992:97.
9. There are about 826 museums in Brazil. Data collected by the Commission of Cultural Heritage of the University of São Paulo (CPC/USP).
10. The 5 regions are: North (N), Northeast (NE), Southeast (SE), South (S) and Center-West (CO).
11. Big differences between the number of visitors from one year to the other was probably caused by the museum closing due to strikes or to the renovation of museum's buildings and exhibitions.
12. The Museum of Contemporary Art (MAC/USP) has 3 buildings. The MAC was founded in 1963 and only in 1992 a specific building was finished in the campus for it, the same one that had to be remodeled in 2000 to really become a museum building. Its collection has been maintained in borrowed places and part of it continues in the third floor of Bienal building in Ibirapuera Park. Every time there is a big show in Bienal building, MAC-Ibirapuera has to close the doors for long periods, as it has happened during the last 4 years. From 1999 to 2001, MAC has a contract with FIESP Cultural Center to present its collection at their site, at Avenida Paulista, located downtown and in an easy to reach place.
13. The exhibit rooms of Brazilian Studies Institute were closed for rebuilding in 1999 and 2000.
14. The numbers are only of visitors to the permanent exhibition and not to all the museums activities.
15. To clarify, this year an Ancient Egypt Collection from the Louvre is being presented, attracting thousands of visitors every day.
16. The D. João VI Museum is on the second floor of the Chancery Building of UFRJ and nowadays we need an authorization to visit it. The Visual Arts Collection of IEB is open from Tuesday to Friday from 2 to 5 PM.
17. Warhurst, A. University Museums, In Thompson, J.M.A. (Ed.) Manual of Curatorship: a Guide to Museum Practice, Oxford, Butterworth-Heinemann, 2nd ed.,1992:98.
18. Wittlin, 1949 apud Seyd, E.L. A university museum and the general public, Museums Journal, 70(4), 1971:180.
19. Almeida and Martins, University and Museum in Brazil: a chequered history, Museum International 206, vol,52(2) 2000:28-32.
20. For example: Art History, Image Interpretation, History-art-architecture of Pelotas city, among others.

Copyright © Adriana Mortara Almeida 2001.
All rights reserved.

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