Museo Pumapungo

Part of Exhibition:



of an Exhibit

by Devora Liss

Published on October 28, 2015

  • Museum: Museo Del Banco Central, Cuenca

  • Visit Date: September, 2015

  • Description:

    Museo Pumapungo has it all – ethnographic displays, modern art, Inca ruins (the museum’s back yard), numismatics, and historical information. Even better, the museum is free – but it comes at the “cost” of having very little English.

    Making a museum multi-lingual is an obvious way to be more inclusive and broaden your target audience. Yet text takes up space, which is always at a premium. And too much text can be distracting for visitors, even if only a portion is intelligible to any given person. For a few years now, I have been observing the creative ways museums offer multi-lingual interpretation.

    I visited Museo Pumapungo twice, once the main building and another day the Inca ruins and gardens. There is a lot to see and discuss, but I would like to focus on one particular design element by which I was impressed.

    The museum offered side-by-side Spanish and English labels and panels, with a twist: a sliding panel that covered the irrelevant language. In the case of the historical exhibit, the sliding panel was an image that supported the text. Thus, the image remained visible while covering up the unnecessary language. These were installed as rails and/or around tables, making them more likely to be touched. The challenge: helping visitors realize that these panels are movable.

    Another section of the museum that featured this design was in the ethnographic section. Spanning an entire floor without feeling overwhelming, this section features groups from different regions, recreating their homes, tools, music, and more. Only one subset of the exhibition has English – the Shuar, infamous for their historical practice of preparing shrunken heads. At a number of other sites throughout Ecuador, I encountered information “setting straight” this practice, while emphasizing that it’s no longer carried out. Perhaps for this reason, the museum invested in sliding panels. The challenge: visitors must be truly motivated to reach this section, as its more than mid-way through the uni-directional exhibition floor, which is entirely in Spanish. Also, they are installed on the wall, making it less likely you would touch them accidentally and realize they moved. After discovering this, I actually backtracked to see if I’d missed it in the other sections all along (I hadn’t).

    I will continue to scout out multi-lingual museums. If you have any good examples, please share!

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