After talking to several artists and curators in our past interviews, Aujourd’hui has the pleasure to shake things up with Namalimba Coelho, Press Manager for Lisbon-based Museu Berardo. Our conversation allowed us to find out how the Angolan born communicator started in Law, only before deciding to focus on Human Rights and all before becoming the media and press handler of one of Lisbon’s most coveted art institutions. Having promoted some of coolest shows the city has seen in the past ten years, while also working with some of Lisbon’s most well renowned and exciting art institutions, we listened to Namalimba’s in-depth opinion and analysis about the tools of her trade. Read our interview to find how the role of a big museum PR is performed, what’s her view on Lisbon’s contemporary art scene and how a change of projects is yet to scare Namalimba.
Can you tell us a little bit more about your background? How did you go from a Masters in Law to Press Relations Manager at the Berardo Collection Museum?
I believe that being born in Angola is in the origin of many decisions in my life, including motivations and identity, starting with my peculiar name, Namalimba, chosen by my parents in relation with the political context of Angola when I was born (it’s a legend from Huambo), and it’s an everyday social challenge which teached me a lot about attitude and proudly being myself in any context and circumstance. I was born in 1976, just after the independence, in an intense civil war scene, where I lived most of my childhood, which affected everyday life - all the constraints inherent in the social, political and economic perspective you get - with curfew, public schools destroyed and no security, a very limited social life which had its impact, I was living in a reality of exception which to me represented the normality, my references from everyday life. That context led me to study in the french school in Luanda, and later in Lisbon, in order to pursue my studies in the french system, where I completed my “Baccalaureat diplome” in hilosophy and literature, which also led me to form in Law. In Paris, I completed my Master's degree in Human Rights at Université Paris X Nanterre and my Law Clinic at École Doctorale de la Sorbonne, in cooperation with the International Criminal Tribunals for Rwanda & Former Yugoslavia (International Law - Genocide; Crimes against humanity and War crimes). In this context I had the opportunity to collaborate with international programs in the UN Information Centre in Lisbon and in the UN International Law Commission, in Geneva.
In this context, I was convinced that my career and vocation would be in this area and away from Portugal, but, in 2003, by circumstances of life, I came back to Lisbon and everything changed. I was deciding about my next step, when someone suggested me to apply for a position in the communication department of ExperimentaDesign - International Design Biennial. I am never afraid of new challenges and I was expecting nothing, so I went to the interview and that’s where I ended up for 4 years. Everything was new for me! If only you could imagine my first days of work, acting as if I was an expert. The truth is that I was loving the experience and I even had a knack for it. Since then, it all happened so fast, in such a natural and spontaneous way! I was very lucky because I was being challenged to collaborate with many projects, in the arts, design and fashion area. I was juggling with different opportunities from distinct universes away from my comfort zone. I completely changed my career path, which turned out to be directed to the area of ommunication and arts, challenged to reinvent myself, and to explore paths that brought me to where I am since the opening of the museum, for almost nine years, in charge of the Media Relations at Museu Coleção Berardo.
This route was essential, personally and professionally speaking, and had crucial moments, when all I thought I had acquired was then being questioned in the context of each new challenge. And I don’t only refer to the cultural or sociological changes in consequence of the dynamic of each place I lived, I am refering to our own inner revolutions, as an important exercise of personal growth and self-knowledge, as a proof of values and principles no matter what you do or where you live.
How does one perform the role of being a museum PR?
Museu Berardo has one of the world's most acclaimed modern art collections and is listed in the most visited art museums in the world, and this gives me higher level responsibilities. It is an honor and a privilege to be part of a project with such a scale, even more when you grow with it. Since my assignment started, one month before the museum's opening, in June 2007, with the mission of announcing, local and worldwide, the opening of an institution of this dimension in Portugal, a mission for which I had only three weeks to accomplish, from my admission date in the museum until the opening – June 25. Since then, and over those last eight years of immeasurable professional challenge, I have learned far beyond PR and communication, particularly among people I had the privilege of crossing - unique, inspiring and exceptional in their vision and attitude through what they do and for who they are - my colleagues from the museum, my peers, my interlocutors and people around the world which enrich me continually, including artists, collectors and curators. It’s inspiring to work in a place where every day, a few steps from my office, I have access to the best of modern and contemporary art and contact with people from every corner of the world.
Professionally, it’s been a very intense challenge. There are many factors to consider before planning the communication for each project, which must reflect the expectations and perspectives – mine in conciliation with the artistic director's orientations and with the artists and curators expectations, always complementary to these considerations. Among others, my main functions include managing all the communication of the permanent and temporary exhibitions, promoting and coordinating interviews with the artists, programmers, curators and with the Artistic Director and the Collector, Mr. Berardo; Managing all the international and portuguese media coverage and press clipping reports; Planning and developing media events and networking and organising press trips. I can assure you this is not a simple and technical mission - it’s not just about media planning and communication strategy, attending to the journalists enquiries and providing access to the information or promoting the institution or the temporary and permanent exhibitions or the concrete programme of activities such are conferences, thematic visits, publications, and other instruments for the diffusion of the Collection and Museum goals and activities, it’s also about improving and innovating everyday, expecting the best press coverage and critics ever, putting the best attitude in my work and higher expectations in every new challenge, with the same passion and enthusiasm as if I was doing it for the first time! This must be reflected in the results of what I do and perceived by my peers and interlocutors and it’s what makes all the difference in the role a museum PR performs.
Since the museum's opening I communicated over seventy temporary and permanent exhibitions. For each new one of them I expected higher results, from me, from the press, the public, the critics - from whom I hope to influence in consequence of what I do. Each project requires a specific communication orientation, depending on each different purposes and goals. Not just focusing in the media plan for every present challenge, in short term perspective. Press previews and specific events or projects related to the permanent and temporary exhibitions or to a broad program of activities, but also in a long-term perspective - in direct relation with the aims and vocation/mission of the museum as an institution and collection. Considering those two perspectives, I have to manage a communication plan that at the same time promotes the institution, the collection, the permanent and temporary exhibitions – in Portugal and worldwide.
Beyond media results, in consequence of the press plan which includes print, broadcast and online media coverage that reflects what I hope to achieve with my work, I expect to engage the press and consequently the visitors in order to communicate how trough a program of exhibitions and activities this institution, ensuring that people understand how and why we make the difference in what we do, and change perceptions and mentalities about the access to art and culture in Portugal. My work must be reflected in the perception of the public when reading the articles and that must be measurable beyond the media coverage results, considering how the museum aims to raise its profile through my media plan, setting goals for each one, depending on the audience I want to reach and the selected publications, journalists and art critics that will be interested in the content I have proposed, depending on what I want to achieve in each activity of the museum, defining audiences and messages and finally the strategic approach. A media strategy depends on the different goals, message and target in short term versus long term targets. The long term vision, when I want to communicate the museum and the collection and its uniqueness worldwide beyond it’s activity, which is a completely different media strategy from a short term with immediate achievements. Results and strategy are different in each situation. For the long term strategy it take months, years to increase awareness of the relevance and prestige of the museum and the collection, through it’s program of exhibitions and the consequence of it’s impact in the public, the media, other institutions, curators, etc. And that depends also on a strong relation established with journalists – local and worldwide. And that media work needs to be improved every time I don’t get the results I expect, which is a continuous challenge keeping me revisiting my media plan strategy. Working with the media is not a science and a lot changed in this area in the last ten years, as well as the strategy and the importance given to communication by the museums and its consequent relation of the museums with their publics and the media. And my work must have this in consideration in every moment of my strategy. The paradigm of what was the traditional role and definition of a museum changed, assuming a new mission and commitment with society, playing a key role, as a cultural agent, in the dissemination and democratization of culture. Even more in the particular case of Museu Coleção Berardo, which boasts a free entrance. In this context, the strategic communication in consequence of a PR work becomes even more relevant.
Is it different to work continuously on the same project, as you have for the past 8 years in the museum, than working on specific projects such as an exhibition or short-term projects like the ones you did?
Yes, it’s different, even if the energy and the dedication are the same. I had the opportunity to be involved in incredible and exciting projects; in a short-term collaborations, and in all of them I had completely different experiences that were very important for me, since my first assignment with Experimenta design. I needed a more diversified experience in this area to understand the different approaches and perspectives. I collaborated in the communication of many projects: Lisbon Fashion Week (over five editions); Fundação Calouste Gulbenkian - Jazz Festival; FUSO – Video Art annual festival; TEMPS D’IMAGES - performing arts annual festival; Carris, ART IN MOVEMENT - urban art interventions in one lift (Santa Justa) and the 3 funiculars, all of them national monuments since 2002; CRONO - 12 Months x 4 Seasons x 16 Artists/interventions in Communication of this unprecedented initiative with the aim of establishing an itinerary of Urban Art in Lisbon which included Portuguese street interventions artists from the whole world, whose most emblematic example is the painting of the Brazilian graffiti writers and brothers Os Gémeos and Italian Blu in the vacant building on Avenue Fontes Pereira de Melo; UNDERDOGS Urban art Platform/Gallery. In a more institutional perspective I took in charge the media relations of specific projects of renowned Design/Art Foundations such Ellipse Foundation and Leal Rios Foundation. As co-director of a Cultural Association, I also had the opportunity to create unprecedented initiatives in which I experienced different challenges for the concept-coordination-communication of specific projects such ‘Inspired Lisbon’ for Bombay Sapphire or ‘Make it Real' for a Design company. I was communication consultant for premium brand projects (Bacardi-Martini group) such Dom Pérignon or Moët&Chandon and Press manager for Bombay Sapphire. There are many others collaborations I didn’t mention, but they were all relevant for my professional evolution, even it’s different to work continuously on the same project (larger impact, duration, complexity, evolution, long term goals) than working on specific projects, but my experience working on those short-term projects in the cultural sector was very important for me in many perspectives, specifically for what I learned with each assignment throughout my professional career.
How has the Berardo Collection Museum changed in the past 8 years?
Eight years after opening in June 2007, the Museu Coleção Berardo has reached over 5 million visitors. From a total of more than seventy exhibitions, the most visited were the museum’s opening exhibition, featuring works from Coleção Berardo (with more than 456 thousand visitors), followed more recently by Museu Coleção Berardo (1960-2010) and Museu Coleção Berardo (1900-1960). Those are undeniable facts that prove the relevance of the museum and it’s collection. Rather than focusing in how the Museum changed in the past 8 years I prefer to talk about the impact of the museum in consequence of its creation. Because the evolution and changes of the museum are a reflection of it’s impact and role in relation to their publics through eight years of activity and how it’s perceived by everyone, including the press quotes I share with you in the question about the relation of the museum with the Lisbon and it’s touristic trend.
How do you see the contemporary art scene in Lisbon, and what role does Berardo Collection Museum play in it?
With free entrance, the Museu Coleção Berardo is a museological space of reference in Lisbon which contributed, without any doubt, to elevate Lisbon into a globally recognized cultural capital and played a very important role in many perspectives, but specially in showing the world that Lisbon can be a reference for modern and contemporary art. You no longer need to go abroad to see a Duchamp, a Picasso, a Warhol or any other of the world’s greatest artists because you can find it in the permanent presentation of the Berardo Collection and in the vast array of temporary exhibitions. Works by artists from diverse cultural backgrounds and contexts, who, through a multitude of expressions, built the art history of the last century, that’s what makes this museum and this collection an unique experience when visiting Lisbon. The representation of more than 70 artistic tendencies in a collection of more than 900 works demonstrates its strong museological and didactic nature, in itself an unquenchable source of creativity and innovation possibilities, not only through the richness of its contents but also because, not being a static collection (the new acquisitions keep an updated status of authors and works), it allows different and state-of-the art readings of contemporary art.
There are many things happening in the contemporary art scene in Lisbon, namely independent spaces and projects, like HANGAR and UNDERDOGS, which are making the difference as cultural platforms curating artistic projects and programs in direct interaction with the public and with the city. Hangar is a new artistic Research Center which includes a center of artistic residences, studios for artists, an art education center, an exhibition and public program. From the concept of unification of certain geographies, cultures and identities, it seeks to organize and produce the development of cross-disciplinary artistic projects in the Visual Arts, integrating public presentations and taking Lisbon as the focus of intervention. Through strategic partnerships in various countries and through the Triangle Network, the program aims to strengthen the exchange between Portugal, Europe, Africa and South America.
Underdogs is a cultural platform based in Lisbon that aims at creating space within the contemporary art scene for artists connected with the new languages of urban-inspired graphic and visual culture. They have curated a program of some large-scale pieces around the city - The Underdogs Public Art Tours – which include a visit to all locations where Portuguese and international artists have been transforming Lisbon's landscape with their large-scale mural interventions. The itinerary takes in the work of artists and collectives such as Alexandre Farto AKA Vhils, PixelPancho, How & Nosm, ±MaisMenos±, Okuda, Nunca, Bicicleta Sem Freio, Clemens Behr and Sainer, among others. Lisbon has a thriving and vibrant art scene, even if culture is not a priority for the portuguese government, there are independent spaces and projects being created, alongside with great museums and contemporary art spaces and galleries transforming the city into a cultural reference.
Lisbon is more and more a touristic trend. Berardo Museum has one of the most comprehensive private collections in Europe, if not in the world. How is it communicated abroad?
Rather than giving you a strategic answer, I prefer to tell you there is no science or specific formula for what I do - it comes as a consequence of a very instinctive and persistent work and the results for that communication abroad can be evaluated by the media coverage, which, I hope, reflects my dedication and what the museum and the collection represents in Portugal and worldwide. I believe this selected press quotes speak for themselves.
“A recent, and impressive, addition to Lisbon's list of cultural attractions, the Berardo Museum opened its collection of modern and contemporary art to the public in 2007. The modern space is filled with vibrant works by all the hard-hitting pop artists, such as Warhol, Pollock and Lichtenstein, as well as other greats artists such as Picasso, Bacon and Dali. Regular temporary exhibitions focus on specific artists or themes.” - In The Guardian’s article “10 of the best free museums in Europe.”
“Un musée d’art contemporain digne des plus grandes capitales européennes (...) La collection, qui peut rivaliser avec celles de Tate Modern de Londres ou du Centre Pompidou à Paris, est la première du genre au Portugal,” in Le Monde, “Lisbonne se dote d’un musée d’art moderne digne des plus grands.”
“Opened five years ago, it could be Lisbon’s best bet to capture a piece of the international art limelight. As the afternoon drifted past, couples and school groups strolled among various selections from the institution’s extensive permanent collection of 20th-century painting, sculpture and multimedia art. (..) Together, the dozens of displayed works formed a thrilling greatest hits of 20th-century art that is rare to find outside of the world’s largest art capitals and all but unprecedented in Lisbon,” - In The New York Times / International Herald Tribune, “In Lisbon, Sowing the Seeds of Culture”
“For many, the opening of the museum represents their first opportunity to see a Picasso or a Warhol. Benefiting from free access, the first twenty-four hours brought in over twenty-three thousand visitors, though it seems unlikely that one individual’s collection can maintain such crowds,” - In ARTFORUM, Diary – ‘Joe’s Show’
“Beyond the Guggenheim… The Berardo Collection displays methodically, chronologically, examples from the main modern movements – pop art, minimalism, kinetic art, conceptual art, arte povera and the rest,” - In The Independent, ‘Beyond the Guggenheim’
What has been your most challenging project so far?
The present one. Always the present. Balancing the personal versus the career decisions, in order to never loose my sense of direction, fulfillment, considering what my priorities are in life. Here and now, in coherence, consistency and consequence with my own inner revolutions, as an important exercise of personal growth and self knowledge, as a proof of values and principles. Never being afraid of new challenges. In Luanda, Paris or Lisbon. In Human Rights or in Arts - the present one is always the most challenging project because it’s the one that determines my next step. Don't you agree?
What can we expect from Namalimba in the future? What are your ambitions?
Open ended questions deserve open ended answers. I believe that we cannot think about the future without putting the past into perspective and focusing in the present. At ten I wanted to be President when I grew up, as law student I wanted to be a private detective/criminal investigator until I realized how important it would be to make the difference fighting for Human Rights. After seven years studing Law, I ended up working with communication, culture and contemporary art for more than a decade. So, I learned there are no limits on what you can achieve and “Life is what happens to you while you're busy making other plans.” I’m not able to tell exactly where I see myself in five years, but not having plans has nothing to do with not having ambitions. I’m very consistent with my goals when I have decisions to make and objectives to pursue, but, more than projecting the future, I like to give myself to the present, curious and open to new opportunities, but without any fear of changing my course (again). It’s in this perspective that I intend to give myself to the fruit of that everyday commitment - in coherence, consistency and consequence -, that it will bring me the future challenges that will make me grow, even if they lead me away from my comfort zone.
I also believe it’s essential to diversify interests and expertise, that’s why I studied five languages including a course of Arabic language and culture that I attended for 3 years, even if I did it without any special purpose. Since my return to Lisbon I tried to be involved with different areas, which led me to attend a training course on International/Diplomatic Relations; another course on Introduction to journalism, a course in Luxury Brand Management, among other courses and formations. In every context and circumstance, I try to put everything in perspective: identity, beliefs, motivations -, a permanent self confront about my dimension in the world and in life. So, I intend to never stop being curious, interested and expecting always more, from me and from others. So, making an honest balance about life and ambitions, I believe I’m sincerely happy in what I chose to do, but expecting a lot more from the future, empowering all my knowledge and experience, relating culture, art, communication and social intervention.
However, I want to highlight a recent challenge, a non profit initiative, whose process of creation began last year, and still is being implemented, but believing that very soon will deserve the highest consideration: ARCADIAN NGO. As co-founder of this platform, along with a group of people who believe that THE FUTURE WILL BE AMAZING, we intend to do the difference based in this universal concept that serves as inspiration and acting through new forms of art and communication, engaging artists and the creative community in our missions, inspiring a collective and effective change of mentalities and the subsequent adoption by all of us in a more creative, ecological and human posture in the world. For now it is all I can say. For those who are curious, I leave the website link: www.arcadianinitiative.org There is something else I would be proud to be part of... I don’t know how and when that will be possible, but, as a proud angolan as I am, I would love to be part of any solution that could make the difference in the cultural and social field of my country. I believe that angolans from my generation, the one in position to do something, should contribute to make the difference and build something with their knowledge and experience. My generation is the one that should assume that first mission after the end of the war, the one that has the power to start making the difference, as “Generation Zero” - the one that in the present can start doing something for the future generations.
Exclusive interview by Aujourd'hui.