Great Museums Steps Outside the Museum Walls to Showcase
Global Stories of Preservation and Restoration With Two Trailblazing Specials for FALL 2008

(October 2008)—What do the colonial squares of Havana, Cuba, and the endangered species of the world have in common? Both are examples of important preservation efforts of global significance – one cultural, one scientific – explored in GREAT MUSEUMS® two new one-hour prime time specials. Presented in High Definition, “THE SMITHSONIAN NATIONAL ZOO: WILD THING!” and “GREAT MUSEUMS OF HAVANA: CURIOUS ABOUT CUBA” aired on national public television stations throughout the Fall, 2008.

“GREAT MUSEUMS: THE SMITHSONIAN NATIONAL ZOO: WILD THING!” is a window to the animal kingdoms of the world, showcasing the global leadership role of our nation’s zoo in preserving endangered species on the edge of extinction. Interviews with scientists, curators, animal keepers, veterinarians and volunteers at this living museum reveal the National Zoo’s mighty mission: the preservation of all life on earth. Beautifully shot and showcased in high definition, the stars of the program are the animals themselves, each representing a worldwide conservation effort that stretches from Bolivia to Namibia.

“GREAT MUSEUMS OF HAVANA: CURIOUS ABOUT CUBA” takes public television fans to a world largely unseen by U.S. viewers. GREAT MUSEUMS producers Marc Doyle and Chesney Blankenstein Doyle worked with both the United States and the Cuban governments for nearly a year to gain access to the cultural treasures of Havana. Museums abound in Havana amid 500 years of architectural history. There are museums devoted to cigars, cars, rum, and revolution, but that’s not all. Narrated by actress Mariel Hemingway, “Curious About Cuba” is a stunning presentation of Cuban Art through the centuries at the National Museum of Fine Arts; a spellbinding exploration of Ernest Hemingway’s life at the Hemingway House Museum, Finca Vigia, his home from 1940 to 1960; and a revealing insider’s tour of the on-going restoration of the colonial district, Old Havana City, a “living museum without walls” and a UNESCO “World Heritage Site” since 1982.

“These two specials take the viewer outside the museum walls in very different ways,” commented GREAT MUSEUMS’ executive producer Marc Doyle, “but they both address the role that museums play in the preservation of life on earth – whether it be the natural world, as represented by our nation’s zoo or the cultural world, as represented by the colonial city of Old Havana and the many museums in Cuba’s capital city.”

It’s true that the National Zoo is a park full of wild animals. But it’s also a reminder that we don’t rule the earth. We share it. The National Zoo’s Giant Pandas: cub, Tai Shan, and mother Mei Xiang, are famous throughout the world, but to simply view these cute and cuddly creatures from China is to scratch the surface of the story. Along with the Giant Pandas, Orangutans, Cheetahs and Wolves are literally “ambassadors” to the U.S. public for their dwindling species in the wild, their native habitats and the ecosystems that depend on those habitats.

This GREAT MUSEUMS special tracks the heroic efforts of scientists, field researchers, zoo veterinarians, curators, keepers and volunteers, all of whom contribute to the global management and preservation of the world’s biodiversity.

Researcher Jennifer Mickelberg, who manages an endangered species of monkeys, Golden Lion Tamarins, at the National Zoo and in Brazil, explains that the number one problem is habitat loss: “And this is true for animals all over the world. In the area where the tamarins are from, right outside of Rio de Janeiro, less than 2% of their habitat remains.”

Behind the scenes, through globally managed “captive breeding programs,” the National Zoo works with other zoos and scientists using the tools of high technology to breed populations of endangered species in captivity for the purpose of re-introducing them to the wild. For instance, around 30 years ago there were perhaps less than 200 Golden Lion Tamarins in the wild.

Don Moore, Head of Animal Care at the National Zoo plainly states the challenge: “As humans, we have a responsibility to these animals. They’re not going extinct just because the world is changing for no reason. They’re going extinct because humans are modifying and taking habitat from the wild animals.” One of Moore’s goals “is that everybody who comes through the National Zoo is inspired to take conservation action by the animals.”

This same goal was the impetus behind the establishment of the National Zoo in the late 19th century, when founder William Hornaday envisioned a facility that would breed endangered animals in captivity, such as the American Buffalo, and educate the public about conservation. In 1892, the Smithsonian National Zoological Park, designed by America’s premier landscape architect, Frederick Law Olmsted, opened in Washington, D.C.’s Rock Creek Park.

The National Zoo’s Conservation Research Center (CRC), a satellite location set in the Blue Ridge Mountains, serves as an international training site for current and future generations of conservation professionals. It is also a breeding ground for the Zoo’s most endangered species, like the world’s only undomesticated species of horse, the Mongolian P-Horse (Przewalski’s Horse). At one time, the world’s P-Horse population was down to a mere 14 horses. All P-Horses in existence today are descended from those 14 survivors.

As part of the Smithsonian Institution, the National Zoo is truly a “global zoo,” comments the CRC’s Steve Monfort, Head of Conservation and Science: “We have a worldwide network, a vast array of field sites and scientific collaborations around the world.” Today, the nation’s Zoo is not only free to the public, but via special “webcams” placed throughout the grounds, animals, such as the Zoo’s famous pandas, can be watched 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

U.S. viewers will be spellbound by GREAT MUSEUMS special on the museums of Havana, in which the whole Cuban story is preserved. GREAT MUSEUMS’ exclusive presentation also reveals a little-known part of the contemporary Cuban story: The surprising and dramatic effort to preserve and protect four centuries of colonial architectural and cultural history in Old Havana City, which was designated a “World Heritage Site” in 1982 by UNESCO.

Narrated by Mariel Hemingway, the episode offers an insiders’ tour through the streets of the Old City of Havana with architect Ayleen Robainas of the City Historian’s Office, revealing a massive restoration project in the works, designed to bring back the glory of Havana’s most important colonial squares, streets, and buildings, many the former homes of colonial aristocrats and some dating back to the 15th century. Remarkably, the centerpiece of the preservation effort is the restoration of “life” to the old city, by creating restaurants, hotels, museums, schools and even social housing in the meticulously renovated buildings. The idea is to keep people living, working and playing in the colonial district. As a result, the sights and sounds of Cuba are everywhere.

Eusebio Leal Spengler, Official Historian of the City of Havana, leads the restoration effort of the colonial district: “Our country has a mass of cultural work, a history, a past. It also has a dream of the future,” he says. “I would say that the most important thing that could come of out this Great Museums special would be a sincere message of friendship from Cuba to the people of the United States on the basis of culture, which is what brings us together.” Highlights of “GREAT MUSEUMS OF HAVANA: CURIOUS ABOUT CUBA” include the following stories:

• After Columbus landed in Cuba in 1492, thus “discovering America,” the island was a Spanish Colony for the next 400 years. In Plaza de Armas near Havana Bay, the Museum of the City (formerly the Captains General Palace) was the government seat and residence of the Spanish colonial rulers.
• At the Museum of Rum, the Tobacco Museum, and Africa House Museum, visitors get a different perspective: the lives of the working class and the enslaved natives and Africans whose labor made the island rich during four centuries of Spanish rule.
• The story of Cuba’s War for Independence from Spain is told in part at the Jose Martí Birthplace, a house museum dedicated to Cuba’s national hero, Jose Martí (1853-1895). In 1892, Martí dedicated himself exclusively to planning and organizing what became Cuba’s second War of Independence, which began in 1895. Today, Martí is known in Cuba as the father of the Cuban Revolution and is studied by every Cuban schoolchild.
• An exploration of Ernest Hemingway’s life and loves in Cuba is presented at the Hemingway House Museum (Finca Vigia), his home from 1940 until 1960. The house is preserved as Hemingway left it: his books; his phonograph (which still works), record collection, and radio; his hunting and bullfighting trophies and souvenirs; his typewriter; his bar; his closet and clothes; dishes and furniture; photographs of family and friends. Footage includes the original manuscript for the Old Man and the Sea; the on-going restoration of his fishing boat, the Pilar; and scenes from the nearby fishing village, Cojimar, where Hemingway is still revered by local fishermen today.

Other museums explored in this special include the Museum of Rum, Tobacco Museum, Africa House Museum, National Museum of Fine Arts, National Decorative Arts Museum, Revolution Museum (former Presidential Palace), National Museum of Literacy, and Museum of Natural History.

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