THE SEVENTH ISSUE OF FIHRM-AP - Mine, Yours and Ours: MIO Museum as a Project for the Preservation of Memory

MIO stands for three words in spanish: Museum (Museo) , Identity (Identidad) and Pride (Orgullo).

MIO stands for three words in spanish: Museum (Museo) , Identity (Identidad) and Pride (Orgullo).

Author: Eunice Báez Sánchez

Eunice Báez Sánchez has developed her career in the museum sector, boasting a versatile career spanning museum consultancy, cultural journalism, and vital roles in press management and marketing for diverse cultural endeavors.

Currently, Eunice holds the position of Chair at ICOM Costa Rica and serves as Co-Chair at the Museum of Identity and Pride (MIO), the first LGBTIQ+ museum in the region. In addition to these roles, she brings her expertise to the forefront as a Communication Consultant for the UNESCO Regional Multisectoral Office in San José, Costa Rica. Eunice Báez Sánchez stands as a dedicated advocate for culture, heritage, and the vital role of communication and culture as a catalyst for meaningful positive social change.


Mine, Yours and Ours: MIO Museum as a Project for the Preservation of Memory

MIO Museum is a museum born from activism. The museum founders identified that they could bring together people who were interested in the preservation of the LGTBIQ+ memory of Costa Rica. MIO stands for three words in spanish: Museum (Museo) Identity (Identidad) and Pride (Orgullo) but it also has a meaning of its own as a stand alone word. MIO in Spanish means “mine”. This was not a random choice, it was chosen after careful deliberation and consideration within the group that came up with the idea of creating a museum in the very small country of Costa Rica.

Costa Rica is internationally known for its nature and biodiversity, also because its recognised as a peaceful country especially because its army was abolished in 1948. However, Costa Rica cannot be counted as an exception to discrimination against LGBTIQ community, as the past has witnessed human rights violations against this population. A little over 30 years ago, during the global AIDS crisis, police raids on "ambiente" bars, places where LGBTIQ people used to meet clandestinely, became common in the Costa Rican capital. There are many stories from that time, told by those who lived through them, now anecdotes of what seems like a very distant past. These are stories of violence, humiliation, aggression, and persecution that are predecessors to more recent achievements. 

In 2020, Costa Rica officially approved equal marriage, becoming the first country in Central America to ensure equal status for same-sex couples and their families. This was not a one-off, legal achievement, it came about through the struggle of many people, many of whom had to deal with those past violations. 

"I believe that when countries achieve significant advances in LGBTIQ rights, such as the issue of equal marriage in Costa Rica, there are two main risks: first, that new generations forget all the journey, the sacrifice and the struggles that many people and organizations made to reach this achievement; and second, that achievements such as equal marriage are considered the ultimate conquest in the struggle for equality," explains Enrique Sánchez Carballo, former congressman, who was the first openly gay lawmaker in Costa Rica and one of the founders of MIO. 

Sánchez noticed that important achievements being made at the state level in Costa Rica were overshadowing the past. There was no systematic way of collecting and giving space to the stories of the community. How to preserve the history of a community whose resilience had brought it so far? And furthermore, how to continue to highlight that there were still many struggles to be fought?

MIO, a grassroots project

It was precisely these questions that triggered an innovative idea: to create a museum. But why a museum? A museum went beyond a specific motivation, a museum meant a space for reflection and experience. 

The new definition of museum, new because it was approved in 2022 by the International Council of Museums (ICOM), precisely bring to the fore essential elements for the idea that later became the MIO: accessibility, inclusivity, openness and strong community participation, as well as an experience of education, enjoyment and reflection. Beyond activism and concrete actions for specific purposes, the idea of the museum meant for the group of founders of the museum, an opportunity to bring together art, culture, memory and history around the battles for human rights. 

One of the current co-directors of MIO, Óscar Jiménez, is clear in pointing out that the museum figure was the route to follow. A figure was needed to serve as an "umbrella" for the group's ideas of memory preservation. "Unlike an association or a company, the museum does not have a profit motive, but rather its interest is the conservation and preservation of both heritage and history. Moreover, the museum figure, from what we have been able to learn, is quite amphibious or hybrid. It allows us to explore the academic, but also the artistic, as well as the research part of it. I believe that a museum is important and not another type of cultural association, precisely because of the figure that the associative figure provides," he points out.

In 2018, I learned from Enrique Sánchez, a congressman at the time, about an initiative addressing the concern that younger queer generations were unaware of past struggles. Sánchez emphasized that equal marriage rights were hard-won through years of struggle and persecution, warning against taking these rights for granted and highlighting ongoing issues, especially for trans and non-binary youth. Motivated by these words, a diverse group of activists and I rallied around the idea of creating a museum to preserve this history and foster community awareness. 

Despite initial dreams of a physical space, we adapted our concept to embrace a broader definition of a museum, focusing on community engagement and education through projects. We had to rethink what a museum was, and even today the new definition of a museum is still instrumental in making us realize that we are indeed a real museum, even if we don't have a beautiful traditional museum space. However, this did not discourage us and we started to carry out projects that began to give shape to the project.

Projects for collecting stories

These challenges mentioned above, which are rooted in the very essence of the museum idea, led us to also think about our "collection". As a museum dedicated to the history and memory of a population, we faced the challenge of creating a physical and digital collection that would truly bring these stories together. 

And when you think about collecting stories, it is easy to face the complexity that this entails. How do you manage to make a "collection" of stories in the most "museum-like" sense of the word?

That is, if we are a museum and not a media outlet, for example, how do we store these stories? The answer came in the form of several projects that were carried out for this purpose and so, little by little, elements were assembled to create a collection that is still growing today. 

However, two projects in particular take center stage when it comes to exemplifying the MIO's good practices: "Quiero Queer" and "Existing and Resisting in Diversity".


In the podcast project “Quiero Queer,” Sue Shi shares her experience as a drag queen of a new generation.

In the podcast project “Quiero Queer,” Sue Shi shares her experience as a drag queen of a new generation.

“Quiero Queer” which translates as "I Want Queer" is a project developed in conjunction with the Cultural Centre of Spain in Costa Rica, an instance of the Spanish Cooperation. It is a podcast created to compile stories of the LGBTIQ+ population. On this occasion, Tatiana Muñoz and Keller Araya were the two people from the MIO who gave shape to the project and have been in charge of the production, curatorship and hosting of the podcast.

The first season was a link between art and diversity and was composed of 16 episodes that consisted of interviews with visual artists whose work touched on the LGBTIQ+ theme in Costa Rica. From the beginning of MIO a priority was the compilation of the stories of older adults so in the second season of the podcast the aim was to compile the stories of those who in their youth had to navigate relationships in a society that was even more conservative than the current one. Therefore, during 12 chapters the interviewees recounted their experiences, adventures and challenges. 

The third season of "Quiero Queer" focused more on the world of drag queens and consisted of 12 episodes, each one an interview with a different queen who recounts their experience and challenges as a performer. So far this project has been a successful way to create a collection of stories and experiences.

Virtual expo of the project "Existing and Resisting in Diversity"

Virtual expo of the project "Existing and Resisting in Diversity"

The other project "Existing and Resisting in Diversity" was developed in conjunction with the School of Sociology of the University of Costa Rica and as an activity framed within the framework of Pride month 2022. The project consists of an exhibition of graffiti or rather, graphic expressions on walls with LGBTIQ+ themes. It is worth detailing that these graphic expressions are a compilation of graphic manifestations that were made on the walls of the Faculty of Social Sciences, most of them slogans that emerged during the occupation of the building of that faculty by the university student movement in Costa Rica in October 2019. This occurred during a protest that was considered a resurrection of the student movement.

Researchers from the university took on the task of collecting these "marks" on the walls of the building before they were permanently erased, to make a collection of the multiple graphic manifestations. The invitation to MIO was to do "something" with some of the manifestations that in some way spoke to the diverse community. With that in mind, two curators of the MIO, Tatiana Muñoz and Keller Araya, together with the curators of the project at the University of Costa Rica, Marialina Villegas and Sergio Villena, curated a virtual exhibition. Now, in addition to exhibiting the graffiti, the idea was to juxtapose them with comments, artistic manifestations and other expressions of artists and activists of the LGBTIQ+ community.

Undoubtedly, these two projects are very important for the museum because of the way in which they managed to articulate different actors and helped to position the museum and its team. Despite being a small museum, with very limited resources, MIO managed with these two proposals, and then with others that followed, to make a space for itself. It has undoubtedly been a challenge, since a project of this type is based precisely on volunteer work. Although, more recently, funds have been raised for specific purposes that cover the work of some of the specialists, the muscle of this project remains essentially in the people, their conviction in the proposal and their interest in consolidating a museum that gives place to and collects the stories of LGBTIQ+ people.

Virtual expo of the project "Existing and Resisting in Diversity"

Virtual expo of the project "Existing and Resisting in Diversity"

Virtual expo of the project "Existing and Resisting in Diversity"

Virtual expo of the project "Existing and Resisting in Diversity"

“An egalitarian world requires the recognition and respect of diverse identities.” A declaration from MIO Museum, showing their dedication to be there, working for a fairer and more egalitarian world.

“An egalitarian world requires the recognition and respect of diverse identities.” A declaration from MIO Museum, showing their dedication to be there, working for a fairer and more egalitarian world.

Looking forward, MIO in the future

In reality, MIO is still a young project and does not seek to be a proposal that ends tomorrow, on the contrary, it seeks to be a space that surpasses the people who founded it. Perhaps that is why it faces the challenge of consolidating itself as it is a very particular project, a museum born from activism is not something common. On the contrary, museums in their most traditional form are usually born from institutionalism and add to tell stories that are already told. Increasingly, however, more and more museums are being created to tell the untold stories, the ones that are in danger of being forgotten.

Óscar Jiménez agrees that there are important challenges in consolidation, especially for a museum like the MIO, and that the time required to consolidate the initiative has been longer than planned. However, this has not prevented the project's objectives from continuing to evolve. Still, there are challenges.

"I believe that the challenges are threefold: administrative and financial consolidation so that the initiative can have a longer life than it currently has. The second challenge has to do with operational capacity, since currently everything is voluntary. We currently depend on donations, grants or support from external allies, so this prevents us from generating a staff of people exclusively dedicated to this with the remuneration they deserve and which is necessary. There is a third challenge, which I consider to be of a political nature. The challenge is how to insert yourself properly, considering that you are not part of the movement or of LGBTI activism, that is, how to resolve the tension that you are a museum of a movement but you are not necessarily an actor within that movement," Jiménez points out.

Undoubtedly, this is a challenge in the essence of the project that seeks precisely to make that bridge and generate a space for reflection that can only happen in a space like a museum.

For Sánchez, the museum aims to preserve the memory, but also to keep alive the movements for pending struggles. "Let us not forget that trans people continue to be the most vulnerable and with a gigantic opportunity gap that has been dragging on for many decades; let us not forget that it is not the same a gay person in a migrant condition and in a condition of poverty as a gay person in a rural area or a gay person of afro descent or an urban gay person with a privileged or favorable socioeconomic composition”

There are still many struggles and many roads to travel, because without a doubt, real equality has not yet been achieved. And even then, how can we prevent the past from repeating itself?

For the people who continue to fight for the museum to continue this is their engine, despite the economic difficulties and the challenges of the people who compose it, despite a conservative society in a developing country; believing that MIO is a catalytic space for change is the motivation that drives the people who believe in this innovative space.