Opening up the collection of a closed museum in Brazil

Wiki Movimento Brasil
Published in
10 min readSep 18, 2020


Refinement process of location metadata in a photograph by Werner Haberkorn. By Éder Porto, CC BY-SA

The Paulista Museum of the University of São Paulo, known as Ipiranga Museum, is one of the most important cultural institutions in Brazil and has been officially closed for renovations since 2013. With the closure nine years ago, an entire generation has not had the opportunity to visit this university museum yet.

While the museum is being renovated for the reopening in 2022, in celebration of the Bicentennial of the Independence of Brazil, a group of Wikimedians has worked to bring its collection to the Internet in the context of a GLAM-Wiki initiative. This story is about how the User Group Wiki Movimento Brasil has connected to the museum board of directors and created a bold and innovative partnership to freely disseminate the knowledge in the museum custody.

Uploading collections

The dissemination process has begun with the loading of metadata and images from the collection of the Museu Paulista on Wikimedia platforms. Since the ratification of the partnership in 2017, Wiki Movimento Brasil has developed and improved techniques for uploading works under free licenses of various types, such as paintings, documents, maps and objects. By now, more than 26 thousand images from the collection have been uploaded to Wikimedia Commons, where they have reached 3 million views per month.

In this process, we mainly work with Wikidata, Wikimedia Commons and Wikipedia in Portuguese. The core of the whole work is in Wikidata: when metadata is made available on this Wikimedia semantic web database, we creatively develop strategies to disseminate content and to establish volunteer communities to engage with content of their interest, on Wikimedia projects and partners.

A challenge we have faced as this GLAM-Wiki initiative grew has been the creation of a portal to provide easy access to the diverse set of items we have uploaded. An illustration of how navigation of the collection is provided is the set of 60 queries to browse what we have uploaded. Visualizations in lists, maps, histograms and timelines are provided that show, for example, paintings that depict indigenous and African-Brazilian people, birth and death place of artists in the collection, museum rooms with their respective artworks, distribution of authors in the museum journal Anais do Museu Paulista by gender, etc.

Bubble chart of number of artworks in the museum collection, by artist. By Éder Porto, CC BY-SA.

Beginning of the collection dissemination

The main topic of the collection of the Paulista Museum is the historical formation of Brazil. The collection is so relevant that education activities were set up to improve content on Wikipedia. In 2018, for instance, students were tasked with writing entries on notorious paintings from the Paulista Museum on Wikipedia. Entries were illustrated with images uploaded to Wikimedia Commons. In general, content added has systematically increased and image views have remained very high across the years:

By Éder Porto, CC BY-SA.
The peak of accesses coincides with the school calendar: in Brazil, December, January and February are off-school months. By Éder Porto, CC BY-SA.

The beginning of dissemination of the collection within the Wikimedia platforms has fostered the interest of a community of volunteer editors that has been increasingly engaging with the GLAM-Wiki initiative of the Paulista Museum. The peak of collaborations was in 2020.

New Ipiranga Museum Wikipedia Initiative

In 2020, the project reached a more ambitious level, with the creation of the New Ipiranga Museum Wikipedia Initiative, a joint project of Wiki Movimento Brasil and the Paulista Museum in partnership with the Banco do Brasil Foundation and the support of the University of São Paulo and the University of São Paulo Foundation. The goal was to foster a culture of free collaborative knowledge and to develop mechanisms and processes to enhance the quality of the Paulista Museum’s insertion in the ecosystem of the open internet, especially Wikimedia projects.

This involved the establishment of a sustainable digital community operating in the production, circulation, dissemination and educational appropriation of content related to the institutions, collections and research from the Paulista Museum. The project also included innovation and the development of technological products and processes, broadly related to digital humanities and information curation on the semantic web.

Open innovation

The development of technological tools and processes is one of the outstanding pioneering characteristics of this GLAM-Wiki initiative organized by Wiki Movimento Brasil. Feeding Wikidata with metadata from museum items opens up opportunities for innovation and experimentation in digitally disseminating the collection.

Gamified apps

Provisionally called Povo Conta and Trajo, these gamified apps allow users to browse items in the collection and participate in their curating metadata in a friendly interface. The former is aimed at inserting data on the number of elements portrayed in the images; and the latter is aimed at identifying clothing elements and accessories portrayed in the images. Both apps are already available for public interaction and encourage community participation in improving the collection’s metadata. Contributions coming from the apps are registered on Wikidata and reverberate in other Wikimedia projects and third party projects, including content aggregators and Google knowledge graphs, for example.

Semantic web book

One of the first uploads in the context of the GLAM-Wiki initiative with the Paulista Museum was a collection of photographs and postcards by Guilherme Gaensly. There are around 130 images that portray the city and the state of São Paulo at the turn of the 20th century.

From the insertion of the collection’s metadata in Wikidata, we created the first semantic web book in Wikibooks in Portuguese, called The photographs of Guilherme Gaensly in the collection of the Paulista Museum. Each page of the photo book was created from the data available on Wikidata and is improved as more data about the images is collaboratively inserted into the database. Even photo captions are automatically generated from a structured narrative! The book also has an automatic list that shows related photographs according to the elements portrayed in the image and indicates gamified apps, so that readers / users can participate in the collective writing of the book.

The photographs of Guilherme Gaensly in the collection of the Paulista Museum is the first semantic web ever developed on Wikibooks in Portuguese. By Éder Porto, CC BY-SA.

Reconstruction by images

The collection of the Paulista Museum houses a collection of very rich photographs of downtown São Paulo, taken by Werner Haberkorn between the 1950s and 1960s. Based on the images made available by the museum, we collectively work on the refinement of metadata on the location that was portrayed on these images. In other words, we have used georeferencing data provided by the museum to improve the accuracy of the location of buildings in São Paulo in the images in the Werner Haberkorn collection.

Starting from the positioning of the photographer at the moment he captured the images, we created a process that allows the visual reconstruction of buildings that no longer exist in downtown São Paulo, for example, enabling analyses of the urban landscape. This video available on YouTube shows how this visual reconstruction takes place in Haberkorn’s photos.

Refinement process of location metadata in a photograph by Werner Haberkorn. By Éder Porto, CC BY-SA

Collaborative mapping

We have relied on the free map project OpenStreetMap to carry out an internal and external collaborative mapping of the Paulista Museum. The goal was to remodel the museum area available in the project, adding more precision on its coverage, so that both the museum building — an iconic monument in São Paulo — and the building’s internal rooms could have a greater degree of detail in their cartographic representation. In this sense, individual trees and facilities were added to the external area of the museum.Contributions on OpenStreetMap reverberate on other platforms and applications that use maps. This video available on YouTube shows the process of improving the mapping of the museum with OpenStreetMap.

Dissemination events and activities

An important part of what we did, in a context in which the museum is closed for visitation, was the organization of events and activities that allowed the public to have access to the collections and activities developed in the New Ipiranga Museum Wikipedia Initiative. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic in Brazil, all events that were initially planned to be on site, were changed to the online format. This change has allowed even more people to get to know and engage with this GLAM-Wiki initiative.


Wikipedia marathons — known as “editatonas” in Brazil — are events in which people come together to edit entries, normally on a particular topic. With such a varied collection already available on Wikimedia platforms, it was easy to find topics with which we could work on these events.

When moving events to the online format, we decided to offer a webinar on the GLAM -Wiki initiative at the beginning of each one of them, including a thematic lecture on the collection and a quick tutorial on how to edit Wikimedia projects. After the live broadcast on YouTube and social networks, participants could edit entries on Wikipedia and Wikidata and interact with the Wiki Movimento Brasil team via Slack. The person who made the most edits at each event also won an exclusive T-shirt for the project, sent by our group by mail.

Eight editatonas were organized, covering varied themes: Women, Art and History; Indigenous People and the Museum, Struggles for the Independence of Brazil, Photographic São Paulo, The waters of the Paulista Museum, Cartographies and Territories, Scientific Illustration: Taunay and Florence, and Santos Dumont. Held between March and August, the webinars already have more than 3 thousand views in the many platforms they have been shared to, and we have received reports that the videos are being used in educational contexts.

Editatonas offered lectures on the collection of the Paulista Museum made available on Wikimedia platforms, in addition to practical online activity for editing entries. By Éder Porto, CC BY-SA 4.0.

Wikidata Labs

In a format similar to editatonas, Wikidata Labs took place with a webinar followed by a practical activity with the community. Wikidata Labs are technical training workshops on tools and resources associated with Wikidata, the semantic web database of Wikimedia projects.

There were three Wikidata Labs focused on the collection of the Paulista Museum: the first dealt with the transfer of articles from the journal Anais do Museu Paulista to Wikidata, the second with the educational potential of the database, and the third with relative digital positioning (IIIF), linked to the development of the process of reconstruction by images in the Werner Haberkorn collection.

The partnership with the Paulista Museum has included technical training focused on Wikidata, the semantic web database of Wikimedia platforms. By Éder Porto, CC BY-SA 4.0

Wikicontest New Ipiranga Museum

The Wikicontest New Ipiranga Museum was a contest to edit Wikipedia entries associated with the museum’s GLAM-Wiki initiative. For three months, registered volunteer editors improved content associated with the museum and its collection, and those who edited the most won special awards and medals on their user pages. In total, there were 862 registered editors who improved 269 entries, adding 1.3 million bytes. The impact of the activity was tremendous: so far, the entries have received over 2.6 million views.

The Wikiconcontest New Ipiranga Museum brought together more than 800 editors improving Wikipedia entries related to the museum’s collection. By Éder Porto, CC BY-SA 4.0


The issue of accessibility arose at the very beginning of the partnership with the Paulista Museum. In 2017, the Spoken Wikipedia project was launched, aiming to make audible versions of images available on Wikimedia Commons and Wikipedia. The project serves especially visually impaired people, since they can rely on the audio resource to access works of art.

In an education program developed at Faculdade Cásper Líbero with students of Journalism and Audiovisual Communications, 150 paintings from the collection of the Museu Paulista gained audible versions in 2018. The audio files describe the paintings, indicating which elements are portrayed in the work and in what position, and what colors and styles are used by the artist. In addition to being present in Wikipedia entries, the audible versions feature is used in Art History classes for visually impaired students. The project was supported by the education team at the Paulista Museum and by the NGO Laramara, which specializes in services for people with visual impairments.

Audible resource created by students from Faculdade Cásper Líbero. By Éder Porto, CC BY-SA.

Next steps

In August, we ended the ambitious New Ipiranga Museum Wikipedia Initiative, but there are still many treasures from the museum’s collection to be uploaded and made freely available to the public. We will continue to explore the potential of integrating databases and be with the museum in the next steps of its digital dissemination strategy via Wikimedia platforms, which increasingly have an active volunteer community. We are especially interested now in developing an ecosystem to feed the museum’s local base with the improvements that the community makes in collaborative projects.

About Wiki Movimento Brasil

Wiki Movimento Brasil is an association of editors of Wikimedia platforms that since 2013 has been active in several projects aimed at education, dissemination of knowledge, free culture and critical thinking. We are the only Brazilian group officially recognized by the Wikimedia Foundation. Our network of partners includes higher education institutions and research centers, museums, archives, free knowledge initiatives and civil society organizations.

Text: Érica Azzellini and João Alexandre Peschanski

Images: Éder Porto

About this story

This story was written thanks to an open call funded by Creative Commons Open GLAM Platform. This is part of a series of articles that will be published in the Open GLAM Medium publication, that have been supported with the goal of showcasing stories around the world on Open GLAM. Find out more here.



Wiki Movimento Brasil

Grupo de Usuários Wiki Movimento Brasil