A travelling museum by Héctor Ayarza for the Museum of Contemporary Art in Panama City

Héctor Ayarza,

Fernando Alda,



Exhibition, Installations, Refurbishment,

The Museo De Arte Contemporaneo (MAC) is a private collection of contemporary art from Panama and Latin America located in Panama City. The project entitled "El Contenedor MAC" seeks to expand the scope of the museum. Basically, this is a travelling museum formed of two shipping containers, designed by the Panama-based architect Héctor Ayarza.

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A travelling museum by Héctor Ayarza for the Museum of Contemporary Art in Panama City The Museo De Arte Contemporaneo (MAC), Panama was originally known as the Institute of Panama Art (Panarte) when it was founded in 1962. It is a private, not-for-profit organisation established with the purpose of promoting the cultural development of the Panama community. Although it did not, at first, have its own structures, MAC has presented a large number of exhibitions by renowned artists from Panama and Latin America, with each exhibitor donating one of their artworks. This allowed the museum to build up a fine collection. In 1983, the Governing Board of Panarte decided it was time to find its own establishment, given the growth in size and excellence of its body of works. They launched a campaign and with the help of the private sector, businesses and institutions they purchased and renovated the old Masonic Temple located in Ancon, providing a secure haven for the MAC collection of more than 200 artworks donated by artists.
Driven by the desire to extend its programme to an even wider public, last year it rolled out the "El Contenedor MAC” project to take contemporary art to areas where exhibitions of this kind are not normally organised, or where there is no art museum, providing a secure open space for families to be able to enjoy the artworks from the MAC collection. The Spanish name suggests the structure itself. In fact, it consists of two shipping containers, emblematic of the Panamanian economy, which is mostly based on the shipping trade in the Panama Canal. And they are now being filled with...culture! 
Both of the containers are themselves a public work of art with the decorations painted by the local visual artist, Cisco Merel. Merel combines the compositive awareness of a classical painter with the graphic qualities of a street artist to convey moments of beauty and colour in this urbanised world. The interior set-up of the containers was handed over to Héctor Ayarza, an architect who graduated from the University of Panama, specialising in tropical architecture, researcher and author of some projects geared towards improving the urban and social fabric, which is exactly what "El Contenedor MAC” also aims for.
The first container houses the main room with an exhibition area just like in the museum the art comes from. While the second one has been set up to educate with plywood elements that provide what children and adults alike might need to participate in art workshops, courses and cultural activities connected with the actual exhibition.
"El Contenedor MAC” has already travelled to four places in the country on its first national tour: Chiriqui, Veraguas, Azuero and Panama West, where the containers were installed in public places with easy pedestrian access. They are now taking some time out and are temporarily located in Panama City in a suburban zone not far from the port. Héctor Ayarza was again appointed for this project and he used the two containers to create a small, cosy plaza between the two volumes, fostering their use and interaction of visitors. Once again, art is used as a driver of social change and a useful tool for placemaking.

Christiane Bürklein

Architect: Héctor Ayarza
Project management: Luis Guillén, Omar Torres
Construction Collab: Omar Vanega, Jesús Bonilla-Gil
Container Supplier: Arquitainer
Promoter: Museum of Contemporary Art of Panama
Containers facades art: Cisco Merel
Project location: Traveling museum (currently in Panama City)
Year: 2019-2020
Images: Fernando Alda