The Varsovian: How has the Centre helped Warsaw and local people since it started?
RF: The citizens of Warsaw perceive the Copernicus Science Centre as a showcase of the modern capital city, one of its three most important symbols (together with the Royal Baths and the Warsaw Mermaid). This is the outcome of the ‘Barometr warszawski’ [Warsaw Barometer] research carried out last year among 1,100 people.
After only a few years of operation, the centre has struck roots in the urban tissue. It has become one of the main tourist attractions in the capital. It has revived the poorly developed bank of the Vistula River. Together with the neighbouring University of Warsaw Library, the new buildings of the University of Warsaw and the Academy of Fine Arts, as well as the increasing number of club cafes, the centre has become a part of a new university district that teems with life. Although a renovation of the Vistula River bank is currently in progress, the Copernicus Science Centre has already found its place in the consciousness of the inhabitants of Warsaw as a cultural stop, a place of intelligent entertainment on the route of walks along the river.
About 40% of the Copernicus Science Centre’s visitors are citizens of Warsaw; it is them that a part of our programmes is specifically addressed to. We want to empower them and to make them feel responsible for their closest environment. This is the aim of e.g. the Warsaw Health Resort project.
Its participants are actively encouraged to create innovative ideas to make life in a city healthier. Some of these ideas have a potential to be implemented as new services, products, social innovations.
The Varsovian: How has and is Poland changing regarding its attitudes towards education, learning, participating?
RF: During the last three years, we have enjoyed great interest of visitors in the Copernicus Science Centre – we have been visited by over three million guests from all over Poland. Even 150,000 people take part in the Science Picnic, and almost 30,000 a year visit the shows of our mobile Experiment! exhibition. In many places in Poland, initiatives of centres similar to the Copernicus Science Centre emerge.
Our exhibitions, science festivals and picnics are attended by people of all ages, various professions, educational background and passions. What unites them is the will to spend time in an interesting, active manner and to explore the world and the achievements of the human civilisation. They want to discover their own talents and interests. In other words, their common characteristics is the passion for studying. This universal enthusiasm contrasts with the rather negative connotations of education present in public reception. This results from associating education, especially the formal one, with oppressive features – the necessity to learn a given portion of knowledge by heart and then to verify the acquired knowledge and skills at a test or an exam. In such a situation, the joy of learning, the active involvement in the discovery of links present in the natural world, creativity and openness to new ways of thinking are lost. These are crucial competencies in a world in which information resources double at a time shorter than a year, in the era of unforeseeable technological and social changes. It is these skills that enable us to be optimistic about the future in spite of the financial crisis that Europe is struggling with now. They help to understand the world that surrounds us and to achieve personal success in it.
We want to create a learning society, help to change the Polish school for the better, but also to support the discovery that learning is a fascinating adventure that may be our life-long engagement.
The Varsovian: How is the centre funded and are there plans to change it? Will you be looking for more private sponsors, for example?
RF: The Copernicus Science Centre has the status of a cultural institution, funded by the City of Warsaw, the Polish Minister of Science and Higher Education and the Polish Minister of National Education. Our financial situation is very dependent on admission fees, independently sought sponsorship and other fund-raising efforts. Our collaboration with sponsors is a unique combination of business innovation with the authority of the Copernicus Science Centre in the area of education and science communication. Companies get involved in our measures related to the development of the exhibitions, programmes and workshops for visitors. The largest companies on the Polish market not only support the Centre financially, but also create with us elements of curricular activities, providing knowledge, ideas and technology for joint projects. This year we started a new program “A friend of Copernicus Science Centre”, directed at people and organisations, wanting to contribute in our activity.
The Varsovian: What is the Warsaw Health Resort and when, where and so on can we see it/take part in it?
RF: Warsaw Health Resort is an interdisciplinary programme of workshops and events organised around the idea of making city of Warsaw healthier. It aims to connect people from different fields of expertise: artists, scientists and entrepreneurs to create together innovative ideas for products, services and actions to improve the quality of urban life. It is a part of Europe-wide KiiCS (Knowledge Innovation Incubation in Innovation for Creation of Science) project, supported by the European Commission through its 7th Framework Programme. The programme at Copernicus will last until June 2014, with propositions for adults and youth as well. The project has its own blog — www.uzdrowiskoblog.kopernik.org.pl (in Polish), where we publish all the information about recruitments calls. It is where you can find a lot of inspiration and the results of first series of workshops. Together the programme inspires participants and people living in Warsaw to take the matters of healthy living in the city in their own hands and actively change their surroundings. Whether through introducing new ideas, products and services or by learning valuable skills.
The Varsovian: What is the Przemiany Festival?
RF: The festival takes place every September. It was inspired by the transformation of the Powiśle district in Warsaw, where we moved to three years ago. After its three editions it became a part of our identity, but naturally we also take part in its transformation. There are concerts, film previews, intergenerational projects, visual arts and new technologies. The protagonists of the Przemiany Festival are active in various fields of life. Their projects are a manifestation of passion and willingness to change existing reality. With the use of commonly available technology, knowledge and sensibility, they solve specific social problems, influencing the shape of science, art, medicine or food production.
The Varsovian: Please explain the idea behind Science Picnic.
RF: The “Science Picnic of the Polish Radio and Copernicus Science Centre” event holds a special place in our hearts – this annual gathering, now into its 17th year, was the source of inspiration that ultimately led to the creation of the Copernicus Science Centre in Warsaw. The Science Picnic is the largest European outdoor event presenting science and new technologies, contributing to creating a knowledge-based society. Scientists appear before normal people, a real audience, and explain complex scientific problems in an interesting, charismatic and inspiring way. Everybody can experiment, meet scientists, discuss with them. This way of presenting science attracts crowds. This year about 150,000 people came to the National Stadium to take part in a Science Picnic.