The Brief

“Every Museum Is an Incredible Adventure”

Delphine de Canecaude has spent her life bridging the gap between the art world and the general public. After studying at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts, she won a competition and was invited to create a cinema museum in Angoulême: the Studios Paradis. After a stellar career in the luxury sector – during which she founded the Etoile Rouge communication agency and worked with some of France’s leading brands – the dynamic fortysomething was hired to run Chargeurs Museum Studio in February. As the world leader in cultural engineering and production, the French company is well established in the United States, where it has designed the National Museum of the United States Army, the National Museum of African American History and Culture, and the new wing of the American Museum of Natural History, which recently opened in New York City.
Courtesy of Chargeurs Museum Studio

France-Amérique: How was Chargeurs Museum Studio first created, and what are its objectives?

Delphine de Canecaude: Museum Studio is above all the vision of Michaël Fribourg, CEO of the Chargeurs group. In 2018, he developed an idea for the world’s biggest studio offering turnkey cultural services for institutions, museums, foundations, and brands. Chargeurs Museum Studio’s goal is to uniquely support major decision-makers and their teams to make their cultural projects leading references and comprehensive experiences, from the physical location to the extension into the digital world. Chargeurs Museum Studio offers its clients tailored solutions enabling them to create virtuous, beneficial cultural ecosystems. We expand their appeal and reach, strengthen their educational ambitions and public engagement, suggest strategies to grow commercial and philanthropic revenues, and create profound connections with their communities.

How does a project progress from the first consultation with your team to the inauguration?

We are the only company offering a range of expertise covering all stages of a museum’s creation. From the initial consultation to the inauguration, we bring together experts and talented teams who work based on values of reliability, passion, innovation, and daring. Craft is at the heart of every job. Storytellers, designers, and carpenters work hand in hand to create emotional experiences and transmit cultural heritage. We start by analyzing the client’s brief and validating the strategic and economic blueprint. We then establish the overall vision; this is the master planning phase that enables us to outline the key aspects of the site, including visitor traffic, flows, points of interest, spaces and functions, and emotion management. The project manager, who could be compared to an orchestra conductor, evaluates the project’s feasibility and creates an organizational ecosystem to guide the client. Depending on the project, we then bring together architects, curators, scenographers, and storytellers before entering the design phase, which includes mediation, scenography, storytelling, curation, and programming. Then comes the construction phase: the “build” or “fit out.” We have two building workshops, one in Europe and one in the United States, with a team of more than 150 craftspeople, which enables us to work closely with designers and complete even the most ambitious projects. This in-house production capacity also means that we can cut our carbon emissions. The coffee-table book publisher Skira [which joined Chargeurs Museum Studio in 2022] helps clients to editorialize their collections and create bespoke editions. We also design the retail experience, which must be unique and linked to the museum’s brand. Lastly, we offer recommendations focused on the digitalization of the experience in terms of collection content, data analysis, digitization and tokenization.

The National Museum of African American History and Culture, in Washington D.C., was laid out by Chargeurs Museum Studio. © Duncan R. Millar

Chargeurs Museum Studio has already delivered more than 3,000 projects in 30 countries. Can you tell us about your most recent work?

Working with our teams at Design and Production Incorporated in Lorton, Virginia, we have just delivered the Richard Gilder Center for Science, Education, and Innovation, an extension to the American Museum of Natural History in New York City. This space spans some 230,000 square feet! The new wing was designed by U.S. architect Jeanne Gang, and features a vast insectarium, a butterfly conservatory, and five floors of storage for some four million scientific specimens – three of which have open exhibits visible to the public through tall windows. There are also laboratories, classrooms, a library, and a theater the size of a hockey rink for a state-of-the-art interactive display about the interconnectedness of all life on Earth. We also set up the Oman Across Ages Museum, which opened in March after almost ten years of construction work.

Chargeurs Museum Studio is renowned for its expertise in the world of immersive experiences. What exactly is an immersive experience?

You have to be careful with immersive experiences. Some are extraordinary; one that comes to mind is the Eternelle Notre-Dame exhibition [held in front of the cathedral and in the La Défense business district, west of Paris], which offers a virtual reality experience that is both emotional and historical. Another example is David Hockney: Bigger & Closer (Not Smaller & Further Away) [in London], which has reinvented the genre with an XXL documentary and an explanation of the artist’s work, enabling the public to connect with him. At Museum Studio, we are working on an offering that combines all five senses, craft, live performance, and technology. We believe that immersive experiences go beyond simply looking at works on display. They immerse visitors in a dynamic world, stimulating their senses, emotions, and imagination, while encouraging active participation and a deeper understanding of the content. The key to a successful immersive experience comes down to the art of storytelling and choosing the right techniques.

The atrium of the Richard Gilder Center, an extension of the American Museum of Natural History in New York City which was laid out by Chargeurs Museum Studio. © Iwan Baan
For the new wing of the American Museum of Natural History in New York City, Chargeurs Museum Studio has developed the Invisible Worlds immersive and interactive experience. © Iwan Baan

How do you combine culture, education, and entertainment?

I recently visited the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington D.C., which we had fitted out. While I was there, a tour guide was leading a group, and I overheard her saying: “Museums are so powerful because they give us the opportunity to see ourselves in the flow of history.” Our specialists develop the storytelling aspect as if it were living matter capable of connecting people to the subject. We call this concept “the culture of emotion.” Each project, each story, is an incredible adventure, a unique journey between knowledge and transmission. To help our audience retain information and embrace each topic, we write exhibitions as if they were movies. We combine pace, surprise, and visual impact to inspire emotion and imprint an indelible memory on visitors’ minds.

As a student, you took part in an exchange program at the San Francisco Art Institute. Today, you manage a company that works a lot with the United States. What is your connection to this country?

It’s funny that you should ask me that question. What I remember the most is realizing that anything is possible. At the time, I decided to make a short film in San Francisco. With a little willpower, I managed to film in the subway, bring a film crew from Los Angeles, and find dozens of volunteer extras, all just by talking to people on the street and in bars! The drive and determination to be whatever you want to be is more than just a dream.

Interview published in the June 2023 issue of France-AmériqueSubscribe to the magazine.