With EU4Business support, Museum of Illusions brings wonder of science to Armenia’s cultural capital
“It must be magic!”
That’s the first thing almost everyone says when they step into the Museum of Illusions in Gyumri, in north-western Armenia. However, the illusions here are based not on the supernatural, but on science!
The founders of this new tourist attraction, an academic and an engineer, had been impressed by similar museums and exhibitions in other countries, so with the aid from the European Union via the EU4Business “Innovative Tourism and Technology Development for Armenia” (ITTD) project, they decided to create one in Armenia.
Grisha Amirkhanyan, a Ph.D. in economics and a teacher of Marketing at the Armenian State University of Economics has always been keen to introduce to Armenia whatever amazing things he sees during his travels. The idea of creating the Museum of illusions was one of them, and the same idea was in the mind of his friend and the museum’s second co-founder – engineer Mesrop Hakobyan.
The two friends often talked about illusion museums when they met, which inspired them to stop travelling abroad to visit them, and finally build one of their own in Armenia.
“The process of creating the museum was very interesting but at the same time very challenging,” Amirkhanyan says.
“At the initial stage, we (Amirkhanyan and Hakobyan) were researching similar museums in different countries, meeting with their founders and trying to design the museum concept that would best fit the Armenian cultural, economic and touristic ecosystem.”
Now they had the concept, the next thing was to find the ideal location for their venture, Amirkhanyan says.
“Choosing the host city for our museum was a very challenging decision,” he says.
“We were vacillating between Yerevan and Gyumri (Armenia’s second largest city). Although our museum has a unique concept, there are a lot of entertainment places in Yerevan, and (the museum) would not add too much touristic attractiveness to the capital of Armenia. In contrast, Gyumri – the cultural capital of Armenia – was short of places for entertainment.”
The museum founders got help in making a final decision on where to site their new venture by the EU4Business “Innovative Tourism and Technology Development for Armenia” (ITTD) project, which is implemented by the German Development Cooperation (GIZ) and co-funded by the EU through its EU4Business Initiative and Germany’s Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ).
“The support via the EU4Business also helped us create the various exhibits of the museum, get important training, and build up a valuable network of contacts in the local business ecosystem in Gyumri,” Amirkhanyan says.
Currently, the museum has about 50 exhibits inspired by physics, mathematics, and psychology – “magical” rooms where one can experiment, test, have fun and learn some surprising new facts. Visitors can also test their knowledge of the current school curriculum.
“The final step for our operation to start was the team building – we got various local professionals to bring the concept into reality,” Amirkhanyan says, adding that they adopted the core principle of remaining socially responsible towards their “host city” Gyumri.
“A very broad spectrum of (local) professionals was involved in this project: designers, scientists, constructors and woodworkers, marketers and financial experts,” he adds.
Between Reality & Illusion
The final product, an “edutainment centre” (where science and entertainment are combined) opened its doors on July 6, 2022 to amaze the public with optical illusions, the wonders of the laws of physics, and quests and puzzles featuring geometric images.
“One of the most important metrics for us is the number of people we attract from other regions of Armenia,” Amirkhanyan says enthusiastically.
“As of now, we’ve had about 800 visitors, and we’re happy to say that about 30 percent of our customers say that they came to Gyumri mainly to visit the Museum of Illusions. Of course, they spend much more time than that in Gyumri and visit other places in the city, but they do say that our museum was the main catalyst for their trip.”
The museum has 4 employees from Gyumri. Amirkhanyan also says they prioritize the local production of the souvenirs that they sell in the museum’s small shop.
“We try to offer the best service and pay a lot of attention to the training and development of our staff,” he says.
The founders plan on updating their exhibits regularly to attract more visitors – and tempt those who have already seen the museum’s wonders to make a return visit. And they hope their “magic” will attract families – grandparents, parents, and students – as you’re never too old to learn something new!
The EU4Business “Innovative Tourism and Technology Development for Armenia” (ITTD) project is ongoing in Armenia. Its overall objective is to ensure there is shared, balanced and inclusive growth in tourism and innovative industries. The project works with innovative tourism ventures in the northern regions of Armenia, providing support to hi-tech and innovative entrepreneurs, organizing international knowledge exchanges for hi-tech researchers, and establishing networks to foster a business culture among students and the general public.
More than 150 ventures have already received support under the ITTD project, which has helped sustain or generate a total of 400 jobs, and provided training for over 1000 individuals.