A Treasure in Panama

Pilar Arosemena Aleman ’79 spearheads the creation of the BioMuseum

by Christina Barber-Just

Pilar AlemanCelebrating the diversity of our environment and promoting ways to protect it is the mission of  Panama’s Biodiversity Museum—or BioMuseum. One of the key players who has worked to make it a reality is Pilar Arosemena Aleman ’79. “This has been the dream of my life,” she says.

For the past decade Aleman has been working pro bono in a leadership role for the private foundation behind the major new museum. A Panama mover and shaker, Aleman headed what was once the largest corporate bank in Central America, chaired the Panamanian Stock Exchange, taught finance as a university professor, and, most recently, served as a diplomatic spouse (her husband just wrapped up a stint as Ambassador of Panama to the United States).

Panama, on the isthmus linking North and South America, has a tropical climate and is home to a vast array of plant, animal, and bird species—some completely unique to Panama—making the country the ideal place to demonstrate biodiversity.

The BioMuseum is the first building in Latin America designed by über-architect Frank Gehry. There have already been some high-profile visitors to the $90 million construction site (Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie, Al Gore), and it is projected to attract half a million visitors annually when it opens next year.

Aleman says it’s located in an “absolutely spectacular” spot in Panama City at the Pacific entrance to the Panama Canal, where the colorful roofs of the museum’s pavilions will be visible to passing cruise ships. She expects that international visitors to the BioMuseum will boost Panama’s already booming economy, but she hopes that the museum will have the biggest influence on Panamanians themselves.

“Everyone in Panama wants to be a businessman or a banker,” she says. Aleman feels the BioMuseum has the potential to realign priorities by increasing environmental consciousness and rekindling a love of the sciences. The museum will be a success, she says, when “every citizen of Panama is a custodian of their surroundings and the treasures in their environment.”

Spring 2011 SAQ