The Dutch model boosts confidence
Hungarian museum coordinators and implementers of project “Museum and library development for everyone” explored best practices and volunteering of service oriented museums in the Netherlands in may this year (2019). Several renowned museums were visited during the five-day study tour (Amsterdam Museum, Anna Frank House, EYE Filmmuseum, Rijksmuseum, Van Gogh Museum, Hermitage Amsterdam, Verzetsmuseum, Oude Kerk, Scheepvaartmuseum). Coordinators Emese Joó and Franciska Hajdu were interviewed about their experience.
What did you find the most unusual and instructive about the Dutch museums you visited, and why?
Emese Joó: Dutch museums are not only life-like, but they are really alive. They live in, and together with the permanently changing Dutch society, which supports museums and at the same time takes inspiration from them. One of the visible sign of this was that current issues, and social reality are detectable in every detail of the museum, and interconnections are presented in an effortless and natural, but a duly justified way, by which the interpretation of the past and present becomes easy and enjoyable for visitors.
Photos: Emese Joó
Museum representation of children is rather high there. Priority attention is paid to the museum experience of the youngest, to up-to-date non formal and informal learning. The Dutch version of children’s museum uses indirect methods and teaches about a colourful society, acceptance of diversity, getting to know and understanding one another. Children’s world and their point of view is not only expressed by the theme of exhibitions, or ensuring access, or interpretation especially targeted at them, but also by exhibiting children’s works of art like in the exhibition titled “Hermitage for children”. Accessibility, empowering and their continuous development are first priority. E.g. besides providing ordinary large-scale accessibility, Hermitage also supports talented children by art scholarship. The impact and effectiveness of their work is measured in a way that triggers confidence in visitors, and provides relevant data (see photo: Visitors’ book of children’s exhibition at the Amsterdam Museum)
Other characteristic features are wide-spread volunteering and its democratic operation, professional dialogue, and partnerships.
Photo: Emese Joó
Franciska Hajdu: Let me start with the most instructive issue. Talent management that is carried out in the Hermitage Museum is quite close to what I’ve been trying to implement on a small scale in our museum in Veszprém. Art education almost entirely missing from school curriculum is attempted to be made up for at the museum where children are surrounded by genuine works of art. It was very positive for me to see that with appropriate financial support thousands of children can take part in a talent management programme in Holland. Knowledge and inspiration can be acquired at the museum from a very young age which can not only create the foundation of museum education, art history, artistic taste and visual sensitivity, but it can also develop children’s hobby, drawing, or the pleasure of creation into a profession.
Children at the Rijks Museum
Photo: Gergő Farkas
I pursue similar aims when I use works of art of the collection when I work with children within the Talent programme. I draw confidence from the Dutch model in trying to involve more children in exploring art through museum objects.
What I find unusual about Dutch museums is their elaborate self-image, and their preferred viewpoints. I consider extremely important that a museum should be aware of their aims and how they can achieve them, furthermore, what mission can be achieved with them in the cultural sphere, market or city. In Amsterdam I always had the impression that museums there have well-defined aims, priorities and knowledge to be transferred to the target audience, and they also know how they want to that and why.
Photo: Gergő Farkas
One of the strengths of the study trip was that we, museum coordinators were received by museum professionals at most museums we visited. The Dutch colleagues presented their museums in an outstanding way, which was always confirmed by the exhibitions themselves.
Hermitage, Paul Mosterd
Photo: Gergő Farkas
How can you make use of the experience you gained during the study trip?
Emese Joó: Ways of children interpretation, volunteering and partnerships.
Warning note at the museum
Photo: Gergő Farkas
Franciska Hajdu: Little things of kindness scattered around to make museum space cosier. I mean notes and resting corners, or work boxes where letters can be written if need be. At the Van Gogh Museum as the artist’s works are interpreted to the lay visitor. The pictures are supplemented with notes about representation and painting techniques, and colour theory.
I found it extravagant from time to time, that even the lobby boasts paintings of the exhibition, as if we were walking among the newest collection in a plaza, though seeing the supplementary panels I tended to regard the exhibition an educational place. I would happily include this kind of visitor-friendly educational attitude in the work of my own.
What was the weirdest or most bizarre museum service or product you came across there?
Emese Joó: We were received by a robot in the lobby at the NEMO Science and Technology Centre and it communicated with us. Being modern, or up-to-date are not the most appropriate words to describe it, but rather innovation, or that being one step forward, thus in addition to showing the past and present the museum can give a glimpse of the future too. Oddly enough, in the museum shop of the same museum they could not give me an invoice for my museum’s name.
Photos: Gergő Farkas
Franciska Hajdu: Though museum souvenirs are my particular favourites, the oversupply of them which characterises Western European museums is a bit too much for me. Practically, the entire scope of everyday life is covered except for sanitary products. In my opinion, museum merchandise has been a bit overdone lately. Instead of offering unique, exclusive products, mass produced items of questionable quality, with no artistic value are marketed. Unfortunately, I have seen this phenomenon at other places of the world, but not as striking as here.
What experience did you gain regarding volunteering during the trip?
Emese Joó: In addition to a handful professional staff, the museums are run by volunteers, who are treated as equal partners, real colleagues and members of a community.
What did you learn about the organisation of the work, and HR issues at the museum you visited?
Emese Joó: As far as I know the preparatory work of Tropenmuseum Junior’s project based exhibitions they try to accommodate to the theme to be presented. The representatives of the culture to be presented in the exhibition are involved who as a community practically contribute to the material of the exhibition, and they also participate in the authentic interpretation of the exhibition, which creates a real dialogue between the exhibition and the visitors.
Franciska Hajdu: The staff of the departments are quite large, so people can specialise and engage in jobs which belong to their special field, what they can really do, and have an affinity to, their energy is not dispersed but 100% invested into on given task.
Two staff of the work group coordinating the nationwide network of museum coordinators were also asked about the coordinators’ general impressions concerning Amsterdam museums.
Róbert Bolyácz: The coordinators pointed out the high professional level, professionalism, strong marketing and sales. Björn Stenvers, founder of the Association of Amsterdam Museums and former leader, director of ICOM Endowment Fund mentioned that the association includes leaders of economic life, therefore they are absolutely aware of the financial aspect of museums.
Andrea Fülöp: If a professional is especially good at a certain field e.g. keeping in touch with schools, or digitalisation, then their activities will be extended to several other museums not only the one they work for.
In other words, do they specialise?
Andrea Fülöp: Yes, and the museums work in partnerships. If one thing is tried and tested, and it works in one museum, then they pass it over to other member museums.
Does that mean that networking works really well there?
Róbert Bolyácz: This umbrella organisation is a quite complicated one, and Björn Stenvers also mentioned that it can only work well, if museum leaders put aside their egos and help in whatever they are best at.
Andrea Fülöp: It was apparent that museums are quite conscious of their own market values, e.g. how many tourists they can attract. Therefore, they can confidently present their result to the city council and ask to be involved in the decisions concerning them. If the city council left them out from decision making, museums would go ahead and do their own business. Therefore, they can achieve a more equal partnership.
Photo: Gergő Farkas
Róbert Bolyácz: After having gained experience in Amsterdam museums, we discussed with the coordinators whether a similar system could be attained in Hungary. In the end we agreed that a new legal and financial background would be essential, as well as the lobby power of the local government, as without these the coordinators do not consider the system attainable.
Earlier interviews – in connection with the study tour – with acting director Magdolna Nagy, Museum Education and Methodology Centre, Hungarian Open Air Museum, and Márton Pacsika responsible for methodology development of the project, as well as the professional content of the study tour can be read here.
The study tour in the Netherlands was carried out within the European Union project entitled “Museum and library development for everyone” identification number 3.3.3-VEKOP-16-2016-00001. The project is implemented by EU fund of two billion HUF between 1 February 2017 and 31 January 2020, with the consortium cooperation of the Museum Education and Methodology Centre, Hungarian Open Air Museum, and Szabó Ervin Metropolitan Library. The implementers of the project are committed to strengthening the role of equal opportunities, the inclusion of disadvantaged groups and creating possibility for providing equal access to cultural goods.