House of Alijn (Belgium)

Sylvie Dhaene

director

The House of Alijn

Kraanlei 65, 9000 Gent, Belgium

www.huisvanalijn.be

A dreamhouse with many rooms

The third life of the museum started in the year 2000 under the new name ls"Het Huis van Alijn' (The House of Alijn). In the years before,  the ls"Museum of Folklore' was a dormant, run-down museum. This change of name is symbolical of a new policy and a new placement, but it also indicates directly the embedding of the museum in the genesis of the site. The House of Alijn is situated in the "Kinderen Alijnshospitaal" (Children Alijn Hospital) which dates back to the 14th century (1363). In the new view on popular culture, a lot of attention is given to the social role of the museum within a society where different cultures live with each other and side by side. The House of Alijn wants to be a place with an openness on the world and a creative and quality-saving attitude in its treatment of the patrimonial estate. The new management aims at the revival of this beautiful site. As a museum, the House of Alijn wants to act as a contemporary communication platform in the sphere of the folkloristic cultural heritage, which distinguishes itself from other museums on folklore and local history in Flanders because of its own emphases. Simultaneously with the change of name, the museum building was refurnished and renovated and the collection was reorganized. This renovation is accomplished in 2003. The focus is on the revaluation of the acquired collection, more in particular on finding a way to deal with a folkloristic collection which was built up in the past out of another vision and another social context and doing that on the basis of a contemporary outlook. Since the origin of the Folklore Museum in 1932, all sorts of objects referring to everyday life, to the Flemish urban popular culture in the years 1880-1950, were brought into the collection. By means of a thematic division of the collection - life cycle, popular religion, leisure and recreation, handicraft and trade - an image is given of love, pain, faith, passion, inventiveness, creativity and relaxation. A timeless story about people and the way they give shape to their lives. By means of an aesthetic and bold design other popular cultures and subjects from the broad popular-cultural field are shown in temporary exhibitions, where the necessary attention is given to social trends and where the basic principle is a multidisciplinary idea. That way, the visitor can find the link between the recent past and the present, between the own and other popular cultures. Furthermore, the museum wants to show young people that popular culture does not have to be boring, quite on the contrary: it can be very fascinating and refreshing. The museological and extra-museological activities which are developed inside and outside the walls of the museum building, aim at a local as well as an international public. The integration in the urban tissue and in city-life is an item on the agenda. The House of Alijn tries to maintain contact with what happens outside its doors and takes up actively the challenges of its time. Because the House of Alijn wants to be an open meetingplace, the citizens are as much as possible implicated in the projects and exhibitions. The invasion of gnomes in the city which preceded the exhibition ls"Men with Beards' (about garden gnomes - 2001), involved the inhabitants of Ghent in the exhibition project. More than 10.000 white gnomes were spread all over the city; people could take them at home, paint them and bring them back to the exhibition. We try to show that popular culture is very extensive and that subjects taken from the culture of everyday life are worth showing in a museum. In the end, the museum is about man, his living environment, his habits and rituals and the objects he uses for that purpose. Certain exhibitions are woven into the permanent museum collection. In the margin of the exhibitions, we always work out activities for children and for adults, ranging from philosophical sessions with children, workshops, theatre performances to afternoons of storytelling, films and concerts. Moreover we set up an annual series of lectures, ls"The Unbounding', during which speakers from various scientific disciplines reflect upon certain aspects of popular culture, starting from their field of study. Breaking with the image of a rigid, mouldy institute and developing a complementary position in comparison with the other actors in the cultural field with regard to collection building, scientific research and general-interest action are important objectives.