Svalbard Museum

Tora Hultgreen


Svalbard Museum

www.svalbardmuseum.no

The challenges to make exhibitions

...Svalbard is the region between 74deg; to 81deg; north and from 10deg; to 35 deg; east. The archipelagos cover 61 000 square miles. There are few places in the Earth where geology is more visible than Svalbard due to very sparse vegetation. At present the landscape appears as if at the end of the ice age. 60% of the land area is covered with glaciers...

...Svalbard Museum is located in the Norwegian settlement in Longyearbyen. Longyearbyen is situated on Isfiorden. The town has only 2000 inhabitants and many of them are from other nationalities than Norwegians. The largest group after the Norwegians is from Thailand...

...Until 1990 this was a company town. To day it is a family community, with local democracy, with welfare and service on offer far exceed those found in rural areas on the mainland...

...Svalbard is an exotic and unique destination that attracts visitors. Before 1990 travel business where non- existent. But the last 15 years the travel business has grown in size and geographical area. In 2008 nearly 70 000 visited Longyearbyen, and 30.000 visited our museum...

...Compared with other places tourism is small on Svalbard. However, increased tourism can lead to environmental problems. Wear and tear on vegetation, cultural heritage sites, along with noise and pollution are some of the dangers...

...The old museum was in the old cow house. It opened in 1981. The exhibition tried to exhibit both natural science and historical knowledge, but it was two separate stories which were not combined. The Local Democracy in Longyearbyen wanted a new museum, and when the government planned a Science Park together with the University they wanted a totally new exhibition. And they employed me as a project leader in 2003...

...The first we had to do was to organize a group of people with interdisciplinary competence. Scientists working at The University Centre at Svalbard and from the Norwegian Polar Institute came together with historians and archaeologists from The University Museum in Tromsoslash;, the governor on Svalbard and from Svalbard Museum. First the group of cultural and natural scientist and academics made some specific goals for the exhibition. Then a group of designers and producers draw a plan for the exhibition and the two groups met for further discussion until almost every detail where clear...

...When we started to organized the work of making a total new exhibition it was extremely important that the history of Svalbard should be illustrated in the light of the natural condition in Arctic, because we wanted a holistic approach to both natural - and cultural science. One of the arguments for trying to show the connection between culture and nature was an assumption that without nature mankind can not belong to a totality and without our cultural heritage there will be no manifestation of mankind's history in this totality...

...But how should we put this philosophy into a modern exhibition? To understand the condition of life and to understand mans role in the Arctic nature, the different scientific groups have two consider both the natural and cultural aspects of every issue we wanted to exhibit Therefore we made the decision to start with the ocean and to explain why some call Svalbard the tropical islands in Arctic. This is due to the steady supply of mild air masses from the south as well as the North Atlantic Current which brings warm water up to the west coast of Spitsbergen...

...And of course the interaction between the warm Atlantic current and the cold current f rom the Pole is essential to the climate and all organisms' life at Svalbard. The ice- free fjords from May to November at West Spitsbergen was also essential for the discovering of Svalbard in 1596, the whalehunting from 1600 to 1700, the walrus hunt from 1750 to 1850, the hunting for fur from foxes and polar bears from 1850 to 1950, the mining from 1900 and the science and tourism today...

...We thought the exhibition should be built on tree levels of deepening. - Looking, feeling: form and design (unconscious learning) - Seeing, understanding: in context - Explaining, searching: texts and interactive stations (conscious learning) And from these levels of learning we created a total presentation which had 4 levels of design: the illusory landscape room, the monumental showcases, the illustrated book and the room for reflection...

...The illusory landscape room, try to explain, not in words, but with preparations and artefacts designed as a landscape how the ecological chain from zooplankton to the polar bear, from the zooplankton to flowers, are connected. And how mans role by exploiting the natural resources for example the Greenland Right whale have disturbed the balance, but also manifested the European culture on Svalbard. The room is created for the unconscious learning: looking, listening and feeling...

...There is no distance between the visitors and the objects or models, artefacts or animal preparations. Birds to mammals are directed for the visitors so they can nearly touch them and understand them in context...

...Tree of the eight monumental showcases have artefacts from a hard hunting life in harsh conditions. Textiles from the whalers, tools from the Russian and Norwegian hunters can give a good imagination how hard life was for these pioneers on Svalbard. The showcases have a front and a back-stage. From the front you can study every artefact while the backs are covered with great photos from Svalbard...

...The illustrated books follow the walls. The illustrated book have texts written by scientist who describe their knowledge about different themes concerning Svalbard past and present, the history, the flora, the fauna, aurora borealis, geology and the condition of life. It was important that every writer signed their own text, it was important that the texts came from different voices and different knowledge, because history and nature are interpreted from different perspectives. And all drawings and photos illustrate the meaning in the texts. The visitor can study and read it almost chronological or as they choose themes by themselves...

...The room for reflection is a room where the floor is covered with sealskins; here visitors can study the view, listening to poems and songs, and read books and newspaper from a small library...

...Our goals were that the exhibition should be: A place of learning and experience, A place of reflection. A place of connection between pasts and future and mans role in the Arctic. A place where science is accessible to a broader audience and, a place for understanding the interaction between nature and culture...

...We were at a place where glaciers melted, where global warming could be studied and where the consequences for the Arctic were obvious. And still we did not want to make slogans or be moralistic. We just hoped that our exhibition should have an impact on humans behaviour in the Arctic landscape and that they maybe understand that Arctic belong to an entirely interlinked system called the Earth...

Since 26 of April 2006 nearly 100 000 people have visiting the museum. An evaluation need to find out if we reached our goals. In April this year we also made a deal with the Ministry of Agriculture to implement the mission of global seed vault in our exhibition.

Dr. Tora Hultgreen
director
Svalbard Museum
Box 521
9171 Longyearbyen
Svalbard, Norway
tora@svalbardmuseum.no
www.svalbardmuseum.no