The Fries Museum (pronounced [fri:s]) was founded in 1881 to collect, research, preserve and present the rich cultural heritage of Friesland, a remarkable province of the Netherlands. Its heritage comes from several rich cultural periods, from the almost mythical early Middle Ages with king Redbâd (died 719),a later medieval uprising under the hero ‘Grutte Pier’ against Holland in the west, the Dutch Golden Age of the seventeenth century, famous Frisians like the alleged World War I spy Mata Hari to a strong cultural identity in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. The cultural identity of the region is intrinsically connected to the resurgence of the (West) Frisian language as an official minority language since 1950.
The museum is located in Leeuwarden, capital of Friesland and in 2018 Cultural Capital of Europe. The last couple of years, the Fries Museum has been transforming itself into a prominent regional museum of international quality, networks and publics. An important step was the relocation of the museum to a new building. Originally located in an eighteenth-century city dwelling and its surrounding houses, in 2013 the museum moved to a new 9000 m2 building on the Wilhelmina Square, in the heart of Leeuwarden’s city centre. The bold open-plan design has a gigantic protruding roof elevated 25 meters above the ground and an imposing glass façade adorning the front. The design brings the city into the museum on the ground floor and connects the museum to the city, with the façade as a gigantic metropolitan display case and with the roof extending into the city. The building also houses an arthouse cinema and a café that enhances the atmosphere of the museum by day and of the film house at night. The collection of 180,000 objects, the largest regional collection in the Netherlands, moved to a new, trendsetting sustainable depot on the city’s outskirts, shared by the Fries Museum with four other Frisian museums and archives.
With its valuable and diverse collections as a starting point, the Fries Museum continuously connects its heritage to today’s world and future possibilities. Regional possibilities are used in “glocal” solutions: working with local communities and resources on global challenges. Thus, the museum is not a passive registrar of cultural products, but an active – sometimes even activist – catalyst in society. A colourful example is the active role the museum played in creating new knitware works by teaching 2,500 school children the wonderfully tangible art of knitting by means of intergenerational exchange. The results formed three radiant chandeliers in the museum’s façade during the exhibition Knitting!. The upcoming exhibition Rich by Rubbish, developed in collaboration with the science museum Boerhaave in Leiden, will connect the eighteenth century Frisian entrepreneur Watse Gerritsma to today’s development of a circular economy and of smart landscapes. Both developments are at home in Friesland and are building blocks of solutions for polluted cities worldwide. At the same time, the museum more than doubled its visitor numbers and was awarded the national Museum Award in 2015.
With a similar connecting attitude, the Fries Museum develops well thought-out and visually engaging exhibitions. Three major exhibitions will form the core of the Cultural Capital of Europe programme. On 1 October 2016 the exhibition Alma-Tadema - Classical Seduction will introduce the international public to Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema, the late nineteenth-century painter of antiquity, born in Friesland. His works were the main source of inspiration for all films on Roman times, from early Cinecitta films to major Hollywood productions such as Ben Hur and Gladiator. For the innovative combination of paintings and film, bringing together extremely valuable works of art from all over the world, the exhibition concept was awarded the bi-annual Turing Prize. The exhibition will also resourcefully use the museum’s in-house cinema facilities. In 2017 and 2018, two other exhibitions will focus on two other famous Friesland personalities: Mata Hari and M.C. Escher, the latter born in Leeuwarden in 1898. Typical for the Fries Museum is the personal approach of each exhibition, be that in the storyline’s focus on the protagonist, in all the design aspects of the exhibition or in visitor participation. Smaller simultaneous exhibitions present inspiring artists and collection highlights from Friesland, but also international trends connected to the landscape and community of Friesland.
At the same time, the Fries Museum is trendsetting in ‘behind the scenes’ activities such as collection and information management, that are prerequisites for the museum’s programme. Enhancing concepts of depot and storage design from Switzerland and Denmark by adding extensive collaboration, it created the first self-sufficient depot that is in use by four museums and one archive simultaneously. Together with 33 other museums, and invoking public knowledge and volunteers from Friesland, it will start assessing the significance of the combined Friesland collection and publishing the results digitally. The outcome of this programme will be: broad public support for preserving shared cultural heritage; a wider knowledge and hence use of the collection; possible transfers between museums where desirable; and extra depot space through the de-acquisition of objects with too little significance. The information policy of the Fries Museum is a leading example of the Netherlands’ national digital heritage strategy in three layers: management of data collections, facilities for connecting the data, and applications for presentation and use. The first virtual exhibition on the square in front of the museum, connecting the collection in augmented reality to the city community, is in preparation. In short, the Fries Museum is ready for the future.
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