Nederlands Openluchtmuseum

Dr. Jan Vaessen


Nederlands Openluchtmuseum

Schelmseweg 89 6816 SJ Arnhem Netherlands

Five steps towards an inclusive museology

Five ways to reshape a traditional museum
Entry European Museum of the Year Award 2005

The Netherlands Open Air Museum in Arnhem was founded in 1912. Strongly inspired by the preceding foundation of similar museums in Scandinavia, the Netherlands Open Air Museum was both traditional and modern. Traditional in its focus on folklore and rural life - and modern (at the time!) in its modes of presentation.

During the post-war period - for obvious reasons - ls"folklore' was not very strongly supported by government. Therefore successive directors of the museum fi rst of all wanted to develop the Netherlands Open Air Museum into a ls"normal' museum, with ls"normal' programs for collecting, interpretation and presentation - all of them fi rmly based on solid scholarly work. This strategy has been successful: the museum became an important cultural institution in The Netherlands, with an outstanding international reputation as well.

From the early 1990's on, the present staff has been engaged in an intense process of fundamentally changing the museum. Virtually all aspects of our work had to be reinvented: organizational structures (both internally and externally), marketing, collections management, interpretation, presentation, education etc.

The major step was to redefi ne the museums institutional identity: we decided we wanted to be a national museum of Dutch ethnology, a museum focusing on the culture of daily life, both historically and contemporary. (Of course we were strongly inspired by the fascinating development of ethnology itself.)

But: we do belief that a good museum not only needs a fi rm scholarly basis, but a self-conscious museology as well. An open-air museum is not a ls"normal' museum - it needs a museology of its own. This museology should be ls"inclusive'. In recent years we took many steps to become an ls"inclusive' museum.

1. Including: technology / popular culture - HollandRama (2000)
HollandRama - winner of a THEA Award 2001 for innovative themed visitor-attractions - is inspired by 19-th century panoramas all over Europe: the fi rst popular-history attractions for a mass audience.
All available techniques are used to offer our visitors a voyage to their own memories: staging, lightning, sound, smells and hydraulics to literally ls"lift' our visitors and smoothly move them along a series of panoramas.
(Investment: ca euro; 2.000.000, apart from the building)

2. Including: ls"social struggle' - Theatre-presentation in Beerta-farm (2003)
Beerta, a very wealthy farm from the Province of Groningen, was already interpreted 1929. Now we no longer only present the house and living of the farmer, but pay attention to an important episode in Dutch social history: the dramatic strike of the farm workers (almost during the whole of 1929) who tried to stop agricultural mechanization. This is done in a ls"one-actor-play' - supported by multi-media - which was developed in close cooperation with a professional theatre-company.
(Investment: ca euro; 1.400.000; rebuilding - and reinterpretation)

3. Including: ls"other-peoples' history - Moluccan Camp Barrack (2003)
In 1951 Moluccans - former soldiers in our colonial army - were forced to ls"evacuate' with their families to the Netherlands. They were mostly housed in ls"camps' spread all over the country. The project, in very close cooperation with the Moluccan Historical Museum - and with the Moluccan community at large - wants to make the history of the Moluccans in the Netherlands part of our collective history.
(Investment: ca euro; 1.000.000, including running costs for 5 years)

4. Including: contemporary history - Hoogmade Farm (2004)
The museum has a large collection of farms; it can present an almost complete typology from all different regions and different periods of time. Hoogmade farm, a former national monument, partly dates from the early 17-th century. The farm will not be interpreted as a working farm, but as a luxury dwelling for urban professionals anno 2000. The presentation will make extensive use of ls"sound-scapes'. (Presenting also more recent history was successful in other recent projects as well.)
(Investment: euro;. 3.000.000, including next 10 years of running costs)

5. Including: private collectors - Spaarstation Dingenliefde (2004)

Spaarstation means ls"collecting station' and Dingenliefde literally means ls"love of things'. This (new) Dutch word was recently used - as a book title - by poet and novelist Maarten Asscher.
This new innovative project, totally sponsored by VSB Fonds, shows the variety of ls"ordinary' things collected by the museum, how we keep them and what stories we take out of them. The larger part of the complex gives the fl oor to eight private collectors; every season we will change three. We portray them - amidst their collections - and show their passion.
(Investment: euro; 4.000.000, including next 10 years of running costs)

To Conclude:
In all our new projects - and in our work as a whole - we not simply want to show the buildings and objects that we like so much ourselves. We really want to communicate with our visitors, we want them to share their memories and experiences with each other - and with us.
To be able to do so we learned - step by step - to keep those visitors in the centre of our focus. We learned that the fi rst ls"thing' to be included is indeed the visitor; it is not enough to make attractive presentations; real communication only occurs when the visitor can actively take part - and, by the way, simply talking to staff remains of vital importance here.
And we learned one more important lesson. We found out that the museum cannot know, or even tell, all relevant stories by it self. We have to work as closely as possible with others: other disciplines, other institutions, our visitors and - in the first place - with the ones who really know from experience the objects that we collect.
Furthermore we learned (again) that schools - and children - are of crucial importance for us. Not only because they are our future, but also because we can learn a lot more by teaching them.
Our main lesson though has been that it really is possible to reshape a traditional museum. That it is possible to combine a scholarly orientation on traditional culture with an innovative museological mind. It makes a lot of fun to do so, not only for ourselves, but for our visitors as well.


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