Royal Museums of Art and History, Cinquantenaire Museum

Karin Theunis

Head Temporary Exhibitions Service

Royal Museums of Art and History, Cinquantenaire Museum

Parc du Cinquantenaire 10 1000 Brussels Belgium

Welcoming New and Other Visitors
Presentation of the Cinquantenaire Museum

The Cinquantenaire Museum, situated in the Brussels Cinquantenaire Park, is the main museum of the Royal Museums of Art and History. The building was constructed in the late 19th century on demand of King Leopold II. Visitors of the museum can learn about art and history of mankind from prehistoric times till today. The collections preserved in de museum cover all artistic disciplines with the exception of painting and all five continents with exception of sub-Saharan Africa. The objects can be divided over four groups: Antiquity, national archaeology, non-European civilizations and European applied art (famous tapestries, lace, ceramics, art nouveau creationshellip;). 350.000 objects are on show or in the storage rooms spread over 80.000 msup2;. Each year temporary exhibitions are organized in order to show more about certain civilizations, periods or subjects.

In search of a new public

Since many years the Cinquantenaire Museum offers the public a vast selection of activities. Next to the traditional guided tours, lectures and workshops new programs are proposed to the visitor to get to know the works of art in a different way. Art should not just provide knowledge, but can offer so much more, it can touch the visitor, awaken its imagination or just let him enjoy its hidden beauty. It was a challenge for the Educational and Cultural Services as well as for the External Communication Service to propose visitors a platform for the expression of their points of view and emotions. This way they can also fascinate other visitors for the wonderful heritage conserved by the museum.

Projects for schools

A question that has to be asked again and again is how to guide schoolchildren through a museum collection in a passionate and contemporary way. Involvement of the pupils, individual or in group is encouraged by tasks that have not only a teaching or learning function, but that try to reach other competences and critical sense and that stimulate the imagination.

  • Discovering the museum by means of a game: "Egypt, the magical world of Osiris", "Strange guys, these Romans!" and "Aristos and his father travel to Athens" (with a city guide and a game board / map of ancient Greece) are such educational programs for schoolchildren. More than before these guided tours require the assistance of the children and by several game elements they stimulate their observation and imagination. The exhibition "Indians in Brussels" created the opportunity to meet the fascinating Sioux civilization. The guided tour "Tomahawk or Totem Pole?" taught children how the image of "Indians" is a clicheacute; and that prejudices have to be put aside to really understand a culture.
  • Pedagogical suitcases make children participate actively in a museum visit. The guides of the Educational and Cultural Services developed for the "Indians in Brussels" exhibition a suitcase filled with "treasures" such as a piece of buffalo skin, porcupine pins and headdress feathers. These objects can be touched and handled and support them during the visit. Also for some permanent collections suitcases exist to help the children to understand the museum and its objects better. -Free imagination: Works of art moving! The guides made a choice out of different collections of the museum of some 15 works and presented these to 90 children of neighbourhood schools. The children had some time to learn to know, talk about these works and to let their imagination work. Some time after they came to the museum to wake up these sleeping works. For doing so they were guided by specialists of "The turtle dreams of wings and wind". Old materials and lots of fun revealed to be the ideal combination to make the works of art move.

Projects for Youth

  • Work in Progress. In 2001 during the Museum Youth Days the concept "become the curator of the future" was started. In 2004 during the Tattoo exhibition it was further developed with "Tatau-au? Tattoo-ooh" and offered young people a forum to give their opinion on different aspects of tattoos. In 2006 followed "Picnic!" The main idea was to give young people (14-18) during their free time a place to do their own thing, to consider them seriously and to give them responsibility to create a project that would be able to touch people of their age as well as other visitors. The Picnic project consisted in restyling the luncheon room of the 14-18 year old into a hip and exciting space, a reflection of the museum and the splendid collections. It worked out; the room became a very special place with photo walls, projections, videos, texts, special placemats in which the young designers could express their ideas of the "Secrets" of the Cinquantenaire Museum. The result stimulates the imagination of 15.000 other pupils and students and convinces them that museums are anything but boring. A next Work in Progress started in 2008 in the Ceramic repertory to reveal dummies the secrets of pottery, faience and porcelain. -Be seduced! Proposed in the summer of 2007 is a passionate walk in the Museums of the Far East.

Projects for Families

  • America from North to South. Children and their parents play an active role in guided tours that focus on objects of the Native Americans of all parts of the United States from Alaska to Brazil.
  • To Egypt with Tom and Charlotte offers a playful walk through the Egyptian collection. Children receive a questionnaire adapted to several ages and while the two little friends show them around they discover mummies and pharaohs.
  • Interactive computer games. In some rooms and temporary exhibitions interactive computer animation is installed. Scientific information and fun are combined to tell the story behind certain objects.
  • A children's tour in the "Under a Chinese Roof" exhibition. At the entrance of the exhibition a little Chinese girl invited the children to follow her through the exhibition and discover her beautiful land. About 15 interesting objects were highlighted and nearby nicely illustrated texts provided information on children''s level. In two special corners children could find games and interactive computer games.
  • To celebrate the Chinese New Year a special event was organized with activities for the whole family: lectures, workshops, dragon dancers, calligraphy demonstration, musichellip;

Projects for Social Fragile Groups

  • The museum is the world. How to attract people that usually don''t enter museums? Or that don't speak one of our national languages? The museum focuses on methods to welcome newcomers, asylum seekers, homeless youths and psychiatric patients and to offer them well prepared and very pedagogical theme visits in the collections.
  • Museum for the blind. To discover the objects blind and partially sighted visitors are allowed to touch a small choice of objects. Every two years theme exhibitions are organized in a special museum room.

A visitor's dialogue with the works of art

Not only museum collaborators have a valuable look upon art. On a few occasions art students in different disciplines have been invited to confront their creations with the museum collections or to find inspiration in creations of the past. These challenges resulted in small exhibitions.

A new website and a poster campaign

Since June 2006 the dynamic slogan "Enlarge your vision upon man and culture" welcomes the visitor of the website of the Royal Museums of Art and History. A new lay-out and a clear structure with modern colours and attractive illustrations provide all the needed information on collections, activities and exhibitions. The same slogan appears on promotional posters with a humoristic touch that show museum characters ingeniously composed out of different periods/departments.

Belgium Museum Award 2007

The museums were very happy to receive for their efforts to attract a new public the Belgium Museum Award 2007. The price will be used to add an English level on the museum website and to organize more poster campaigns to reach as much people as possible.

Text based on documents prepared by the staffs of Bart Suys, head External Communication and of Anna Van Waeg, head Educational and Cultural Service


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