Skissernas Museum is a museum of artistic process and public art. Ever since its foundation in 1934, it has collected preparatory works, in many different materials, for art intended for public spaces: squares, town halls, schools, courts and other places accessible to the public. The museum is part of Lund University and its vast collection contains works by artists such as Sonia Delaunay, Diego Rivera and Henri Matisse. The sketches provide an insight into the work methods of artists, how ideas are investigated and how a work of art takes shape. Besides showing the significance of sketches and models as creative tools, the collection also reflects the relationship between art and society, and contributes to the understanding of the sometimes contentious processes that underpin the design of public spaces.
In 2019, Skissernas Museum became the Museum of the Year in Sweden for showing “what an innovative and strategic holistic perspective looks like in theory and in practice”. This followed the completion of an extensive transformational project that embraced all aspects of the museum experience, including infrastructure, collection management and organizational structures. The project started in 2012 with a vision of a more visible, accessible and relevant museum – a meeting place for boundary crossing collaborations and conversations. The goal was to lower the threshold for visiting the museum, activate the collection and make a multitude of stories come alive and be meaningful for our time and for wider and younger audiences while still remaining interesting for the museum’s dedicated long-time followers.
Apart from firmly anchoring the vision with the team at the museum, a vital part of the process involved building trust within the local community. This was particularly important since most of the project had to be funded through donations from private individuals and foundations, which is quite unusual in Sweden. Financial sustainability – the capacity to continue running the museum after the completion of the project– was crucial.
The project can be divided into two phases. The first phase, from launching the vision in 2012 to reopening the museum in January 2017, after a one-and-a-half-year closure, can in turn be split into three parts, all of them equally important: extension and reconstruction of the building, collection management, and everything pertaining to visitor experience.
The new spacious lobby makes the museum both more accessible and more visible in the city. It allows the museum to receive a greater number of visitors and it is also used for programs and events. The adjoining restaurant with attractive outdoor seating has been a welcome addition. We also created a new space for public events by covering the interior courtyard. The expansion has transformed the way we work with our audience and was funded entirely by private donations. It was awarded Sweden’s most prestigious architectural prize in 2017.
Professionalization of the collection management was an integral part of the project. We have digitized the collection’s more than 30 000 works, developed the database and archivally rehoused the collection. The project was funded by a major foundation grant. Digitizing the museum’s vast archive and collection of artists’ letters as well as linking the museum’s database to national and international databases is done continuously.
The third part was a complete reinstallation of the collection with a new exhibition design, more adequate lighting and entirely new interpretive materials. The presentation encourages visitors to look at the relationship between art and society in new ways. It also includes many more works by women artists. A large, custom-built visible storage unit, where visitors can pull out screens and drawers, connects to the museum’s origin as an archive and enables the viewing of smaller, light sensitive and fragile works. Social media strategies as well as a new website and graphic profile make the museum more accessible online. Through a reorganization of the visitor services team, all the museum coordinators, who meet and guide visitors, have a degree in art history (many have MA degrees).
The project’s second phase began when the museum reopened in 2017 and involved the development of the temporary exhibition program, the educational programs and other public programs. New formats have enabled us to attract a wider audience than before, not least many young people under 25. Visitor numbers have more than doubled. This was initially a challenge in terms of staffing and required careful rethinking of how to make the most of our limited resources.
The temporary exhibitions relate to the museum’s focus. Take the exhibition Memory Matters as an example: a group of international artists showed how art has the capacity to present alternative perspectives on history and express memories that have been repressed, marginalized or silenced. This relates to contemporary debates on memorials and monuments, which historically have been important categories of public art. The exhibition’s theme provided ample opportunities to collaborate with a wide range of university departments as well as local high schools – a model that we try to consider for every exhibition.
The educational program is linked to both the collection and the temporary exhibitions. Under normal (non-pandemic) circumstances, we offer hundreds of public guided tours every year. Apart from general tours, we develop a wide range of thematic collection tours on topics such as politics and artistic freedom, women artists in history, and public art and discontent. The collaboration with student guides from different university faculties provides a vibrant element. They interpret the collection thematically in their own way and provide fresh perspectives due to their different backgrounds.
The creative workshop offers activities for children, young people and adults. With inspiration from the collection and temporary exhibitions, each participant is given the opportunity to explore their own creative process. The museum also offers school programs for all educational levels. These programs give perspectives on both historical and contemporary topics with themes such as art and power, memory and power, and who gets to be monumentalized in public spaces.
The remainder of Skissernas museum’s programs follow three formats. Brown Bag Lunches is a biweekly series where the museum invites guests from different professional areas – from artists and writers to researchers and entrepreneurs – to talks about creative processes. Visitors are served a packed lunch during these inspiring half-hour conversations.
There is always something happening at the museum on Thursday nights: from panel discussions, artist talks and book releases to workshops, film screenings and concerts. Many of these events strengthen the museum's profile in relation to the focus areas and many of them are arranged through collaborations.
Skissernas Night is organized on Friday nights a few times per year and attracts thousands of visitors. Admission is free and the program is packed and varied: talks with well-known writers, architects, artists, and filmmakers; performances; locally, nationally and internationally known musical acts; creative workshops and conversations about the art. The event activates the entire museum and the welcoming environment brings together an array of people of all different ages. Many first-time visitors find the museum on these nights.
Being able to meet new audiences and making art experiences relevant for everyone are two of the most important challenges for museums today. Museums can engage visitors, awaken curiosity, spread knowledge, ask questions and open doors to new perspectives on art and ourselves and the relationship between art and society. This is what we try to achieve at Skissernas Museum.
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