The Hans Christian Andersen House opened on June 30th, 2021. Challenging traditional museum concepts, both Andersen and his fairy tales speak for themselves through our groundbreaking forms of mediation.
The Hans Christian Andersen House is a ‘Gesamtkunstwerk’ where architecture, nature, art, music, light, and projections are interwoven, giving life to the famous writer's imaginative, playful, ambiguous, and fantastical world. The museum was realized alongside an ensemble of creatives, including architect Kengo Kuma, media partner ISO, contractors The Hub, author Daniel Handler and Danish composer Louise Alenius.
In the children’s section, “Ville Vau – a wonderworld for children”, children and their adults are transported even further into the world of Andersen and its possibilities via scenography and costumes, vivid storytelling and workshops, and inexhaustible possibilities for one’s own creations.
The museum also has an ambitious learning program called: “The Universe of Learning”. This includes seven different learning tours, 4 Minecraft Education lessons, and a cocreation-concept called “Fairytale classes”.
The Hans Christian Andersen House is part of Museum Odense, a self-governing institution with a board of 7 members.
Hans Christian Andersen was humorous and ambiguous as an artist, and his works were full of beauty, wonder, and re-enchantment. Each character has its perspective, and each object has its story and dreams. Honouring this and carrying on his dialogic relationship with the readers was our primary motivation to deviate from the traditional communication of cultural heritage and launch a worldwide content concept competition (won by Event Communication) followed by an architectural competition (won by Kengo Kuma). Now, we do not only mediate about Andersen but also as Andersen.
Our main exhibition centres around an audio experience that does not only convey the voice of the museum institution in the form of a guide telling the story of Hans Christian Andersen’s life, but it also conveys different voices of curiosities from both Andersen's life and fairy tales, which tell their own story and offer their perspective on the mediated content. Like Andersen, the museum does not wish to help our guests find facts or answers but to help them ask the right questions and appreciate the different perspectives on fairy tales, stories, themselves, and the world.
In Ville Vau, the mediation is more personal and centres around storytelling, improvisational theatre, playing, dialogue, and co-creation.
The main exhibition is divided in two – a biographical part and ‘the fairy tale world’. In the biographical part, the guests walk on a ramp down through the museum, moving thematically through the life of Andersen from his birth in Odense in 1805 to his death in 1875. On their way, they step into rooms with themes of great importance for Andersen as an artist – childhood, journey, love, artistic works and staging – all explained in the polyphonic audio guide and in a scenography that interweaves objects and stories from Andersen’s life with artistic interpretations of the very same. The biographical part ends with the funeral of Hans Christian Andersen, but as Andersen dies, the fairy tales live on. Like the fairy tales, the 12 installations are multi-layered, always trying to create a dialogical forum where meaning and significance are co-created in a symbiosis between the installation and the visitors’ horizons of experience and understanding. They live on in our guests after their visit.
The Universe of Learning
When working with Andersen as our mutual cultural heritage, and thereby for our children to inherit, the definition of his cultural meaning and importance must be a mutual and dynamic activity. Following the concept in the main exhibition, the learning tours are structured as Andersen’s fairy tales, and the activities the students engage in are based on Andersen’s methods.
The museum’s teaching department, “The Universe of Learning”, includes seven different guided experiences- and learning tours for children aged 3 (nursery school) to high school students. In idea development, testing, and marketing our new learning tours, we cooperate with age-relevant children, students, and teachers or nursery teachers.
The content and activities of the tour vary, depending on the theme and age they apply to. While using different activities and methods, they all centre around co-creation, storytelling, playing, mutual wonder, and reflection. Andersen wrote fairy tales for everyone. Therefore, it is the main ambition of the Universe of Learning that every child who experiences a guided tour is met openly and can participate in our activities – and succeed.
In each guided learning tour, the individual communicator first prioritises making the children or students feel safe and aware of the dialogical and equal teaching dynamic that will take place in the tour. They openly present the main thinking of the museum and that together, they are going to work, think, and create as Andersen. “… This means that sometimes, we are going to lose ourselves in the stories – maybe Andersen’s, which I will share with you, maybe your own that you will share with me? And at other times, the activity will be about you, and your thoughts, interpretations, and creations. And don’t worry. I will tell you, when it is time for you to listen and when it is about what you think – so you will never be in doubt.”. Hereafter, the communicators openly engage the students in activities defined by Andersen's methods. This means storytelling, playing, improvisational theatre, philosophical dialogue, and visual arts, depending on the specific tour.
One of the dogmas in the Universe of Learning is that it must only be possible to run the activities in the museum. The activities must be based on impressions from the museum exhibitions, and the Ville Vau scenography must be an important factor in carrying out the tours. We engage the children in Andersen’s fascination with coincidental poetry – that something is meaningful and special because it is here now and soon gone forever. Like the improv theatre or momentary exhibitions the students make during our tours.
The DASA Award
The European Museum Academy annually hands out the DASA award and is “dedicated to the quality of learning opportunities in museums”. We applied for the award at the beginning of 2022 and were visited by judges the following summer. In September 2022, we participated in the annual award meeting, which in 2022 took place in Luxembourg. Among other things, the judges’ report read: ”The Hans Christian Andersen House pays homage to human imagination – a force of inestimable importance for our society. With its impressive architecture and masterful scenography, its universal appeal will be appreciated by lovers of Andersen’s work. The various and multi-faceted educational programmes empower young people to discover the power of creativity, to translate it into an expressive language and thus to become mature and confident human beings. This is a role model from which adults can learn much.
The Hans Christian Andersen House generously unfolds the world of Andersen and invites our guests and students to explore it with us. With a museum concept turned on its head and a second-to-none learning program, we let our guests and students find enchanting new ways to look at Andersen, the world, and themselves.
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