Museum of the Mind

Hans Looijen

Director, Museum of the Mind

Museum of the Mind

Schotersingel 2, 2021 GE Haarlem, the Netherlands

European Museum of The Year 2022






‘The Museum of the Mind is a uniquely humane, interactive, empowering, activist museum based on a ground-breaking project that develops the museum concept as school of life with a very open mind, and does so within a building that carries a heavy past with multiple layers of memory of illness but also of great resilience.’

Our focus is on the most colourful work of art there is – the human mind. Our art and cultural programs put mental well-being on the agenda for everyone, including those living under the illusion they are normal. Many of the problems from the past are still with us today, such as exclusion, shame, stigmas, silence, and self-stigmatization. The Museum of the Mind positions itself on the intersection of culture, the arts and medical care, taking an active stand for better quality of life in an inclusive society.

The Museum of the Mind had to be a museum about you. Not so much a museum of OH! and AH! as a museum of HUH? and WOW!


Three pillars of content

The recent redevelopment of the Museum started with the verdict that a renovation was inevitable. Parts of the original construction of the 700-year-old building were in such a bad state that It was obliged to have sections of the beams temporarily supported by scaffolding. Always creative, we decided to give them a makeover in wood while pressing the owner, the city, to unlock the necessary funds. To contribute our fair share, we set up a major donor campaign. We were able to secure essential support from mental health and learning disabilities institutions nationwide as well – essential, or there would have been no reason for us to renovate the entire Museum. They all signed on, and it was a go.

In planning the redevelopment, three content ‘pillars’ were established: care for the mind, general thinking about the concept of the mind (in science and popular belief), and the mind’s capacity for imagination (indeed, the arts) through time and culture.

In addition, we decided to structure the Museum in the same manner most people receive care: a journey that begins with ‘I’, the individual, then includes ‘You’, someone’s environment, and extends to the outside world (in the form of professional caregivers), which brings us full-circle to ‘Us’.

Each room is centred around a question, from ‘What is my mind?’ to ‘Am I my mind?’ and ‘Who do you hold dear?’, ‘Who do you see when you look at someone else?’, ‘Who cares for your mind?’, ‘Can you be yourself?’ and finally, ’Will you join in?’. That all-important last question is represented by an installation around the Universal Declaration of the Open Mind, conceived by all parties involved.

The concept would mean very specific requirements for the architect and the builders. Interdisciplinary teams of staff members brainstormed and produced essays on subjects like the mind, diversity, art, visitors’ journeys and other relevant matters. Then, we invited the original design team from the first museum exhibits in 2005. They were challenged to develop a fresh design that would amaze the world again. We decided on content, they proposed a form, and together, we created an actionable flow of ideas.


THE CREATURE Alexandra Broeder©Kamerich Budwilowitz



With so many moving parts come many significant risks. And yet, my belief that the building could be used as a leverage tool for the content and that the content would work to unlock funds paid off. We had to compromise on some of our plans when the city ran out of funds (after raising them twice). The logistic facilities for the collection were cancelled, much to our frustration. Regardless, we are holding the city to its pledge to build a new collection centre in Haarlem, which will provide the required accommodation.


We practice what we preach.

Generally speaking, cultural programs encourage reflection, empower and emancipate people, and create better lives. This is our vision for the Museum of the Mind: we intend to change society. Our museum is a true testament to this purpose: our constant dedication to bring about meaningful change in how mental health is perceived. As we all know, mental health is a critical issue that affects millions of people worldwide and often causes stigmatisation. We are committed to changing the narrative, one personal story at a time.

Our Museum is the starting point from which social change is engineered. Our program promotes inclusion, acceptance, and social connectivity and, at the same time, combats loneliness. It supports and enhances an open mind. For people with lived experiences in psychiatric care and those close to them, we offer a perspective towards recovery. Its innovative approach to exploring the nature of the human mind makes our museum one of a kind. So does our commitment to creating a people-centred institution. Our staff and volunteers are feeling the wind beneath their wings and are happy to take our partners, the public and the program to the next level, which includes integrated job experience projects. Diversity is and always will remain our greatest asset.

We accomplish our mission by telling impactful stories from the viewpoint of the person it concerns. We will never speak for someone else, pull anyone out of the closet, or stand between you and your story. It’s not up to us. We give the floor to voices unheard and people unrepresented and overlooked for far too long, even within the museum world and the cultural field.

This led to the opening of a second location in 2016 by Queen Máxima of the Netherlands. An integral part of our program, this location exhibits only art. Art from everywhere, art which - like its creators - has been left out for too long. Here, it claims a well-deserved place on the main stage, in the spotlights. The Museum of the Mind's dedication to outsider art exemplifies the power of art and culture to reach out and bridge the differences between us.

The discussion about mental health needs to be opened up. Our programs take an interactive approach, leaving visitors with an open mind and genuine curiosity by doing so- in real-time, online, in the classroom, and at work. Education is at the core of the museum experience. Children, adolescents and adults ask questions that matter to them personally to strike up a conversation about mental well-being. Throughout your visit, you can compile your personal ‘manual of the mind’.


Resonance Room van Nick Verstand - Foto Jip Mus


Visibility matters

Our journey has not always been smooth. We faced numerous challenges once we decided to take on the entire renovation of the building while refreshing the concept from the ‘Museum of Psychiatry’ to the ‘Museum of the Mind’. I do not regret any of our choices because the final result truly delivers. Was there maybe too much going on at the same time along the way? I admit that, yes, there was, at times. Then again, what could we have done differently that would have improved the outcome? A detail here and there, a tiny one, perhaps.

When I first read the EMYA 2022 jury report, it felt like a (positive) shock: Yes, this is the museum we envisioned! I am deeply proud to have it amongst the best museums in Europe.

It was tough, and it was intense, and it was nerve-racking at times. But it paid off when we won the EMYA 2022! It is an honour to be recognised, and it feels like a tribute to our work despite our limited resources. Just the boost we needed to keep us going, working day by day to change how the world thinks about and approaches mental health.

Thank you for helping us highlight this crucial topic.


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