March 23rd Erik Schilp, CEO of the Dutch Museum of National History (the institution I work for) gave a compelling speech on the Canon of Dutch history and the museum of the 21st century. He gave his speech “The Dutch Canon as guiding principle for the new National Museum of History of the Netherlands?” at the Euroclio Conference in Nijmegen. And, fortunately for non-Dutch speaking readers of this blog, his speech was in English. You can read the full text of his speech as a PDF.
I full-heartedly agree with Erik’s thoughts and ideas about the role of museums in society and the changes they have to make to meet the new demands of visitors. Some excerpts:
On new media and technology:
(…) the influence of new media and technology has changed the concepts of museums even more rapidly and radically. With the whole world at their feet, at least digitally, people are making other demands on public institutions. They are better informed of the possibilities, are more emancipated and demanding and, on the whole, are also more inquisitive and have a greater appetite for information. The focus of attention is no longer the collection, but the visitor. It is not the collection that is important, but the story behind it. The collection serves as an illustration of the story to be told, and sometimes of what a visitor may wish to convey to other visitors.
On target groups and reaching the audience:
For many years, thinking in terms of target groups for museums has been a booming business for consultants and marketers. However, it is not a good idea to let your range be limited by a lack of creativity and conceptual boundaries. The Museum of National History’s target group is the entire Dutch population plus a large number of visitors from abroad. We can only reach that target group by operating on every conceivable level, in which no means of communication should remain unused. We need not lure everybody into the museum, but rather attempt to reach people in the places where they feel most comfortable for picking up our message. This requires a strong brand name and a good, attractive story – a story that must also be nourished by the people themselves, as it makes them realize that history belongs to all of us and that even the greatest historical events are experienced on an individual level. History is all around us, and the same should go for the Museum of National History. The Museum of National History is a brand name that stands for high quality and a low threshold.
Thanks to San Diego Shooter on Flickr for the photo.