Photo by Thomas van Ardenne.
The Dutch Museum Congress is the yearly get-together for museum professionals from the Netherlands. It’s a great event to meet each other and make new friends. This year’s theme was innovation and the pay-off: now even better. It’s location was the relatively new (and beautiful) Muziekkwartier in Enschede. These are my notes from two days of talks, presentations and random conversations with other visitors.
The conference opened with the sad news on the cultural cuts in the Netherlands. Because of them, more than ever there’s a need to work together and innovate. I was happy to be sitting next to someone of the Hermitage. Without public money (as far as I know) they built one of the most successful museums in the country. Their way of working is exemplary and gives hope for a future with less public support for museums.
Next Boris Micka showed great museum exposition designs in Spain and elsewhere, such as the Saudi Arabia pavilion in Shanghai (see the movie below). After his presentation, which showed some of the most amazing things I’ve ever seen in the field of technology, the most heard comment was that all these things were great but way too costly (many million Euro installations). However, most of what he showed can be done with limited resources as well, using his message: make it human and life size. Maybe the sad financial news had people more looking at money than opportunities.
A great example of how to do much with little money was the Flipje en Gemeentemuseum Tiel which showed how with conviction, humour and some colour you can turn a dull local museum into a successful national institution. Amazing!
I would also like to mention Paul Spies’ presentation about the Amsterdam Museum. He used the lessons from the book The Barbarians by Alessandro Baricco to show how we might change our museums to make them accessible to more people. I enjoy Paul’s unconventional style. Dare to be different. Innovation is a painful process full of failures and hard lessons, and to be really innovative you have to be willing to step on some toes now and then.
At night there’s the party, this time in museum TwentseWelle. This new museum is wonderfully designed and a great place to drink wine and dance. We just installed the National Vending Machine there and I spent most of the party showing my enthusiastic colleagues the installation. It was well received.
In front of our machine I had a great conversation with Marco de Niet, general director of DEN, the Dutch sector institute for digital heritage. We addressed the difficulties of tech innovation, being that you might be so far ahead that it’s impossible for others to catch up. The National Vending Machine is an example, as it is a physical website, something hardly imaginable for people who still publish PDFs as websites. Our thoughts: make sure you innovate so quickly the technology becomes invisible and the people who come behind are not limited by it anymore, but helped by its opportunities. Then there’s no more need to explain the technology. There’s no need to explain electricity, but everybody knows how to use it. That’s where we should be heading!
Friday started with a speech by Bas Haring, who as an outsider to museums put the finger on the sore spot: museums are obsolete, as they are about not innovating, so why innovate? Fun talk and good to remember we have to work hard to stay relevant to people and society.
Some more museums showed their innovative actions, such as the Glasmuseum, which has done some amazing work. It’s remote, but worth a visit when you’re in the Netherlands and would like to see how you can make glass cool.
The workshops, one of the main points of the conference, I got little of as I hosted one myself on semantic cooperation between museums and their online collections (which I named heritage 3.0 as a true marketeer). I’ll write about that later. From what I’ve heard afterwards especially the Augmented Reality workshop around the Stedelijk ARtours rocked.
The conference ended how it began, with the culture cuts. Siebe Weide, director of the Dutch Museum Association and host of the conference did a call-to-action to all cultural institutions to do something November 20. It made me feel rebellious, because I think we need action now!
Innovation, as said before, is painful. As are the cuts. Both are needed though and as some museums show, not impossible if you work together, dare to change, have passion for what you do and are convinced almost anything is better than accepting the status quo.
I hope many of the visitors of the Museum Congress experienced it as a strong call-to-action, as I did. We’re doing great stuff, but there’s so much more we must do to stay relevant, keep our doors open and claim our so-important position in society once again. Innovation: now even more important!