#Freiburgsammlung: You make the city, you remember the city, you are the city
Der Gastbeitrag von Danielle Kuijten ist ein programmatischer Beitrag zur der Frage, inwiefern sich Stadtmuseen aktuell verändern, welche Rolle sie für die Stadtgesellschaft spielen können und inwiefern der internationale Diskurs über Museumssammlungen und deren Zukunft geführt wird.
“What I liked about the project, why I got involved, is that it isn’t curators telling us what is right. We’re doing this, we’re making it, and that’s very special.” ( participant Glasgow Curious project)
Museums can help us shape understanding the past and present, not only talking about history but also connecting it to today. The traditional role of museums has been to collect objects and materials of cultural, religious and historical importance, preserve them, research into them and present them to the public. In the past 15 years our societies have been rapidly changing. These changes are most evident in urban areas. The changes forced museums to rethink their position within society – which role should they fulfill. In this dynamics you also see an increasingly awareness that museums are no neutral spaces.
The growing recognition that contemporary society can no longer be based on notions of homogenous cultural identity but rather on multiple and diverse identifications, demands that cultural institutions have to learn to adapt. How can museums’ collections and programs provide sources of identification and enable feelings of belonging, while reflecting the surroundings? How do they function as important points for engagement for both local and transnational identity and belonging? This connects with questions of; Whose museum is it? Who decides what to collect, what is collective memory, collective heritage? Who decides what heritage is? Who decides which narratives are told? Who is in who is not?
How can a city museum be contemporary and really become part of the city and people? It is because of these new insights that museums and in particular city museums started with outreach projects in a search to reposition. This act of reaching out is the so called participatory turn. Often it concerns inviting visitors or citizens to contribute and make small decisions in a certain way to either an exhibition or the collection. This new way of working has been challenging for the museum professionals not only to find best ways how to do this but also to be self critically redifine questions of authority.
In the museological field you have people like Christina Kreps and Laurajane Smith who have a very outspoken view on how collecting was formed in the past and how history was told by museums. For them you could say that these changes finally do justice to the musealisation process, which means that the process of signification and selection of museumobjects is liberated from a dominant and excluding methodology that used to be practised. Words such as inclusive and participatory have since then become common good within the museum field. Genuine participation goes beyond asking people to “take part”. It is about the sharing of authority, decision-making and power and letting go of the boundaries between the professional and the public.
To develop inclusive, democratic or co-creative practices requires rethinking ideas of expertise, access to and governance of knowledge as well as experimenting other work models to involve communities. These concepts challenge access, representation and authority in and of the museum. If the institute is there to represent society how can we make sure that people feel they own heritage and they can also co-decide what is told.
The ideas of opening up the museum paved the way for new ideas how the museum could work. The so-called participative paradigm was born. Participation might now be the “in' thing in the heritage sector, in other sectors of the social and administrative domain this way of working has been a long proven method. In the context of the democratization of society there are examples in health information and environmental education programs, local urban landscape projects, and forms of government communication with the aim of bridging the distance between local government and citizens.
Participation in the museum can mean many things. It is an umbrella term used for both aims and practices. Nina Simon, the Executive Director of the Santa Cruz Museum of Art & History, published in 2010 a book called The Participaroy museum. Here she worked out 4 typologies to characterize the different approaches to participation. Each typology has a different balance in who has the authority: contributory, collaborative, co-creation and hosted.
The first conference ICOM committee of collecting, COMCOL, held in Berlin 2 November 2011 was dedicated to Participative strategies in collecting the present. The case studies showed that apart from adding institutional knowledge, participatory projects provide participants with a more comprehensive exposure to scientific and museological methodology. Participants acquire a better understanding of he specificity of museum work, which fosters people’s sense of ownership in a museum and the feeling that they have a durable stake in its activities. For participants it can also mean other things – the opportunity to let their voices be heard. To create feeling of belonging. To create or reaffirm a sense of identity. Therefore an inclusive representation of for instance religion, sexe/gender, history and landscape is very important.
These changes were the instigator for participatory projects in a variety of museums. Here some examples of projects at museums that were revisiting their collections and narratives together with their citizens.
2014 – Mechelen, Belgium - A democratic and co-creative experiment
The city museums, the heritagecel Mechelen and the city of Mechelen started in December 2014 an experimental, participatory exhibition 'Your tower is not finished'. Here they tried to anwer questions like: What does it mean to be a city museum? How should we deal with an urban tissue that dynamic and is extremely diverse? Is it possible to have both a high (tourist) public reach and an in-depth, local operation? The museum used the time they went under construction to rethink their identity. This project was one big exercise in how participation can work.
They allocated 4 main theme's Craftmanship, Religion, Diversity and History. Around these themes they filled the space with some of the objects that were in their collection but left the rest of the space empty for people to fill in. Local societies ( vereins) organised workshops, presentations, demonstrations - to revive old traditions and crafts - outcomes were added. Visitors could add their most important events on the history timeline. There were shortlists with phenomena on which people could vote which they thought was most important to be included in the narrative.
The input and collected material that came out of the participatory projects are the departure point for the new museum: Museum Hof van Busleyden that will open 2018. In their words the museum will be more than a gathering place for (cultural) historical objects; it's a beacon for research and experiment, a hotspot for classical and contemporary heritage from which you can follow the trail of Burgundian culture until today. It will be a combination of a museum (research, collection, management, access) and heritage work (heritage policy, networking, support, knowledge and expertise building and sharing, volunteering). Finally it will be a meeting point for Citizens and tourists.
2010 - Rotterdam Museum – getting into the city
The Rotterdam museum started in 2010 with participatory projects like City as Muse, with the aim of gaining experience with new forms of heritage projects and contemporary collecting in the city. This change in working coincided with a period the museum had to overcome their status as being homeless.
The projects were inspired by the concept that a city is more than streets and buildings. Museum Rotterdam therefore looked for residents who want to tell about their lifes in Rotterdam. The collected stories and objects as a representtaive of contemporary urban life of the city. To facilitate this new way of working they appointed an outreach officer called urban curator. The museum thus became part of urban networks, participates in local life and collects contemporary heritage with the residents.
The museum started participatory research at neighborhood level, matching suitable themes from the neighborhood and involving individual residents. Intermediate events and presentations showed the results from their own story of Rotterdam to share. The collected personal stories are now part of the contemporary history exhibition in the new building that opened in 2016. This did not mean the end of inclusive collecting. The Rotterdam Museum remains collecting everyday life with the people from Rotterdam in a variety of projects. The latest collection project being Real Ritterdam Heritage. Here they will record objects, people and developments that play a role in the contemporary city in their collection database. These “objects” will not be kept in their depot, but remain as a “user object” in the city with the original owners. Instead Museum Rotterdam logs this collection in the database. This allows individuals, developments and organizations (more intangible matters) to be 'collected' as well.
2011-2013 - Glasgow Museums – revisiting collections
The Glasgow Museums have a long history in participaytory projects. Curious was an ambitious and far-reaching project delivered by Glasgow Museums to create intercultural dialogue and a legacy of increased understanding of other people, the city of Glasgow and its collections.
The community-led Curious Exhibition (August 2011 - January 2013) was the central and most visible aspect of the project. About 100 people selected and interpreted objects from the St Mungo Museum’s collection for display. More than 1,600 people also participated in developing the exhibition and related events. Collections were central to the project, as were the participants, and the museum had to make a commitment to being a partner in dialogue with external groups and individuals rather than the voice of authority.
The result was an eclectic selection of objects and interpretations, and a diversity of voices and perspectives. By focusing on intercultural dialogue around objects, the museum aimed to achieve a satisfying experience for participants and an accessible and engaging one for visitors.
To make the stories and collections of the city Museum Freiburg more complete Freiburg citizens are invited to help. It's about collecting, remembering and telling Freiburg. How do Freiburg citizens collect their city's history? Which stories tell Freiburg collections? Which Freiburg events and stories from the 20th and 21st Century should be collected for the museum as part of our city history? And what memories do we want to preserve for the future?
In the exhibition "#freiburgsammlung - Memories for Tomorrow", everything revolves around collecting and related memories and stories about Freiburg's city history. The exhibition was created in cooperation with Freiburg citizens and associations who collect themselves. Over the years or decades, they have compiled extensive collections and thus show their view of the city. Postcards from the East of Freiburg, cameras produced in the region, fan articles from the SC Freiburg or lost things: The collections provide insights into Freiburg's corporate and sports history as well as into very personal Freiburg family stories.
Even those who have not participated in advance with their own collection, can be active in the exhibition: visitors have the opportunity to tell their own (city) story (s) or propose objects at the collection check. In the archive for stories of coming, going and staying, migration experiences are collected from and to Freiburg.
Danielle Kuijten holds a Master of Museology (M. Museology) from the Reinwardt Academy in Amsterdam. As a freelancer she is active in the heritage field under the name Heritage Concepting. Her main focus in projects is on participatory collecting methods, contemporary collecting, action curating and reflective practice. Currently she works as curator on projects for Imagine IC, a pioneer in the field of heritage of the contemporary society. Here she is building a participative neighbourhood archive on and in the Amsterdam district South East. Recent exhibitions she produced here are Black Resistance, Independence of Suriname, Queering Southeast and Personal archives of 25 year Bijlmerdisaster. Danielle is a regular guest on international conferences giving presentations and workshops. Furthermore she is vice-chair at COMCOL, ICOM’s international committee for collecting. Her research interests are contemporary collecting, participative collecting, community archives, intangible heritage, critical and sociomuseology.
COMCOL is an International Committee of ICOM which aims to deepen discussions, and share knowledge on the practice, theory and ethics of collecting and collections (both tangible and intangible) development. COMCOL is a platform for professional exchange of views and experiences around collecting in the broadest sense. The mandate includes: collecting and de-accessioning policies; contemporary collecting; restitution of cultural property and respectful practices that affect the role of collections now and in the future, from all types of museums and from all parts of the world.