The Amsterdam Edition
Week Eighteen- Hello Holland
This week was set to be a very exciting time for the project team. We were due to take our Erasmus trip to Amsterdam!
We had arranged to meet with Peter Gorgels who is the Internet Manager at the renowned Rijksmuseum to discuss the exciting digital platform he helped to develop known as The Rijksstudio. We also had plans to meet with Steph Scholten, the Director of the Heritage Collections at The University of Amsterdam and Adrian Murphy from Europeana.
We arrived at Schiphol Airport on a brisk Wednesday morning and headed straight to our first appointment with Peter in a building close to the Rijksmuseum, which gave us a fantastic view of its beautiful architecture.
I think we were all quite excited to speak with Peter about the Rijksstudio and learn more about how the idea evolved.
My colleagues are gradually beginning to understand that I am a bit of a Pinterest fanatic, so I was delighted to hear that the concept behind The Rijksstudio was based on this platform! Peter explained that his role initially started by managing a small team who ran a magazine app. They were inspired by their own collections and intrigued to discover how the general public were reacting to the collections. This led to Peter developing the Rijksstudio, enabling free open access to their collections at superb quality and allowing the whole world to experiment and interpret the collections in their own way.
I thought this sounded highly risky and incredible at the same time, to allow people the freedom to express their creativity with their precious artworks.
Peter explained that initially the Rijksmuseum’s collections were only available mostly for educational and private use. However, they admirably championed open data and made the collections widely available for all.
From their statistics and just by looking around they needn’t worry about attracting masses; they are a success already. I questioned whether introducing the Rijksstudio would introduce a wider demographic to their museum. Peter explained that the typical audience they would expect to attract are the creatives and the ‘Culture Snackers’. These are people who love to share images via social media i.e. Pinterest and Instagram. Through using this technique however they can attract a wider audience just for the fact that one ‘culture snacker’ could be posting images on a topic which appeals to someone else who may not be considered a ‘creative type’.
It is fair to say The Rijksmuseum are leaders in this digital concept, and it will be interesting to see if many other larger or smaller museums choose to follow suite in regards to making their collections open access and free.
Next stop, downtown Amsterdam!
Today we met with Steph, the Director of the Collections at The University of Amsterdam, aka Bijzondere Collecties. It was interesting to meet with another University Museum to view their collections and to learn how they were incorporating digital techniques into their roles.
The Bijzondere Collecties have been pro-digital with their collections and Steph enlightened the project team on how they teamed up with Google on a project to digitise their books. Joining forces with a big company such as Google gave me the impression that being digital was an important factor for their museum. They also discussed the relevance of blogs, which is something we hope to encourage more within both Reading Museum and The MERL.
They have a ‘blog buddy’ system in which someone else proof-reads your work before publishing it, which I thought was a good idea.
After our meeting, Steph kindly gave us a very in-depth tour of the museum. We were fortunate to have the Director devote so much time to show us around and even give us an exclusive behind the scenes of new spaces they were currently developing and areas which the general public would not usually have access to.
The museum was like a maze!
Whilst it didn’t look particularly huge on the outside, they filled the space so well and each room was tasteful and unique in its own right. It was clear through looking at their galleries that they had successfully implemented a digital elements throughout. One of my favourite areas within the museum was a room which had a large interactive table showing the origin of an artefact and tracking its journey to arriving at the Bijzondere Collecties.
We were also fortunate to catch the Shakespeare exhibition in its final days. The presentation was well thought out and curated in a theatrical way, which one would expect from an exhibition based on an exceptional playwright such as William Shakespeare.
Our final meeting took us to the picturesque city of The Hague.
Here we met with Adrian Murphy, the Collections Manager at Europeana, and his colleague Nicole, the Business Development Coordinator. Europeana is an organisation funded by the EU Commission to digitise and bring together museum collections and archives in the EU.
Adrian works on curating thematic collections currently comprising Art, Fashion, Music, Photography and, most recently, 1914–1918. It is important for him to ensure that the concept works for their clients.
Nicole explained that her job was to create something tangible out of this wonderful content through using it for various purposes such as education, research or just for people to have fun with.
Europeana is operated completely on a digital basis as they don’t have a physical site where people are able to view their collections; however, through introducing open licensing, most of the collections are freely accessible to all.
Similarly to the Rijksstudio, Europeana encourage people to share the content via social media. I thought it was a clever concept to relate the collections back to popular culture such as fashion and music, as they could possibly reach a diversity of people who may not otherwise have the opportunity to view or who would ordinarily appreciate work such as this.
And the rest
So we had now completed all of our meetings and I truly found each visit to be informative.
We had some time left before returning to the UK, so we decided to explore and visit some more museums. Due to there being a national holiday in the Netherlands, we took the opportunity to cross the border and visit Belgium for the day!
We travelled to Antwerp, a beautiful city which on arrival captivated me instantly. The train station alone was just breath taking, so I couldn’t wait to see what the rest of the city had in store!
We walked through the city centre and one particular shop took me back to my childhood!
You could sense that there was so much history within this city. One thing that I love in particular when exploring a new place is the architecture, and Antwerp had plenty to keep the avid traveller engrossed.
Our scenic route through the city centre led us to our intended destination, we had finally arrived at The MAS.
The Museum aan de Stroom (MAS) is a phenomenal museum with eleven floors and seven different galleries. The food gallery in particular was inspiring as it covered the issue of where our food comes from, focusing on Antwerp as a port city.
One thing which I will take away from my visit to The MAS was the attention to detail in every part of the gallery from start to finish. For example, the way in which they curated the entrance and the exit to each gallery to bring about a sense of mystery and awe. The Life and Death gallery portrayed this very well by bringing about a haunting atmosphere inside the dark tunnel as you first enter the gallery. The exit encouraged you to reflect on the subject even further by incorporating interactives such as the Tibetan practice of tying a knot in a rope according to your beliefs on the afterlife.
There was another gallery which had an impressive collection of ships which also depicted this well, allowing each visitor to write a message in a bottle…a wonderful way of connecting so many different people from diverse walks of life together.
The hidden gem for me on this trip was having the opportunity to visit the beautiful city of Utrecht. I would love to visit Amsterdam, The Hague and Antwerp again, however there just appeared to be something which I found particularly special about this city.
Whilst visiting Utrecht, I took the opportunity to visit the Museum of Contemporary Aboriginal Art, which was sadly due to close after being open for 16 years.
The museum was one of a kind, and it was interesting to hear that this was the largest collection of Aboriginal art — even within Australia there isn’t a collection as vast as the one based in The Netherlands.
I love pattern and tribal art and this museum has such a wonderful collection of artwork and artefacts. I felt privileged to be able to visit the museum in it’s final months.
So, that is a very detailed summary of my Erasmus trip to The Netherlands!
I feel so fortunate to have been offered this wonderful opportunity and to hear about the great digital projects taking place in this fantastic country. I would happily visit again and explore more of the area and the museums!
Until next time…