INTERVIEW WITH ANNEMIES BROEKGAARDEN
EMA continues asking questions to museum specialists. In this issue, Hazal Sahin from EMA has interviewed Annemies Broekgaarden who is Head Public and Education at the Rijksmuseum. She is also one of EMA’s advisers and co-supervisor of the Children in Museums Award, with interests in accessibility, the role of museums in society, audiences, learning programmes.
First of all, thank you for accepting our invitation for an interview.
1.What was your motivation to choose to work in the public and education area in the museum field? Do you think there should be an in-house education team in museums, or should these teams be outsourced?
My motivation to work in in a museum in a position as Head Public & Education originates from my wish to be meaningful for society based on content related to cultural (im)material heritage.
My background in management, communication and Cultural Anthropology, combined with curiosity in people, paved my path to my current position. I started my career in museums as head of a Children’s Museum that was part of an ethnographic museum, Tropenmuseum, using multidisciplinary ways to connect people to objects, immaterial culture and understanding of ‘different’ cultures. In 2008 I was invited to develop the educational department for our National Museum of Art and History – The Rijksmuseum. An offer you can’t refuse.
A museum building and its presentations are in the first place meant for people. I accepted the challenge to work towards the goals of the Rijksmuseum to be an open welcoming museum where every visitor feels at home and experiences objects and stories that are relevant in their lives, both off- and online.
As education belongs to the core of the museum, I find it natural that the position is represented in the management team of the museum, the educational policy being represented by the general museum policy. The education staff should therefore be part of the museum staff – as a spider in a web of curators, communicators and other museum experts and possible partners from outside the museum.
2.Do you think being relevant to audiences is important for museums’ agenda? If yes, how could museum staff manage it with diverse audiences? And what kind of events or programmes can be created to include and draw disadvantageous groups’ attention more to museums?
Being relevant for your audience is the most important challenge. Therefore, the audience you want to reach should feel welcome and represented by the museum staff. Different stories can be told with objects. It is important to be aware which stories will make your collection relevant for which audiences. This can be achieved in the permanent collections, exhibitions and on/offline educational products and programmes. Also, the partners with whom you cooperate with can play an important role in connecting to audiences.
The Rijksmuseum has been working hard to receive disadvantaged groups by taking away barriers, physical, digital and social. And we have put a lot of effort into making our collections and stories accessible for these people.
3. In the Rijksmuseum, you engage diverse audiences, so it is tempting to ask you about the overall role of museums. What are your reflections on the debate of the revision of the ICOM definition?
The debate on the revision of the ICOM definition is important as it explores the new role museums can play in a changing world. Relevance for people has been put in the middle of the debate. The nominees of the new Art Museum Award reflect the effort that is being taken to explore and effectuate this role.
Material and immaterial culture should, however, be the backbone of a museum in the opinion of the Rijksmuseum.
4. With the Covid-19 pandemic, museums have mostly used their digital platforms to reach their audiences. With these platforms, was it easier or harder to achieve the Rijksmuseum’s aim of engaging with more different groups and loyal visitors?
Covid made museums experiment to engage with audiences in a digital way. We discovered that connecting to audiences went better than we originally thought, and we found new ways to interact with our audience. We could also reach a larger public with our investment. It does, however, never replace the sensation of being in contact with the real object.
5.Lastly, you are the Head of Public and Education at the Rijksmuseum and one of EMA’s special advisors, as well as co-director of the Children in Museums Award which is administered by EMA in partnership with the Hands On! International Association of Children in Museums. How did you come across EMA in the first place?
I have been connected with EMA since 2011. At that time I was President of Hands On!, an international organization that strives for professionalisation of Children’s Museums worldwide. We explored ways of creating more visibility for the quality, relevance and impact of Children’s Museums and decided we wanted to set up an international Award. Andreja Rihter was part of the Board of Hands On! She brought me into contact with EMA. As EMA has a lot of experience with international awards it was the beginning of a fruitful cooperation, and the Children in Museums Award was born in 2012. In 2022 it will the tenth time the Award will be announced. I am still very grateful for this professional cooperation.
Over the past years I have been involved, as member of the Steering Committee, in the development of the Art Museum Award, initiated by EMA, focusing on (social) relevance of art, that has been awarded for the first time this year.
6.Could you please tell us how the Award process went during the pandemic and what are the key points that children’s projects or exhibition need to focus on to win an award?
During Covid we decided to postpone the Award process, hoping that after one year everything would be back to normal. In the meantime, however, it became clear that the pandemic would last longer than a year. At the same time we built up experience with online processes (judging, meetings, Award ceremony). So this year we will announce the winner of the 2021 CMA Award in November during the bi-annual online Hands On! conference, 9-12 November.
The jury especially looks for museums that make a difference, that are innovative and strive for excellence – places that stimulate curiosity and creativity and that encourage learning by play and offer high quality learning experiences.