Mas in Young Hands
A recipe for success?
So what have MAS and De Veerman learned from the project up until now? Can other cultural institutions use these insights to adapt their own activities?
‘Even twenty-year olds still like to play’, says Annemie Geerts. ‘I especially noticed this when they had to start translating the insights they acquired during the exploration stage into an exhibition concept. Their enthusiasm rapidly declined until we finally came up with the idea of the story of Aladdin as a backdrop for the exhibition in four display cases. They need a story of their own, it inspires their enthusiasm.’
Let this be a lesson for the many museums that still swear by class folders, scavenger hunts or boring activities. Only when young people are given the licence to play with the museum’s collection and explore its potential will they really become interested in your museum and its collection.
Some factors for success for MAS in Jonge Handen are closely related with MAS itself and cannot be simply copied by other institutions. The museum is new: this enabled it to shape its youth program at the same time as its whole program of activities instead of having to subsequently incorporate a youth program within its existing program of activities, in deeply rooted structures. What’s more, MAS’s architectural appeal already exercises a huge attraction. And yet the main success of this youth program lies in its content.
‘A crucial aspect is the way in which you guide these young people’, says Liene Conard who is still quite young herself. ‘In my work with them I mainly rely on my experience in scouting, as a patrol leader: not too academic, not too much structure. I prefer a more intuitive and spontaneous approach, I prefer being among them.’
No more gaps
Conard’s other tips all relate to always keeping your target group in mind. ‘Young people want to be taken seriously, which is why any gap between ‘the office’ and the ‘young ones’ should be avoided at all cost. You should always involve the whole museum in your youth project!’ Following from this Conard also emphasises the return for young people. ‘You need to give them something in return, and appreciation in the form of responsibility and participation still always works best.’
These are much more crucial points for attention than tweaking your profile in function of the world of young people – for example by using hip language – to such an extent that you no longer have any individuality. ‘You should never neglect or adapt a museum’s core business’, Annemie Geerts concludes. ‘Young people can be interested in something that is not immediately part of their own world. But it’s all about the approach: how do you convey this content?’.
When you see the young people of the MAS in Jonge Handen project moving between the undulating glass windows of MAS as they translate their fascination for objects they chose themselves in movements it is apparent that De Veerman and MAS seem to have found the right approach to familiarise them with art and museums and to prove that there is so much more to a museum than dead artefacts behind glass.
To be continued.
Wouter Hillaert is a freelance theatre journalist for the Flemish newspaper De Standaard and the performing arts editor of the cultural magazine rekto:verso.