Mas in Young Hands
Learn how to curate
In a second stage – the experimentation stage – De Veerman incited the young people to start developing some initiatives of their own.
They learned how to organise brainstorming sessions, to think about the possibilities and limitations of an exhibition, who they could approach and then learned how to link individual ideas to one another. A creativity training beyond the initial ideas in other words. How would they go about building their own exhibition? How would they market it? What is feasible, what can really work? ‘That’s how they realised that there may be a need for a special audio guide for young people, with an application for smart phones.’
In a last stage – the end product stage – the group selected and refined one idea: in September the MAS in Jonge Handen project group will be given the license to fill four display cases in the museum themselves. To this end the youngsters visited the depot and went through the procedure for every exhibition with the museum’s curators and multidisciplinary teams.
Which objects have to be exhibited and how? Do they have to be restored first and is this affordable? What about light in the display cases? ‘That’s how these young people became aware of all the aspects of an exhibition including the restrictions, for example, for folding a flag in order to damage the fibres as little as possible.’ Annemie Geerts was quite surprised about what is possible at MAS. ‘I never thought that they would let these young people curate their own exhibition but apparently even the curators are not afraid of relinquishing some control. They were all very available.’
The wonderfully receptive attitude of the museum staff in general to MAS in Jonge Handen is probably the project’s greatest particularity. It is the merit of the sustained work of Liene Conard to turn her project with these young people into a project which involved the entire museum. All the young people have a mentor among the employees. They are invited to staff parties, receive all the internal MAS mails and can also access the museum and the offices after opening hours thanks to their individual electronic access badges. There is a great sense of trust. The young people are treated as full-fledged colleagues, who can learn from the museum and can contribute to it.
Conard says this exchange is really working as it should now. ‘Now and then colleagues will ask the young people for feedback or forward mails with the message ‘would this be something for the MAS in Jonge Handen team?’ They have started to realise that these young people can contribute added value to the museum itself.’ Meanwhile the young volunteers have already notched up some special achievements.
Their masked ball, for example, which attracted one thousand young people, an occasion for which an events agency turned MAS into a mystical location. Annemie Geerts thought this was a successful initiative but in her opinion they could have gone much further. ‘The link with the collection could have been more far-reaching. It raises the question about what constitutes the real threshold for young people: is it the museum itself or the exhibition spaces?’
Liene Conard nods: ‘One year is too short to already evaluate the project. MAS in Jonge Handen will only be a success when this team succeeds in appealing to other young people using the content of the museum, instead of just relying on the building’s iconic status.’ She herself thinks of the core group of MAS in Jonge Handen as an ongoing initiative. Its composition may change over the years, however. In mid-2012 two young people will leave the group to focus on other things, and two newcomers will take their place.
The enthusiasm and expertise which De Veerman has succeeded in generating among the group can thus be passed on by the young people themselves. At the same time other museums, including the Antwerp Photo Museum have already asked for the input of MAS in Jonge Handen. The project’s future seems to be guaranteed.
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?