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Film: Bringing young people into museums

Geer Oskam is a project manager for Stichting Museumnacht Amsterdam (n8). Founded by the collective of the Amsterdam museums, n8 thinks about ways to engage a new and young audience with the Amsterdam museums.

Geer spoke about N8 at our MuseumNext conference in Edinburgh in May 2011.

Geer: Quite an introduction, the best museum night. It’s the first time I’m going to talk about it outside of Amsterdam actually, or outside of Holland. So it’s going to be the first time in English. So is something is not clear I want you to push the boundaries and raise your hand already during the speech, not at the end of the day.

The Foundation Museum night, obviously founded because of organizing the Amsterdam Museum night annually. We go by the name N8 because that’s what museum night used to be called, N8, which is Dutch means Nacht, and Act, nght. And we started organizing more things and then we came up with this name N8, as a more umbrella under which we work, and not so much as only the name for the museum night. I’ll show that later. This is the people we’re working with. Sarah, me and (Cesai). WE work full time, we have two people, Nick and (Merala) and they help us out with coordinating projects.

One of the goals of the organization is to educate young professionals but letting them have the experience of organizing a museum night, so I’ve worked there for two and a half years now. Sarah just started working in January. Cdeasi started working in March. WE have the rule that every three years we change organization, so we only work there for three years, have the ability to organize our own events and museum night and everybody starts brining in their own projects of who they think they can organize events online, onsite, to engage with a younger audience.

Nick is doing a project with us for two days a week. Miralfa is doing a project for one day a week. They are very young, but everybody works very professionally. This is what we look like on facebook. I don’t know why –well, I do know why I showed it, I wanted to let you know that everybody knows us by who we are and who we are and that we are young and doing everything by ourselves, so it’s very easy to see us in this way, more than as an organization. We speak for the organization, obviously, with our own person.

So what is our goal? The goal is engaging a new and young audience with the museum of Amsterdam and vice verse. WE want to get the museums to know about the world that young adults live in. We also want young adults to get acquainted with museums, obviously. 18-35 years old, that’ our target audience and only inhabitants of Amsterdam. So we don’t’ go for tourists. We look at the broader rings of Amsterdam, but not farther than that.

How do we do this? How do we engage? It’s been said a few times before, online meets on site, I think that’s our golden rule. You can organize things on line, but you can’t live without an onsite event. It can be onsite, but what will you bring if you are not online?
These are the five things that are our activities. I’m going to talk about this individually, very fast. I have a very fast presentation. If you want to have more information, obviously, ask me.

I’ll start with n8.nl, this is our homepage. This is where we blog. This is where we make videos. This is where we give tips. We will have a social block where all the museums are displayed there on the social networks. This is all to get in contact with the 18-35 year old audience. We collect information from all the museums, and we make our own section of what we present online.

This is the blog list. You see the bloggers, which are all guest bloggers or ourselves. We ask people not from the museums, but outside of the museum world to give their opinion about the exhibition that they saw or a museum that they’ve recently been to. People that perhaps aspire to work in a museum, but don’t have this experience yet. But also people who are completely outside of the museum world.

This is an individual blog post of a girl for example who did research for RFIDA museum. We always start with – it’s very personal, so she talks about losing her concentration after an hour in a museum. But the most important thing is that all of these blogs are very easily sharable online. Shareable on Twitter, likeable on Facebook. And you see the related museum to the right. This for example is related to Mediamatic, this is some museum that she names in her blog post. And That’s what it is all about, because obviously we want people to get into the museums. So all these blog posts and all these videos show the related museum. You get a list on our page of all the museums we work with during the rest of the year, or doing this year. These forty museums we work with.

You can click individual museums and then you see what they are about. What are the recent blog posts that we wrote about them. Which museums, perhaps, have the same theme or museums that are close by, because we think that’s how we, me and the other 18-35 year olds look at museums. “What is close by my house.” “What is close by a museum that I already know.” Or, “I like that theme, lets’ see if there’s another museum with the same them.”

We share it on our mobile website. Social media, obviously, which is I think our biggest outlet. We make all our contact on our website, but we put everything on our Twitter, facebook, Flickr. This is really an archive of everything we did, all the photos are collected here, but also we put our press in these maps so people can look at what the press or bloggers wrote about it. You see clearly that event we did at the Van Gogh Museum, so it’s listed under Van Gogh Museum.

Again, I think what the successes is that we organize something on site and we get people motivated online. We almost – for the smaller events we don’t use any print, we do everything on line over social media.

A second project I want to talk about is the Nacht Salon. From the beginning of June, until the end of the year, we work in the project Museum Night and the first half of the year there is more time to experiment and to organize smaller events. This is one of the smaller events, the Nacht Salon, we organised that two weeks ago at a photography museum in Amsterdam, and it’s more for the people who already know (an ?) or already visited a museum night and we want to give them something during the rest of the year.

So the goal is to get them to know the cities of the museums of Amsterdam. Welcome into the museum, and the museum opens their door. They say okay, you can do all the communication, you can do all the programming. We do get our community active. The challenge for the museum is let it go. We take over for the evening. It’s a Friday evening in a museum from 8:00 until midnight. This is the biggest challenge I think, letting the museums back off.

You see three posters of recent Nacht Salons. We always ask young designers to make a flyer, to make a poster, or to make the brand for the Nacht Salon. The program is inspired by the exhibition in the museum and the museum itself. So really to get people acquainted with what is in the museum normally.

The first three years that we started organising this it was hard to get people inside but now people are more and more well-known with the events that we do. So for the last three years it went really well. You see the Nacht Salon at the Van Gogh museum to the left, the left one of the three that was three years ago. It attracted almost 2,000 people. The Nacht Salon at Hasmerisei which we did two weeks ago. It’s a smaller venue, only 400 people fit. It sold out, so it’s always been sold out, the last years.

The good things are a new audience in the museums. The bad thing is sometimes museums act like politicians, and I don’t mean it in a very negative way, but they’re very afraid of their image and they like to debate a lot. We say, “Let’s not debate,” and “Let’s not think too much about your image, we will deal properly with what you have inside of your museum.” And another good thing is learning about new ways of communication for the museum, obviously, to get to know how you can reach out to these younger audiences.

The third project I want to talk about, Edits. This is a photo of Central Station in Amsterdam. They are building a subway. A few years ago we heard that it will take until at least 2017 until this is finished so there were all there building fences around Central Station, and we thought, well, why don’t we use these building fences as a canvas to show something that we would like to see, instead of the blue fences. We came up with Edits. This n8 is in the way, but it’s a temporary exhibition at Central Station. It will run for a year. It’s an open call for artists and designers to take a look at Amsterdam museums with a fresh eye. So what we did is we made a website for it. We select six museums every three months, six, seven museums and an open call for young designers and artists to give their idea of what the museum is about, or what they take from the museum. We organize some tours in the museums, we let artists have meetings with people in the museum so they really are well aware of what is happening in the museum. Now one year later the project is finished, it will run for one more year, or it will hang for one more year, but we won’t add any more new works. What you see, the goal, show the young, creative sector, combined with the museums of Amsterdam and improve the public space.

I want to show you the website. If it’s possible. No, not really. But go to n8.nl slash edits and there you’ll see all the designs made for the museums. We had a jury selecting the winners, also important because we thought an open call, it brings in a lot of works, but we first had the idea of letting people vote through social media on the winning design, but having a lot of friends doesn’t necessarily mean that they make good quality, so we had a small group, a jury, who selected the final designs. The good thing is it’s a new perspective for your museum. The bad thing is, well, an open call needs a jury. And a good thing is it drew a lot of attention, a lot of press and a lot of bloggers. And obviously a lot of visitors during the day because it’s the middle of Central Station, so 260,000 people visited every day.
The credit for this, I think, is all to the museums. They trusted us, gave us carte blanche. We asked of every museum, “If you want to participate, the designers need to be completely free when making something.” And then I think it’s great that they did this. That they gave this carte blanche to the designers.

Nacht is our fourth project. We just started it March 1, me and (?), a 21 year old, she’s leading it. It’s a group of twenty young adults, and they give advice to cultural institutions about programming and communication for young adults. This is a group of twenty young people who are not working in any way in the museum world, but they are available for museums and cultural institutions in Amsterdam through us to get advice about whatever they do. Will it be an extra program? Will it be an exhibition? Will it be a brainstorm of how to reach a younger audience? Will it be a social network experience? Things like that.
We take these young adults on a sort of journey of two years, we said, for now. We’re going to give master classes and we’ll let museum directors, museum conservators give master classes to these young adults, and in return they give to the museums back what they know or what they experience or what they see is happening or needs to happen.

They work as an ambassador, I think the word “advocate” has been named a lot of times. Obviously, we call it ambassadors, they become ambassadors for the Nacht, but also what you see on our website, the bloggers, they’re guest bloggers, they broaden our community. And they learn to see of what value they can be for a museum.

The last thing I want to talk about, obviously the thing that we are most well-known for, is the Museum Night. Here are the posters of the last eleven years of Museum Nights. As you can see, the name n8 was the name that we were known by, but which slowly started changing that into just naming by what it is, Museum Night. I think it’s more clear to a younger audience what it is than using the name n8, Museum Night sums it up quite well.
The museums, they open from 7 until 2 in the night. 45 museums in Amsterdam participating. It’s always on the first Saturday of November. All museums offer a special program for these young adults, 18-35 years old. I took a screenshot of the website, what it looks like then.

We have after parties participating, so clubs in Amsterdam where you can get in with a discount. You get free public transport during the night, almost 50% of the people go by bike and the other 50% go by free public transport. People visit about four museums during these nights, we learned. And we have 26,000 tickets. We sell out. The last five, six years we’ve been sold out before the event took place. So, we sort of are in the luxury position now that it’s not so much about selling out, but it’s about who is buying your tickets.

These are the young adults, obviously between 18-35 year olds. We even have smaller groups selected in this. The young creatives, for us it is important to address. It needs to be a reflection of Amsterdam residents, so we want everybody from all different kinds of backgrounds, all different kinds of education level. And we always want to have new visitors, people who get to know museums by the Museum Night and then after the Museum Night they have the idea again, “Perhaps this is a place that I can go to by myself, or I can visit a (?) or see an exhibition when I want to.”

The challenges while organising it, obviously, is the public for us. The quality of programming inside the museums is always a challenge, and staying innovative as an organisation. And p.s., don’t forget to sell these tickets. And p.s., don’t forget to keep those 45 museums happy, because as you know it can be difficult to work with museums.

What I said, like these smaller groups within this audience, we say creatives first. It’s more because we think that they are sort of the stone that you throw in the water. If you let young creatives work with the dates or with the Museum Night as the first, the wrinkling will spread along. So we always use young photographers, for example, during the Museum Night we let them document everything. We use bloggers as partners, of course, it is for our main sponsors. For example, it’s really important to have a big newspaper as a partner, but we always use bloggers and young people to broaden the scope of people we want to reach.
On the down left side you see photos of the opening. We use young artists for the opening performance. We always organize it ourselves. These have to be young artists from the city that people know, but not know from the museum scene, but for example this is a guy who did things in a club, we asked him to make – it was beautiful, what do you call it, sort of (?18:52) projection. Very old school, but still very cool.

Nachtsalon, to the right, we always have participation projects to get the young creatives going as the first. We started that already in August, September. So that they’ll be the first to know what the Museum Night will bring this year. We had (boomerang 19:15) cards designed by young creatives, we had t-shirts designed. And also videos was something we did for the last two years actually for Nachtsalon. It’s an open call, again, for young filmmakers to visualize discovering art and culture during the night. We had cooperation with film theaters in Amsterdam and before the museum night and the weeks in front, the best video that was uploaded that week, they’re all one minute videos, were shown in those theaters in advance. For the filmmakers, obviously a very good place because then their film will actually be shown at a theater. And for us a way to promote the museum night already.

I’m going to see if this YouTube video will work. That’s okay, right?

So, I’ll say again, it is discovering art and culture by night that was the team. Everybody was free to upload the movies and this one kind of stood out in 2009, and it’s something – I’ll show it first.

So in the three weeks before Museum Night these films would keep on coming for like ten a day, and people could vote, so we had a public vote for the best movie and we also had an award that was given during the Museum Night. The best movies were shown at the Museum Night and different museum, and after the Museum Night in film theaters the winning one minute video clip was also shown.

It’s good to do things like this because I think the Van Gogh Museum will never portray itself like this. We are an independent organization, which makes us more free to talk with youngsters or young adults on a level that they perhaps feel is more free.

So these new visitors, how do you attract them? Well, an important thing obviously is programming. We try to give every subculture in the city as stage in one museum. We always keep in mind what is happening in the city now and which subcultures do cool things in the city but aren’t on display yet, or aren’t on display in a big festival or night like Museum Night. So we challenge museums to program music performance, drinks, all these things.

These are three groups that were on Museum Night last year. To the left, for example, is a small music collective. They bring out their own booklet, they organize parties in the City with a very good music program. And they organized the musical program in the (Trap?) museum and the (?) Museum in Amsterdam, which was a great success. It was a totally different audience in the museum than normally.

Here again, the programming becomes an ambassador fro the event, for the Museum Night. Advocate, you can say. They put it on their facebook, they put it on their Twitter, they put it on their Hives, which is a Dutch social network. In this way they spread the word about Museum Nights, and they communicate to their community to enter these museums.

We don’t’ have a lot of money. We try to advertises sometimes, but we don’t’ read a lot of advertisements ourselves, so we just ask around, like, “What do you read?” I ask my friends what they read or which websites they visit and we try to make a connection with them. 22 Tracks, for example, is a website where in all different fields of music 22 tracks are selected. For one week prior to Museum Night, we had a 22 Tracks of music that was played by the museum night, or will be played during Museum Night.

These are things that we sort of due naturally, as, “What do I use and how can I use it to get people acquainted with something coming up, like Museum Night.” Facebook, obviously, is a very big and hand tool, we made a landing page where you can pre-order your tickets and get an early-bird discount. And the other through our small magazines in Amsterdam, or art magazines in Amsterdam.

Quality of programming I’ve named as another challenge. It’s all about keeping in contact with all the museums individually. We see them, they come to us, we go to them, we have to get to know what they have in the museum. They try to ask us, “Do you know what’s happening in the city? Do you see some connection?” We always want to make sure that there’s always a connection between the programming and what the identity or the theme of the museum is about. Last year, for the first time, we thought why don’t we do an award for best programming? We’ll let the young audience, a jury visit the Museum Night and they select the museum with the best program, and the museum will get 1,000 Euros. So, we’ll see if this will make the museums even more feisty about getting a good program.

And another thing we always say is don’t underestimate your public. It’s 18-35, but it’s not there just to drink cocktails, and it’s not there just to have a beer. It’s an intelligent public, and they want to get to know what is in these museums, and they are already inside, so use this opportunity to get them engaged with whatever you have.

For us, as an organization – well, innovate. Don’t be afraid to change your organization. We change every three years, and people say, “Oh, you lose all this knowledge” or “You lose all this experience.” I think Museum Night is something that stands. I’ve worked there now for 2 ½ years, so this year is all about getting the new people well-known with what needs to be organized. So if we change the organization, sometimes things will go more slowly, but I don’t think the quality will ever go away.

Reduce print. We had booklets until three years ago. 60,000 booklets that were used as a sort of promotion before the museum night, and we said, “Well, we make a mobile website. We print 30,000 booklets so that everybody on the evening has a booklet.” That reduced the cost for print so much that we could hire a community manager for the rest of the year for three days a week, which is far more effective than 60,000 booklets.

Don’t have too many meetings. We try to have a meeting one time a week and for the rest just do whatever we want to do. Don’t meet too much.

To give a sort of atmosphere of the Museum Night. This is the audience, which you see downstairs down there. And during the night we have this live stream with Twitter, all social media updates are recorded there at the show. The first year – we started with this two years ago, the first year I think there were fourteen museums showing a screen, we just asked them show a screen in whatever way — will it be a television, will it be a projection somewhere, and you see that it will make everything more attractive during the evening. Museums can communicate directly, people will Twitter and will put a Facebook update of where they are, what they are doing. You can even see a map where people Tweeted from, for example.

These are two examples of programming during the night. The left one, again, is why you shouldn’t underestimate your public. This was a lecture about Ben Lewis. I think you all know him, a documentary maker for the BBC. The Art Bubble, he was talking about the Art Bubble. This was a lecture, it was given at 1:00 in the night, and there were 150 young adults sitting there for one hour long. It’s 1:00 on a Saturday night, they are not stupid, they can do other things, but they like to be entertained this way as well.

And to the right you see the Biblical Museum, they did the Ten Wonders and one of them, obviously, is walking over water, so they did this on the canals of Amsterdam.
Museum Night can also affect your collection. These are two examples. The left one is sort of the success story of Anne Frank. People were hidden there, in a canal house in Amsterdam. They luckily all survived. They have a great collection of books, but they don’t have enough room. They asked visitors of the Museum Night to start reading their books and tell them why the books should stay in the collection because otherwise they had to make a selection. people were interviewed during the night when reading a book, and they could tell if the book should stay or go.

To the right, you see the City Archive. The City Archive gives a prize every year for a photographer who can photograph the city. I think they get 20,000 Euros and that’s the official photographer of Amsterdam for that year. WE started talking with them about the Museum Night and we said, “Well, what about Flickr?” All these amateur photographer who take beautiful pictures of Amsterdam, why don’t you show these in your museum and do you have these in your collection, yes or no? And they didn’t, and they’ve decided to have a one night exhibition of all Flickr photographs in the City Archive during Museum Night, and now they’ve decided to work together with this Flickr group called (mochum) and forever store their Amsterdam photos off Flickr in their archives.

So the results of the last public survey during the last Museum Night. 45 museums is what I said. 26,000 visitors. 56% is new visitors, so that’s always good for us. 77% of the visitors are between this 18-35 year olds. 40% of the visitors are between 18-27 years old. We always try to reach for a little bit younger, between 18-24 because I think if you target those, the thirty-somethings who feel young will still come.

8 in 10 visitors discovered new museums during Museum Night. SO that means that more than 20,000 people will discover a new museum during Museum Night, and I think that’s a already a big goal in itself. One out of five visitors use their ticket to revisit a museum after the Museum Night your ticket is still valuable for one return visit until the end of the year. So until the end of December. And one out five people actually did this. This is quite a stable number. Every year there are almost, or around, 5,000 people.

So what does the future hold for us? We are independent of governmental funding. We get our income through the ticket sales of Museum Night, and that’s what we live on and that’s where we organize all things from for the rest of the year. Our website and all our activities, which is a good thing for us as an organization. Obviously – yeah, it’s a good ting for us.

Changing themes. Well, we keep on changing themes. New projects we always want to have mobile applications, new projects everybody who comes into the organization will bring in a new project. WE didn’t’ choose, for example, for an application, because we think if you build an application for one night and it will cause 10-20,000 Euros there are a lot of other things we can do for that. If there is someone with a big bag of money, I think we’ll do it ,but not for now.

I just finished the annual report yesterday actually. And it sort of sums up what I just said within two minutes, so if you didn’t’ understand me I’m going to show it to you.
(Plays video, music – 0:33:20 – 0:35:20)
So that’s it.

Geer Oskam is a project manager for Stichting Museumnacht Amsterdam (n8). Founded by the collective of the Amsterdam museums, n8 thinks about ways to engage a new and young audience with the Amsterdam museums.

Developing strategies and projects, both on- and offline, n8 creates a platform for youngsters and museums. n8 has been responsible for the annual Museum Night and various other activities like Nachtgeluiden, Nachtsalon and Edits.

Geer did a MA in Cultural Studies and has worked as an event curator at the Van Gogh Museum. Beside his work for the n8 he owns a contemporary art gallery: Artpocalypse Collective. His focus is on connecting the ‘missing generation’ to contemporary art and cultural heritage.

Filmed at the MuseumNext conference in Edinburgh. To stay informed about our International Museum Conferences follow MuseumNext on Twitter or like MuseumNext on Facebook.

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