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The Rijksmuseum Podcast That Aims to ‘Make Life Better Through Art’

Having worked at the Rijksmuseum Amsterdam since 2012, Frederique Van Reij has developed a broad range of educational products, programmes and initiatives for the museum. Coming out of the Pandemic she and her team in the Public and Education Department turned their attention to the role they could play in supporting the health and wellbeing of their audience.

MuseumNext sat down with Frederique to find out more about her experience of developing the Kunstluister podcast, and how the museum’s new collection of audio stories has been designed to tackle mental health issues.

The Rijksmuseum certainly didn’t stand still during the pandemic. Over the past three years, MuseumNext has often covered a number of the projects developed by the forward-thinking institution in response to the challenges of Covid-19. This included the Rijksmuseum from Home video series, a 360-degree virtual tour of the Gallery of Honour and latterly, Rijksmuseum Unlocked.

The museum has also been an exponent of the podcasting format – having first launched a channel in 2018 and been an early museum adopter in the space. But in 2021 Frederique Van Reij and her team looked to take a different approach to podcast content, electing to work on a podcast series focused specifically on health and wellbeing.

Launched in 2022, the Kunst Luister (Art Listening) podcast series contained 7 stories from 7 different creators, based on artworks within the Rijksmuseum collection. It was developed together with Rijksmuseum partner, Philips Healthcare, and in collaboration with Christiaan Vinkers, professor of Stress and Resilience at Amsterdam UMC.

As Frederique explains, the goal was to create content that could be listened to at times when needed most.

“Like many institutions, we started out during the pandemic by thinking about what we could do for our audience . . . and particularly people here in the Netherlands. Together with Philips, our mission was really to create something that could help ‘make life better through art’.

“We know that art offers solace, comfort, a sense of purpose and the ability to find meaning. So, we set out to create stories to accompany pieces in our collection with a meaningful message that supported mental health.”

The resulting podcasts tackle themes such as burnout, grief, social anxiety and identity – feelings which were undoubtedly elevated during the Covid-19 lockdowns but continue to have relevance beyond the pandemic.

“We are very aware that we aren’t trained professionals or a mental health institution offering a cure or a prescribed therapy,” Frederique says. “But we know that art and culture can play an important role in helping to tackle stress, ease social anxiety, handle grief and generally improve wellbeing through relaxation. And we are interested to see if psychologists and mental health institutions look to recommend the podcast in that way.”

She continues, “The aim is not to create audio content that has to be used within the walls of the museum; instead it is about using the podcast as a tool when people want to get into a good frame of mind. That might be on a busy train during a commute or late at night when you are struggling to sleep because your mind is racing.”

Frederique admits that creating the podcasts took quite some time as her team considered what it was that they wanted to achieve, how best to formulate the content and the type of target audience they wanted to focus on. Narrowing the podcasts down to just 7 instalments was also a challenge with so much source material and so many ideas to play with.

“I think I could have created about 8,000 stories,” she says. “But we needed to choose a small number of the narratives that we felt were the strongest – and ones that also reflected diversity and inclusivity.

“These aspects are integral to the educational products we produce and reflect our commitment to reaching a broad audience across different areas of our society. So, our creative makers had to consider this when developing their stories.”

Creating a valuable asset for a post-pandemic society

While the idea for a health and wellbeing podcast was first developed during the Covid pandemic, the Kunstluister was always designed to have value beyond the crisis of 2020 and 2021. As Frederique explains, awareness of mental health concerns increased dramatically during the pandemic and they are unlikely to go away in the high-stress world we live in today. And so the value of the Rijksmuseum’s podcasts as a tool in supporting wellbeing can be felt anytime and anywhere.

“While people obviously spent a lot of time on their phones and on social media while locked at home, we saw that many people wanted to move away from screen time. Podcasts serve as a less triggering format and also a medium where people can delve deeper into stories.

“I think it’s also true that the next age group coming through – Generation Z – is much more open to talking about mental health issues and seeking out solutions. So, that gives the Kunstluister podcast more relevance and importance.”

Frederique also suggests that the creation of this form of digital content is also a reflection of the changing role of museums in society from what she describes as “elitist temples of art” towards being “more social institutions”. As this paradigm shift takes place, she believes that there may be greater opportunity for the Rijksmuseum to develop more valuable resources for listeners looking to prioritise their wellbeing.

“There are no shortage of ideas for a season 2 of Kunstluister. We have learned a lot from these 7 podcasts that could help us to generate more stories in the future with a range of different creative makers.”

Find out more about how museums are approaching health and wellness at February’s Museums, Health and Wellbeing Summit. Tickets are available now.


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