Nostalgia from the zeros
Teenagers are a notoriously hard to reach target group for (heritage) museums. When you ask them why, the answer will most probably be that heritage and/or history is ‘boring’. I think the reason for this could be that the objects in heritage museums are too old for them to feel a personal connection with, while kids this age often do not have a well developed general interest in history.
For my internship I want to design and execute a ‘new museology’ project for secondary school kids.
I asked the City Museum Zoetermeer if I could do such a project for them as an intern. The City Museum is a small and modern museum in a new town: In 1960, Zoetermeer was just a small village, 20 years later it had 100,000 inhabitants, because in 1962 it became centre of urban development in order to accommodate citizens from overflowing The Hague.
The fact that Zoetermeer is ‘invented’ makes identity an interesting topic. What do the notions of ‘roots’ and ‘connection
with history’ mean in such a new town? For the museum this is a challenge. They have old, historic objects, but these relate only to a small part of the present Zoetermeer. Therefore, the museum’s strategy became to be a ‘lifestyle museum’. It has a lot of objects about everyday living culture from the last sixty years.
Everyday life should interest secondary school kids; and they are very much occupied with their own identity; the question is: how can I make the connection between them and the museum?
I have some fifteen years of experience in heritage education and I have seen that (especially the small) museums often do not have a lot to offer to teenagers when it comes to education. They feel the kids are not interested and they’d rather focus on the smaller kids. But isn’t it possible to make teenagers realize that heritage has something to do with them personally, and is, therefore, immensely interesting?
In 2017, the museum will move to a new location with five times as much space. At the moment, the museum is busy developing a strategy for the new location, but two things are already clear: they want to attract more young people and they want to pay more attention to contemporary collecting.
Last week, I attended two ‘vip-tours’ the museum had organized. The visitors got a special tour, guided by the curator. All the visitors were aged people, and they were all super happy when the curator showed them some household objects from the fifties. The objects brought back memories, and the visitors immediately started sharing those with each other. It was clear they felt the objects ‘belonged’ to them.
And there I saw my ‘way in’: I will ask the school kids to bring contemporary objects that give thém feelings of nostalgia. Then, we can talk about heritage in general, and about museology: what happens when we put an object in a museum, which choices do we make and which stories do we tell?
An interesting question is: will bringing in the young peoples’ stuff be enough to connect them to the museum? This is for me to find out as I go along with this project.