Plans for the Alvar Aalto Museum

On December 19th 2012 two teams of master students presented their final project plan for the Alvar Aalto Museum in Jyväskylä, Finland, as part of their project management course. The director of the museum, dr. Susanna Pettersson, acted as bidder for the students.
Visit to Museum Boymans van Beuningen Door: Jorna Kniese

The Alvar Aalto Museum will close in 2016/17 for a refurbishment. Because this is some years away, Susanna asked the students to make a plan for all three phases: firstly a ‘facelift’ for the current exhibition, secondly ideas for the time when the museum is closed and thirdly for the 'new museum' after the renovation is done. The main focus was on audience development and implementing new ideas on what a museum on architecture should (or could) be in modern society.

We started the 10 week course with a trip to Finland, to see the museum and the country. The study trip was not only meant for the project management course, but is in itself a vital part of the entire master course. We visited several museums and talked to people behind the scenes, to get an idea of what the museum field in Finland includes. We spend 2 days in Jyväskylä, a small town 3 hours north of Helsinki, where the Alvar Aalto Museum is located.

Working on projects such as exhibitions differs from everyday work at the museum because they are organized as a ‘project’. Project management is about control of three vital aspects of any project: time, money and quality, within a team of multidisciplinary and (in some cases) international professionals. The basic idea of the project management course is that students work on a real life project and that they themselves are responsible for the success of the project. You cannot tell students about what project management is, they have to do it to really understand.

There were two teams of 9 and 10 students: Team White and The Green Team. Unlike ‘real’ real life projects, the teams consisted of students randomly put together, based on their country of origin.

Susanna was at the presentation on December 19th very pleased with the way the teams worked, presented their ideas and the thorough way everything was thought through. She invited 2 students from both teams to come to Finland and present the ideas to the entire staff of the Alvar Aalto Museum.

Team White
Team White’s project was called ‘The Wave of Alvar Aalto’. Not only does the wave refer to the form language Aalto used and the proces that should take place transforming the museum from facelift to museum of the future, but the Finnish word ‘aalto’ also translates as wave. The team was much inspired by ‘The Participatory Museum’ by Nina Simon. They formulated the project mission, after Susanna's briefing, as follows:
'We are working towards establishing ways to connect different groups (from pilgrims to locals) to Alvar Aalto and his various narratives (onsite, offsite and online), through personal stories and layered experiences, in order to transform the Alvar Aalto Museum into a participatory museum.'
They identified three pillars as starting points: narratives (the story of Aalto and all people linked to him), heart (answering the question 'why does Aalto matter?') and link to the contemporary world.
The audiences they are targeting are pilgrims (the real Aalto fans), the regular tourists and the locals (among them are the students of the university nearby).

To transform the museum into a participatory museum a few steps are necessary according to Team White. The facelift period is meant not only to transform the current exhibition, but also to create noise: the beginning of the strategic period. Involvement and participation with the community are key. To involve the community and start changing the way the museum is percieved, the team came up with several ideas: a participatory marketing campaign around the new routing sign, a grand opening after the facelift and improvement of the museum experience by implementing audio trails for several audiences.
Essential part of the campaign is to start making the museum a meeting point for the community, by showing Aalto's 'heart' in the building through music recitals, opening up the space, workshops and so on. During the closing period, the team came up with ideas like the Alvar Aalto bubbles: portable exhibition spaces that could literally pop up everywhere. For the final phase the team gave recommendations to keep the wave going: maintain two way traffic with your audience on all levels, maintain high visibility throughout Jÿvaskÿla, always try to make the museum relevant to people's lives, and several others.

The team has written a clear project plan, with ideas that are both easy to implement but also contribute to a larger goal: making the museum a participatory museum. By using the book by Nina Simon, they tapped into something that is very much of this time. But they also understood that a long term project like this should be seen as a wave: you can only influence the first rimples in the water, but those should lead to bigger waves on their own (or with a little help). The team has given clear points for the team of the museum to base their decisions on. The ideas they came up with are not difficult, but fun, new and effective.

The Green Team
The Green Team named their project 'Past, Present and Future. Reinventing the Alvar Aalto Museum'. They have written their project plan as a practical guideline for the transformation of the Alvar Aalto Museum. The title of the plan is explained:
'This project endeavours to transform the Alvar Aalto Museum into an avantgarde museum that remains faithful to its past, dares to challenge the present and is prepared fo the future.'

The team has come up with ideas to secure the participation of the audience, to make sure that the museum can improve and enhance their experiences. They have segmented the audience using the theory by John Falk: explorers, facilitators, professional hobbyist, experience seekers and rechargers. This way the museum can focus more on the underlying motives why people visit the museum and thus cater to their needs. They can be aware of the fact that audiences are not static and that individuals can have shifting motivations. Offering just one experience is therefore not enough. Apart from the segmentation as mentioned, the team has identified students as a group that should recieve more marketing attention, as there are 47000 students studying in Jÿvaskÿla each year.

The team came up with four pillars to structure their plans: audience development & participation, connection to contemporary, multi-angle narratives and museum as a whole. The team used these pillars so all ideas could be tested: whether they added to the purpose of a certain pillar or not. An other important part was that all pillars served a specific purpose, but added to an overall strategy as well, because they link to one another.

There are four ideas in the project plan, that can be used independently. But, as the team writes, it is their belief that they complement each other well and will produce more powerful outcomes if executed together. The ideas are named: Expressions & Impressions, Allto through the eyes of..., Designing the way and Encounter Alvar Aalto. For every idea the team has given a description, an insight on how the idea supports several pillars and the link to the audience. They also added important information on implementation, planning, expected outcome, human resources and costs.

The team has done an amazing job, making sure that all their ideas are realistic and feasible. There ideas range from small and easily implemented to more complex. By adding information on time, money and quality, the team clearly showed insight in project management basics.


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