Positioning – The role of museums in the 21st century (2009-2011)

The internationally renowned Van Abbemuseum is one of the leading museums for contemporary art in the Netherlands. The museum has a radical and experimental way of  addressing issues about art and society. Openness, hospitality and the exchange of knowledge are important.

In 2009, the Van Abbemuseum’s board of management hired me as Head of Marketing, Education, Liaising and Fundraising for the two-year programme Play Van Abbe. Play Van Abbe addresses the role of museums in the 21st century and uses itself as example in the discussion with society. We used interdisciplinary and international collaborations to find out how the museum can shape its position as knowledge institute and collective cultural ‘memory’ as a place where people can be amazed and inspired today and tomorrow. Four exhibitions were held in two years with subquestions to these main questions.

My role consisted of balancing between content (curators) and translation to the visitors (marketing and education). I managed the marketing, education, liaising and fundraising team, wrote the main positioning story, applied for subsidies, wrote the marketing plan and used special media, which was novel in the museum world. The Mondriaan foundation and other funds allocated subsidies. The positioning budget in the museum world is really very small. Networks, building relationships and creativity are very important.

For the opening of exhibitions, I invited speakers such as State Secretary Timmermans, Mayor Rob van Gijzel, authors such as Kader Abdollah and Joost Zwagermans, and I wrote speeches. I involved the business world in the museum, used crowdsourcing to get communication managers in the business world to think about Play Van Abbe, and a feedback group for critical discussion. I also invited journalists for discussions. My approach and bridge function strengthened the image of the museum during this period.

I was the sounding board for the board of management, among other things for the plan Het Glazen Depot, which was aimed at removing the boundaries between art, design, and technology so these areas could interact. I looked into a possible collaboration with the new MAXXI museum in Rome. During the council cost-cutting meetings at the end of 2011, which were the result of national policymaking, I gave a presentation on the museum’s ‘innovative’ identity in the Raadszaal in Eindhoven’s city hall. This discussion was the apotheosis of Play Van Abbe, which asks the question: ‘What is the role of museums in the 21st century?’

The lesson that I learned from this project is that socially involved companies (not non business) cannot always get to the essence of a story because the story is not always clear. It’s the fringes of a story that create new questions and prospects.