University of Cambridge Museums

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Learning with NEMO

In May, Sarah-Jane Harknett, Outreach Organiser at the Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, and Lorena Bushell, Learning Coordinator at the Whipple Museum went on a NEMO (Network of European Museums Organisations) study visit to Hamburg with representatives of museums from Ireland, Scotland, Armenia, Italy, Germany and the UK. Here they tell us about their visit.

Education space at Kunsthalle

Education space at Kunsthalle

“The day began with a visit to the Kunsthalle, just around the corner from our hotel. The Museum is currently going through a two year redevelopment with two thirds of the Museum closed to the public and only 200 of their most important pieces on display. It is interesting to note that Kunsthalle normally has 13-15 temporary exhibitions a year. Since the start of the redevelopment, their visitor figures have dropped from 400 000 to 300 000. Despite all the building work, we were still able to see their workshop spaces and had a wonderful tour of some of their galleries.

After lunch at The Cube (Kunsthalle’s restaurant) and the obligatory visit to the shop, we walked to the next venue, Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe. Here we had a quick tour of some of the exhibitions, including the newly refurbished Islamic gallery, the Art Deco furniture, and their temporary exhibition on tattooing. We spent the rest of our time in another temporary exhibition ‘Fast Fashion’, which had been developed in house, looking at the ethical and environmental implications of disposable fashion. The display included several video pieces, large graphics, seating made from bundles of clothing and other innovative exhibition methods.

A short bus ride away was Hamburg Museum, which tells the story of the city from the medieval period onwards. They have 120-160 000 visitors a year, 65% of whom are from Hamburg and the surrounding areas. It is seen as a family museum, with the average age being 40-45 years old. A large proportion of the museum’s visitors are school children, as local history is part of the curriculum. The education department here consists of one long-term member of staff and twenty freelance guides.

Interactive at Hamburg Museum

Interactive at Hamburg Museum

The NEMO study visit was not just about exploring some of Hamburg’s Museums and collections. Also of interest were the discussions about the museum service in Hamburg and contrasting it to our own practise. 22 of the Museums and galleries in Hamburg are connected by a shared museum service. They have a shared booking system, with one office of three people handling enquiries and booking  freelance guides to deliver tours. They charge €5 for each booking they organise, and draw on a pool of 300 freelancers who work across the city. Their computerised system shows them room availability as well as the individual programmes each museum offers. The tour costs €40 per class, but sponsorship is available to those schools that need it. In this system all museum programmes have the same charge, and all tour guides receive the same fee for their work for the city. As a consequence, guides can earn more money with private tours.

An additional very popular service offered by many of the Hamburg museums, and a number of the Italian museums too, was the option to hold a birthday party in the museum. In Hamburg, for €120, twelve children can have a three hour session, including a workshop and tour led by a freelancer. In the Italian model, a three hour session for 20 children, including a one hour workshop cost €70.

We found it very interesting that the Kunsthalle has one person dedicated to making the web presence of the  Fast Fashion temporary exhibition as strong as possible. The exhibition has a dedicated website as well as various social media outlets. Our discussion about the digital presence of Museums ended with the following quote from Silke Oldenburg, Head of Education and Marketing at the Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe:

“In this and other Museums we have lots of old things of the past, but the discussion has to be in the present. It is not enough to put old things out there and say ‘oh look how pretty they are’, you have to bring it into the present context”

It was a fascinating trip to see how education programmes and administration work in other locations.”

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