Time, Space and Childhood: Museums as Cultural and Educational Sites for European Young People

 As part of the Nations through Narrative programme, led by The Arts Council, to mark Ireland’s presidency of the Council of the EU, Inis is delighted to present the second of two specially-commissioned online features that focus on European literature and cultural activities for children and teenagers.

Massimo Negri, director of the European Museum Academy, explains how this foundation came about and
reflects on the importance of museums to provide spaces for preserving national heritage and cultural stories as well as supporting local and global communities to inspire, educate and enrich European young people’s lives, narrative imaginations and identities.


The European Museum Academy has a strong sense of mission and advocacy. What is the story of how and why it was originally founded?
The Academy was founded by a group of experts in the field of cultural heritage who had experience of working for the European Museum Forum and as members of the Jury of the European Museum of the Year Award. The catalyst was given by the tenth anniversary of the loss of the distinguished museologist Kenneth Hudson (1916-99) with whom we all had been cooperating for years. So, the first intention for founding the Academy was to preserve the intellectual legacy of Kenneth Hudson and to put in practice his principles in the contemporary museum world. The very first group of initiators was rather small but we quickly managed to set up a pool of experts, which is the main cultural resource of the EMA and which consists now of over 40 people from all over Europe.

In what ways do you believe that museums can act as tools of social change, especially for young people?
Nowadays, museums are seen not only as places in which to preserve and exhibit collections but as having a strong emphasis on the social dimension of the museum’s mission and on the role of museums as meeting places where you can go for enjoyment and to learn. Museums can offer safe environments, stimulate intellectual curiosity and encourage discussions on various subjects. Museums can be considered part of mass media along with television or newspapers. In this sense, they reflect social change and at the same time are actively involved in social processes. Although museums are not determining factors of social change, they are dynamic and can accompany, interpret and reflect social changes.

What kinds of values and activities does the Children’s Museum Award celebrate? Could you give some examples of winners and their work for young people?
This annual award intends to recognize innovation in the field of activities with and for children and teenagers in museums. It is not designed only for museums specifically catering for children, but to any museum which has a permanent section devoted expressly to young people.  The programme was launched in 2011 and so far the winners have been the Tropen Museum in Amsterdam, which is a museum with an old tradition that has proved to be able to face the need of constant renovation and change, and the very interactive Please Touch Museum in Philadelphia which is mainly focused on young children. In both cases, these museums are not places to go for contemplation, but for action.

Could you summarise the history and purpose of the Heritage in Motion Festival? How does it help to attract and inspire the younger generation to experience and have access to European heritage and culture?
Heritage in Motion was launched last year with a try-out at the House of Europe in The Hague. It is a brand new scheme for producers and authors of multimedia digital products and texts conceived and designed for museums: websites, documentaries, docu-fiction, multimedia installations, videogames, etc.  Through this biennial festival, digital expressions of the museum world can be presented and promoted at European level. We intend to discover multimedia creators who have been inspired by museums to create new products using new media and a plurality of languages. Candidates will be presented in a two-day festival this coming September in The Hague. It is an excellent opportunity for young developers, movie-makers and digital artists to come onto the international stage. The partners of Heritage in Motion are the European Museum Academy and Europa Nostra, the largest NGO advocating for cultural heritage in our continent.

Your International Academic programme is very transnational, with campuses and programmes in Italy, Slovenia and Spain. How do you balance the national and the international in your academic training courses?
Actually the three courses are very different: the course at Cosmocaixa in Spain is on scientific museography and is held every April. The Slovenian one is a summer school during May and June, addressing a variety of museological issues at European level and is run in partnership with the Forum of Slavic Culture and Primorska University. The Master course in Milan is mainly for Italian postgraduate students and professionals, and deals with the museum practices in most European countries with the aim of enabling students to explore and become familiar with the European situation of museums. In all these three cases, the European Museum Academy provides advice, literature, teaching materials and lecturers as well as support and patronage. I have to say that all three have a very European approach: there are a lot of local case studies but the perspective is always European. The national viewpoint is always a segment of a wider panorama. These courses are all for young people, and they offer valuable opportunities for professional and personal growth in a truly European environment.

What do you think is the future of museums in Europe? Will they have to use new ways to attract young people to visit and learn from their experiences there?
Europe is experiencing a moment of instability and uncertainty, and museums are not exempt from this turbulence. To forecast the future of museum is almost impossible, but I can identify some key trends emerging from the present situation. One issue is certainly a stronger emphasis on the social duties of museums and on the idea of museums as meeting places and fora for discussions. Another important point is the attention to sustainability, not only in environmental terms but also in financial and organizational terms. A sustainable museum means one that spends less and better: easy to say, difficult to do! The impact of multimedia will mean also a stronger integration between the physical, ‘touch’ experience and the digital experience both inside and outside the museum. De-accessioning (selling or removing works from a museum) will be also a hot theme, since it is not clear if the endless growth of collections can be sustainable in the long run. The increasing globalization of the public and of museum users will redefine the cultural profile of collections as well as many aspects of the interpretative framework around each museum.  Among new ways of attracting and involving young people, the use of social media and digital narratives will be very important. This is a very time-consuming activity and requires skills that many museums still have to learn, but it is surely the perspective and strategy for the coming years. The use of social media will also create totally new contexts where users, young and old, will also contribute actively to the definition of contents presented in museums. However, in light of people’s increasing longevity, museums of the future will be socio-cultural resources for centenarians as well as educational spaces for the young! Intergenerational dialogue will therefore be a key issue of the future evolution of museums in Europe.

Candidates to the 2013 Children’s Museum Award at the Ceremony held in Bologna at the local Museum of History on 27 March 2013, Third from the left, Petra Zwaka, chairman of the judges. Far right, Andreja Rihter President of the European Museum Academy