Culture for breakfast, two years later.
Two years ago we asked Elke Melt what the impact of the lockdown was on her work within the cultural sector. Several lockdowns further, it seems that the cultural sector can finally run normally again, but is that the case? This time I travel to The Hague where I meet Elke live in Alma, the café of Sound and Vision The Hague.
Do you remember Elke, two years ago? “Yes, everyone was in shock. We had just started working from home. And we thought it wouldn't take that long, would it? We'll be done with it in the summer, but things went a little differently. Fortunately, as Sound and Vision The Hague, we were able to switch quickly to digital activities and services. But we've learned that it's more than putting a camera on a live show or lecture and thinking it's the same thing. For both the maker and the public.
In the past two years, the bar has been raised much higher very quickly on both sides. A digital production is really a full-fledged production. Or in hybrid productions, where you have part in the hall and part at home, that you really have to think carefully about how those two different energies, dynamics and techniques can also be expressed at their best. Thanks to the lockdowns, we have really taken steps in that direction.
In the past two years, the bar has been raised much higher very quickly on both sides. A digital production is really a full-fledged production.
Opening at the time of Corona
You opened the museum in September 2020. That doesn't seem like the ideal time to open a museum. 'The opening was hybrid, with a live and digital audience, but also with all kinds of rules. When we were open for a few weeks, we ended up in the next lockdown, and that's how we got through the first 1.5 years of our existence. Always with different rules, which were sometimes difficult for us to keep up with, let alone for the visitor.
The threshold to visit a museum has become so much higher. Not only in reality, but also in people's perception. Despite the fact that it has become clearer to us that the subject matter at stake in The Hague is that there is a need for it. Press freedom, journalism and news literacy, that's what we focus on and that is a kind of sub-area of media literacy. That is really about how I assess news, how do I ensure that I consume reliable news, how do I relate to the media as a media consumer, but also a media producer because we also make and share “news” all day long. How do I deal with this in a good, conscious way? Because this has been a mega topical theme in the past two years, we have been able to profile ourselves very well as a museum and of course we still do that now.'
Digital is certainly no substitute for live activities. We have almost forgotten how nice it is to be part of something live. Just when you are walking around the museum again, or attending a theater performance, you will feel how much you missed that.
But how old do you actually have to be to deal with media consciously? What does your target audience look like? 'It is best to fully understand the museum from 12+ if you become more aware of the media field. We also have a scavenger hunt and educational workshops from 8 years old, because this target group is already completely in the media. We also have programs about media for a wide audience. Incidentally, it is not only young people who need media literacy, they often know how to find their way more than we think, but our generation and older. Or people with a migration background, for example, who are trying to find their way. How can you broadly communicate information from the government, for example? We are very consciously expanding that target group.'
And the Millennial, can it be reached? 'Certainly, but not always with regular activities. The millennial is more after a unique experience and experience. As a cultural sector, we should generally be able to organize things that are special. We also try more. By offering more digital content. Not that this group only follows digital programs, but it is a good addition to a busy social life. Digital is certainly no substitute for live activities. We have almost forgotten how nice it is to be part of something live. Just when you are walking around the museum again, or attending a theater performance, you will feel how much you missed that. But I also want to be able to consume digitally, because it allows me to see so much more.'
That sounds like the audience knows how to like you again, is that right? “In a way yes, we can't complain. But the public is not going to automatically come back to the extent that they did before the lockdown. We've gone a bit in the background. It has been difficult for so long or even labeled as dangerous, which was of course unjustified because we arranged everything so quickly and so safely with the entire cultural sector. Few infections have been proven, but "hassle" around a live outing is the perception that has lingered in people's heads. And the weather is nice, the catering industry is open again. They want to go out again.
We really have to do our best, make ourselves heard, organize special things and actively invite people to visit us again. We do this by organizing relevant exhibitions and programs and ensuring that we have something to offer that people want to experience live. We've changed our program marketing campaigns. We have started to inform less, but to stimulate.
For a program about "the truth" we hinted in a poster campaign to the well-known black-lacquered files of the allowance affair. We get a lot of responses to that. Rather we would add a lot more practical information, maybe even want to be over-complete. Now we try to make people curious. We are also still thinking very carefully about the content of the exhibitions and programmes; What is the added value of being here live. And dare to choose if it is not quite there, then choose to make it into a hybrid or digital program. And that all of this may coexist.'
Get the system in one room
Did you really start working together differently to arrive at that hybrid programming? 'The collaboration between the curators, programmers and marketing department has become even closer and more substantive than it already was, and has led to the audience approach becoming even more important and permeating all the capillaries of the organization. Marketing is not the last communicating vessel, after which people will sign up en masse. But in the beginning, all disciplines of the organization come together. And challenge each other to think about who we are doing something for. What story do we want to tell? And how are we going to bring that together in the best possible way? You have to look for current topics that appeal to the imagination. And work with partners that add value.
Media is an unwise catalyst for many social changes.
February 1st we have the exhibition 'A sea of happiness' opened, which is about 111 years of Chinese in the Netherlands. This exhibition is about the life and integration of that group of people in our culture. Where we look at how that manifested itself in the media. Media is an unwise catalyst for many social changes. And visitors come from all over the country.
For this exhibition we work together with the 'Meer dan Babi Pangang' foundation and the 'Belvedère' foundation in Rotterdam. They have a large following with this specific target group. Because if you want to reach a new audience, it is really essential to work with parties who know that target group. We consciously look for that. The Hague is fantastic for that because it is the most segregated city in the Netherlands. There are so many fun and creative organizations that we can collaborate with.
We can no longer do what we think is important, but we really have to look outside, really relate to a new audience that needs new stories, new forms. The responsibility to do something more there lies with us. And that leads to very nice new things, initiatives and forms of collaboration. I think that's crazy, to now be the director of an organization focused on this current and relevant topic in these challenging times.