We speak to Hedwig Saam, Director-Administrator of Museum het Valkhof in Nijmegen. “My dream is to build a fantastically beautiful museum here. The potential is huge. By means of a transhistorical vision of the museum, we can really create something distinctive in an exciting and attractive way, with international potential. How nice is it that, partly thanks to you, a budget has been reserved with our stakeholders, municipality and province, with which we can make this dream come true.
A curious look
Trained as a journalist and art historian, Hedwig Saam has always looked at the world with a curious eye. This may also be the reason that she has never been in the same place for very long. “It turned out like this on the one hand, but there was always a certain amount of unrest in me. I find a lot of interesting and want to try a lot. ” Started in the publishing world, she ended up working for English Heritage in the not-for-profit sector in London. She has been working as a director in the museum world since 2005. Starting at the De Zonnehof foundation in Amersfoort (including the Armando museum) where she set up the architecture center, via Museum Hilversum, Museum Arnhem and the National Military Museum (NMM) in Soesterberg, she has been director of Museum het Valkhof since 1 March 2018 in Nijmegen.
Hedwig Saam has always looked at the world with a curious look.
To a Transhistoric museum
“When I was approached by Museum het Valkhof I thought, yes, this seems very nice and interesting to me. The Valkhof is a museum with stature; beautiful building, fascinating collection and in the past at the forefront of museums in the Netherlands with blockbusters such as De Gebroeders van Limburg and The last hours of Herculaneum. What makes the museum special is its relationship with the classics, which form the foundation of our civilization and have determined the visual culture of the Western world.
The challenge is to investigate how antiquity survives in our modern times. By linking the collection of antiquity to, for example, modern art, you will unlock new meanings and bring antiquity closer. Where are the differences and where are the similarities? By looking transhistorically in this way, you bridge boundaries and open up a completely new universe, which ultimately enriches and makes the visitor happy. Due to all kinds of circumstances, the Valkhof museum had lost its course. So there was something to do there! I found that attractive, it was not quite ready yet, I could add something.
"What makes the museum special is its relationship with the classics, which form the foundation of our civilization and have determined the visual culture of the Western world."
There's work to be done
From the beginning there was a big challenge. Due to various crises and poor management, the museum was damaged, to say the least. “The relationship with important stakeholders such as the municipality of Nijmegen and the province was damaged. The employees were also upset by the past and the lack of vision and perspective. In addition, the museum no longer met today's requirements, for example in the field of climate and security installations. So there's work to be done. In order to develop a clear vision, it quickly became clear to me that I wanted to do this with an external party. After all, you are only as strong as the people around you. Part of the vision was already in my head, but it was still at an abstract level at the time and I also thought it was important to develop the vision together with the entire organization. ”
Alignment inside and outside the museum
It was necessary to regain the motivation of the employees, with a clear focus. “There had to be internal support and a clear process with good techniques helps. I was impressed by Branddoctors at the NMM. The way in which they shape processes and involve people in them appeals to me. Retrieving information, giving it back, funneling and getting closer to the solution ensure that everyone participates. In addition, Branddoctors tests various schools of thought in and around the museum in a wide circle. This means that our employees felt activated and addressed, with plenty of room to vent everything they had on their minds. And that went very well with our external stakeholders: what kind of a museum would you like the Valkhof to be? Ultimately, this resulted in more support than I could have achieved on my own. ”
“Branddoctors tested different schools of thought in and around the museum. Our employees felt activated and addressed, with plenty of room to vent everything they had on their hearts. ”
“What I liked was that Branddoctors was genuinely enthusiastic, but not extremely guiding. That's how it is and that's how you should do it. They developed 4 schools of thought that were presented equally and explored in dialogue. In this open playing field everyone could have their say and everyone had their preferences for a certain direction. The winning direction emerged from this fair assessment. ”
Challenges in the museum world
The chosen positioning fits in well with the times in which we live. Inclusion sets the agenda in the museum world. “This broad social movement has, of course, been around for much longer since Rick van der Ploeg's cultural memorandum in the XNUMXs, but it is certainly reflected in culture and museums today. Emancipation, gender, color are topics that are not only expressed in the offer, but lead to the entire organization having to change along with it. That is very good, but a major challenge for the rather white culture and museum world. By choosing the right themes, we can contribute to more diversity and inclusion. ”
"Emancipation, gender, color are topics that are not only expressed in the offer, but lead to the entire organization having to change along with it."
“In addition, Halbe Zijlstra emphasized market forces and entrepreneurship. The focus on visitor numbers puts experimentation, innovation and care for collections under pressure. But we are not professional entrepreneurs like museums, we have a social role to play in preserving and opening up the heritage. As museums, we have become too involved in how we can make a profit. We skipped the discussion about the ethical questions that this entails. Fortunately, I have seen things shift slightly recently, there is more room for content and research to give substance to our role as a knowledge institute. ”
“From now on we can give more substance to the positioning and start with the internal and external roll-out. Without Branddoctors I would have written down the vision in jargon, but I could not have formulated it so concisely, presented it attractively and included stakeholders in such a short time. From a negative situation, we have now entered a positive flow eighteen months later. This is largely due to Branddoctors. The collaboration with Bianca and Mike had good chemistry. Authentic enthusiasm and support. That is quite special. ”