Apple pie and Amsterdam

Apple pie and Amsterdam

This city is huge. Well, maybe not huge, but busy and full of bikes and canals and people and tiny streets. Which I think I knew before I came here, but I have had to adjust my mental model because I must have been thinking that it was essentially London with a couple more tributaries on the Thames and 10 extra bikes. There is a resemblance to London Bridge in that you can go to a pub called London Bridge which is close to the Amsterdam Dungeon – apparently torture is relatively global – but the number of bikes is actually mind blowing, possibly more than 70 million thousand hundred as my daughter would say. And they all seem to be aiming for me as I gingerly try to cross the road. Then when I spy a gap in the bikes I go to cross and realise they have all made space for a tram heading towards me. Perhaps I’m just a bit tired but I don’t have the speed of thought or focus to live in this town and not get splatted within the first week.


But I did manage to get to a few meetings today and see a few sights. Yesterday I went to the Rijksmuseum which was actually rather brilliant. I really enjoyed meeting their head of schools who showed me the amazing spaces where they offer workshops – using drawing, photography and multimedia and theatre to encourage children and young people to find a way to connect with their collection. Suddenly I was a lot more interested in seeing a Rembrandt or a Vermeer because I had a bit of context and the paintings felt relevent to the place I was in. Not the same as seeing them in the Frick in New York which just felt like a sort of ‘show off’ collection of great paintings. I also love that you can get the Playmobil set for the Night Watch and recreate it in your own house, that’s what I call accessible art!


This morning I met Marjelle Van Hoorn who looks after the Dutch network of science centres and museums; she was really interesting to chat to about how we consider problems from a sector-wide viewpoint. And she had a really wise phrase to share with me over Koffie met appeltaart (yum, didn’t have the cream as it was early); don’t confuse your history with your identity. Simple, but actually really important, I may have been able to tell you the full history of my own place a couple of years ago, but I couldn’t neccessarily have clearly described who we were and what our values were. Of course that’s changing now, and in fact everyone I talk to appears to be going through a period of reflection. So soon you will be able to pop into any cultural institution and ask them the simple question “Who are you?” and you should get a clear answer. Maybe try it, perhaps I will.

I then braved my first tram ride to NEMO, which was fine – some tourists showed me the magic machine that sells you tickets. But it was the walk over the bridge that blew me away; if you’re going to have crazy amounts of traffic then don’t have amazing views because it means travelers are doomed! NEMO is privileged to have a rooftop that looks out over that roof and they have done something very clever. They have made it free to access. Yes, there is a cafe at the top where you must purchase goods in the traditional way, but the exhibits on the roof top are free to access and there is water to play with, solar panels to catch the autumn rays and an insightful illustration of the city skyline. Visitors will get a bit of the NEMO spirit even if they choose not to buy a ticket and they will probably have a very positive association. 


I was lucky enough to meet up with 4 staff from NEMO and we spoke at length about their embedded research, their move towards making sense and giving context to the science centre exhibits and becoming a museum-science centre hybrid. The really interesting bit though is the organizational cultural change – where someone asks “What do we all mean when we say learning?” and “how do we actually develop new content?”. Again, deceptively simple, but actually revealing the differences we can all have in how we model these ideas. By getting it all out in the open and creating safe spaces for discussion, the new Research team paved the way for a joined up vision of success that every team could work towards. The bad news is that they explained it wasn’t easy and it took time to unpick those ideas and then get to common ground. No surprises there then.

After that I had no choice but to hot foot it across the water to Eye to check out their amazing building and see their exhibitions. Absolutely stunning place to watch the sun go down and some pretty good interactives as well. I won’t bore you all with the film I made about time travel but it’s a classic in the making. After some dinner and another successful tram experience I am back at base and pondering my plans for this weekend. Answers on a postcard please…

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