Once upon a time…in Copenhagen

So I have skipped a day and thus this blog update could well be a 5000 word feature piece to help all insomniacs out there. Call it my bit for the community today.

At a very disgraceful early hour this morning I left Amsterdam and my very good friends, setting out for pastures Danish. But I am getting ahead of myself, this story begins with my last day in the Netherlands and the exotic setting for our opening scene is Starbucks where I meet up with a fascinating chap from Naturalis in Leiden. He had some very practical advice about getting your mission/values/objectives hammered out into a really practical framework to shape what you commit to. Plus – how to get your staff following their own inquiry and giving them a taste of research so they see the value and keep generating questions about our work. Not only that but he has managed to form networks across the country as well that allow them to start considering objectives beyond that of a single institution – those ambitions can begin to be across a country. The spirit of cooperation can be strangely challenging to achieve sometimes so this is huge, but if you want to tell stories of great impact, then working together is without doubt the best way to achieve it. I keep drifting back to a time (before this great tale) listening to Kevin Crowley speak about the network he’s a part of in Pittsburgh – they formed the network first, the project followed. When it’s the other way round as we have seen with sporadic funding bids bringing institutions together, the network is unlikely to be sustainable.

A thoughtful train journey later and I entered the rather romantic setting of Utrecht (once you leave the station and shopping mall behind). It has the feel of a sleepy French town and I definitely had less fear of being run over as I headed over to the University Museum. I rather liked the mix of collections, downstairs one exhibit did rather well at presenting the medical views of the past with those of the present. Upstairs the curation focused around the process of science – although the main thing to catch my eye was the first woman to study at the university which was in 1637. Pretty forward thinking eh? Although she did have to sit behind a curtain. No glass ceiling in this case. I also met a volunteer who was about to open up the Archeology finds to visitors so they could help sort them and identify them. He was knowledgeable and lovely and I came away appreciating Roman pottery a lot more. 

Upstairs again was the usual beautiful presented jars of gruesome bits to which I have become hardened, a sort of precursor to BodyWorlds. And then the top floor was dedicated to a massive display of objects and interactives, each with a series of experiments linked to them, so groups could investigate whatever they found interesting. I just saw a man up a ladder playing with the electrics – but I assume that isn’t normally an activity.

After that I had to run across to Domunder to find out more about the magnificent Dom (tower) and surrounds. Our guide was Tom and he was a volunteer. And he was really good. He set about getting to know a bit about us all, connecting us as a team and he took us around to orient us so we had to figure out where the missing parts of the building were. He had maps from all ages to illustrate each time period and helped us to layer that history in our minds before we walked down through it. And crucially he found ways to connect his knowledge about us to the stories. We also watched a short film which portrayed a number of characters involved in the history of the area telling their own stories. The bit where you go underground and trigger sound stores with your torch is clever, but it’s only enjoyable because Tom put in all the hard work.

With a cheery wave to my team I headed back to the station and on to The Hague to go and see the Gemeentemuseum who have a basement devoted to letting young people create their own museum stories. I won’t go into detail, but I copied a Mondrian before trying to create one through the medium of dance, strutted my stuff on a catwalk, designed a new annexe for the museum and negotiated setting the table with a really posh dinner service. All of that activity earned me enough points to collect some really great stuff for my own museum gallery. It’s all available online when I’m ready to share!

And now, to get back to where we started, i am in Denmark, home of Hans Christian Andersen and hence today’s theme is… storytelling!!!! But of course you guessed that because my plot was a bit obvious. That’s where I shall leave it, sorry it was long but I did warn you.

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