Intangible Cultural Heritage (ICH) has been incorporated into the Museum of Industry for quite a while now. From the museum’s inception, its founders made an explicit decision not to focus exclusively on objects in their collection and presentation activities. From that idea sprang oral history projects, and the museum built a ‘living museum’. With a varied offering to the public (machine demonstrations by craftsmen, workshops, training courses, lectures), we create the right conditions for intangible techniques, traditions and knowledge of industrial history to be passed on. The ICH approach takes different forms for different themes. For our textile and printing collection (the museum’s core collection), it revolves primarily around teaching and reintroducing techniques. An active community of craftsmen puts this into practice every day in the textile and printing departments. As living carriers of historical knowledge, they transmit heritage to new generations, both in the permanent exhibition and in workshops and events. For other themes, such as the temporary exhibitions, more focus is placed on raising awareness.
In the future, we would like to emphasise the ICH approach even more and explore possible exchanges with heritage communities beyond the museum. In the museum’s new policy statement, for the period 2019-2023, we explicitly adopted goals related to ICH. One important underlying assumption is that the ICH approach is not a separate, stand-alone issue. We want to build on our current participative approach, which is incorporated into all of the museum’s basic functions. We do not want a one-sided, directive role when it comes to ICH. When it comes to preserving intangible heritage, the heritage community is key. The Museum of Industry functions as a supporting partner and communicator to a broad audience. We also see a role for the Industry Museum in the identification, documentation and research of ICH. In that respect, we believe it is essential to shape ICH activities in consultation with other players and to critically review and adjust our role. A targeted approach and clear decisions prevent the ICH approach from becoming a hollow exercise.
By May 2019, we will have renovated the printing department. It is a permanent collection that gives visitors an overview of three centuries of the graphic industry. The renovated printing department won’t just be a showcase, but will also be a dynamic workplace, where new ideas and creations are generated and shared. Visitors and creative spirits will not only discover new items in the collection; they will also be able to try out a printing press, leave their story behind and share their knowledge. Creativity, experimentation and knowledge-sharing come first. Thus, we will offer the room and conditions for the printing community’s ICH to be passed on, documented and preserved in a sustainable way, and to be brought to the public’s attention. This presents challenges for conservation and preservation of the machines, the hiring of craftsmen who know the techniques and can operate the machines, the institution and enforcement of safety measures, etc. The Museum of Industry is a centre of learning and activity, where young and old can learn about techniques in an informal, playful context. With this permanent display and creation centre, we will organise exchange exhibitions, public activities with external parties (resident craftsmen, guest curators, companies with product presentations, students with theses, a makers market, etc.) The Museum of Industry already has several years’ experience organising such activities, within the museum and beyond. A few examples:
The heritage community that keeps printing techniques alive and passes them on is extremely diverse. There is, on the one hand, an active community with close ties to the museum. The printing working group was established approximately ten years ago, under the initiative of a few volunteers. It is made up of ex-printers, on the one hand, who had a career in the graphic industry, and young graphic artists or collectors, on the other hand, who are passionate about old printing techniques. They demonstrate how the machines in the permanent collection work, give workshops, help with events within and outside of the museum, make products for the museum shop and set up collaborations with external artists. That way, they keep printing techniques alive and pass their knowledge and techniques on to new generations. A part-time employee of the Museum of Industry supports the team, maintains international contacts (through AEPM, the Association of European Printing Museums) and follows up on collection policies and printing collection operations, together with the collections team. A participative approach is used, across the various museum functions. The printing working group is not only involved in public activities, but also contributes to collection and research efforts. They help inventory the letter block collection, restore the machines and plan the renovated printing department, which will open in 2019. This way, we get the heritage community to take on an active role as collaborator, co-creator and co-innovator. In addition to the active printing working group, there is a broader ‘printing community’ that is more loosely organised. This includes graphic design or artistic courses (both secondary and post-secondary), contemporary graphic design companies, artists, the creative industry (e.g. graphic designers focussed on letterpress) private collectors and local heritage organisations with a printing collection. The Museum of Industry undertakes various strategies and initiatives to facilitate connections with the various parties involved (discussions, study days, workshops, etc.).
Hilde Langeraert (1982) graduated from Ghent University in 2005 with a degree in History. Her dissertation was on the industrialisation of the countryside in East Flanders. Since September 2013, she has been working at the Museum of Industry, formerly known as ‘MIAT’ (or the Museum of Industry, Labour and Textiles). First, she was responsible for historical research and coordinating the exhibitions. Two years ago, she became the museum conservator. She spent the past few years drawing up plans for an overhaul of the museum, together with her team.
Transmitting knowledge about techniques requires time and surpasses the public activities of the museum. A series of workshops or a masterclass isn’t enough. A structural approach gives young craftsmen the chance to broaden their knowledge.
As a museum, reach out to external parties sufficiently and set up collaborations. That reinforces your work.
25 February 2019 from 15:43 to 15:43
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