Thematic week: Art in a different way – looking for ideas for art museum work from across the world

Rovaniemi Art Museum is pondering the importance of the Erasmus+ programme for its personnel.


Photo: Arto Liiti

What is exhibition architecture like in Italy? How has Maribor Art Gallery in Slovenia organised museum education? And what is the museum personnel’s working day like in Malaga?

These are some of the questions pondered by the personnel of Rovaniemi Art Museum, who decided to apply for the Erasmus+ programme in 2019. Although the COVID-19 pandemic postponed the museum’s travel plans by a couple of years, the personnel is already enthusiastically planning the forthcoming mobility period. They have discussed the destinations of the mobility period from the point of view of both the museum’s strategy and the personnel’s own preferences.

The tour of the exhibition starts. Are you ready?

Just now, a guided tour of the exhibition is under way at Rovaniemi Art Museum. However, the tour is not quite what many of us are used to: it is organised virtually. The video image brings the exhibition and the workshops to the participants, who watch it in their homes. As a result of COVID-19, taking advantage of new technologies has become an increasingly important part of the museum’s operation.

“In the past twelve months, we have livestreamed virtual guided tours,” explains Kaija Kähkönen, Curator of Art Education at Rovaniemi Art Museum and project manager of the Enthusiasm from Art project (link in Finnish).

“The target group has been young people at risk of marginalisation. The guided tour has also included a workshop based on the exhibition and the works on display in the exhibition. We have sent the material to the participants in advance to give everyone the opportunity to do art.”

Culture has always been a part of Kaija Kähkönen’s life. She originally studied to become a ceramicist, then studied art history, completed the teacher’s pedagogical studies and worked as an art teacher before the post of curator of exhibitions and, finally, her current post as the curator of art education. COVID-19 forced her and all the other employees of the art museum to rethink their job descriptions. New ideas have been put into practice when changes have had to be made to the exhibition calendar as a result of cancellations

Opaskierros virtuaalisestiCOVID-19 prompted the livestreaming of museum tours and workshops. Photo: Tanja Tuovila

ERASMUS+ project gives hope for the future

The idea of a digital service already existed before the emergency conditions, but it was the reduced mobility of people that really turned the idea into action. Practical ideas on how to take advantage of technology will also be sought from abroad.

“Of course, ERASMUS+ staff mobility for training is a way to both seek competence and gain experiences,” says Riitta Kuusikko, Director of Rovaniemi Art Museum, and continues, “We also have an excellent opportunity to see what kind of methods other places use to increase their visitor numbers. Digitalisation is one of the things we will pay attention to, in particular.”

As one of the northernmost regional art museums in the European Union, Rovaniemi Art Museum decided to apply for staff exchange especially to destinations whose location and city structure correspond to those of Rovaniemi. One of the job shadowing periods has been planned to the Irish city of Galway, which was the European Capital of Culture in 2020. Job shadowing is peer development in which employees working in the same field in different countries take turns in following and observing each other’s work for a few days. The main purpose of the job shadowing period of Rovaniemi Art Museum is to get to know customer service work in Ireland. In Spain, the job shadowing period will focus on the role of contemporary art.

“In Malaga, they use contemporary art to bring new visitors to enjoy art. We would like to see what kind of methods the museum of contemporary art uses to attract tourists. On the other hand, we are also interested in its strategy.”

Laitteiden ja ohjelmien opiskeluaThe COVID-19 pandemic also challenged the museum’s employees to explore new kinds of working methods. Their job description has been adapted to the situation prevailing at the time. Photo: Tanja Tuovila

Internationalisation helps in the identification of competence

Although the project currently under way is the first Erasmus+ project for Rovaniemi Art Museum, this is not the first time its personnel is interested in international cooperation. In 2001, the museum already participated in a project that gathered together artists from Iceland, Finland and Greenland to work on the Laava-Jää-Metsä (‘Lava-Ice-Forest’) project. The artists from each country organised art workshops to young pupils learning visual arts. At the end of each project, all works were presented at Rovaniemi Art Museum.

In addition to new friendships and networks, projects focusing on mobility and internationalisation also provide an opportunity for the museum personnel to improve their language skills and strengthen their own identity as experts. For example, a familiarisation trip to another art museum may provide a better understanding of the operation of one’s own work community. Although certain operating practices may appear obvious, they may gain new meanings in a new environment.

“It is nice to see that we have a lot in common with our foreign colleagues. And still, you always learn something new! You can never know what to expect. You may also discover your own professional competence through international discussions. For example, I have sometimes realised, to my surprise, that our operation is actually quite good when there is something to compare it with,” Kaija Kähkönen says.

Culture connects, educates and provides a space for self-expression

Although the culture sector has been hit hard by COVID-19, the importance of art has not diminished in the past few years. On the contrary, enjoying art in all its forms has offered an escape from the void created by COVID-19.

“Culture is present in everything I do, both at work and in my free time,” says Kähkönen, whose hobbies include street dance and show dance.

Riitta Kuusikko has also enjoyed culture services when the COVID-19 restrictions have allowed it:

“I have been to the theatre and to concerts although in the beginning, it felt strange to wear a mask during the performances.”

The museum aims to use the Erasmus+ project currently under way to offer cultural experiences to an even wider audience. The internationalisation of the small museum is expected to also provide success at the local level. Rovaniemi Art Museum wants to continue to ensure that the public has an authentic museum experience even if the tools and methods have changed.

 “We want to offer northern art to everyone, whether it be in the form of exhibitions, events or museum education. This museum is not ours. It is for everyone interested in culture.”

The museum tour is ending, but it does not need to mean that you can no longer enjoy culture. Check out the Rovaniemi Art Museum website for the forthcoming exhibitions and events.

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