Erasmus + MAX - The Museum of Ethnography Brings Its Erasmus+ Project to a Successful Close at the End of November

Between 2019 and 2021, with funds received under the grant proposal title Toward the Development an Adult Learning Strategy for the Museum of Ethnography within the Framework of an Erasmus+ Project, staff members of the Budapest Museum of Ethnography had the opportunity of gaining detailed familiarity with the work of numerous public collections throughout Europe. Though by no means new to the implementation of trail-blazing initiatives in the field of general knowledge transfer, the museum—which will be celebrating its 150th birthday next year—plans to augment its service palette in the course of an ongoing institutional overhaul to include trends and best practices aimed at responding to present and future challenges in the more specialised area of adult training.

The professional visits undertaken as part of the initiative targeted museums in Wales, Estonia, and Sweden, where recent large-scale development, investment, and organisational projects were deemed useful as partial models for practical operations at the museum’s new building to be opened in 2022. Features of special interest included programs relating to modern exhibition practices, methods for bringing in new target groups, and examples of collaboration with individual and group visitors, civil organisations, and educational institutions.

Museum of Ethnography staff members visited their Welsh and Estonian partner institutions—the National Museum Cardiff, St Fagans National Museum of History, the Cardiff Story Museum, the National Botanic Garden of Wales, the Estonian Open Air Museum, the Estonian History Museum, and the Estonian National Museum—in the form of several-day, English-language job shadowing trips. Due to the latest wave of the pandemic, the cooperation with Swedish institutions—the Stockholm City Museum, the Swedish History Museum, and the National Museum of World Culture—was conducted virtually. As the above list reveals, some of these were umbrella institutions boasting a number of different collections and as such, could provide a broad range of information both in the area of practical operations, and in relation to visitorship data. In the course of the mobility programmes themselves, project team members sampled the knowledge transfer practices of more than 30 museums and botanical gardens (some as partner institutions, and some in the form of personal visits).

Regarding the types of programmes studied, the harmonious, green roof to be installed atop the museum’s new building in City Park made the inclusion of programmes involving botanical garden, environmental awareness, and sustainable development pedagogy a natural choice. Also permeating the project’s study trips were the topics of lifelong learning and individual and societal wellbeing.

Members of the project team—museum educators Kata Bodnár and Erika Koltay and project coordinator Judit Bartók-Lovas—blogged about the creative and distinctive initiatives they encountered in daily updates to the project Web site. Their impressions and experiences are still available there today in both Hungarian, and English.

Within this diversity of information and ideas, it is worth highlighting here a few program characteristics the team regarded as particularly important for future museum operations. Typically, partner institution teams in the area of information transfer were found to be relatively small, as are the groups within them concerned with the development and coordination of adult learning programs. The work of such formations proceeds seamlessly and successfully when tasks are well defined, programmes are structured to be responsive to visitor needs, and external experts are enlisted to assist operations. Popular projects such as the Welsh National Museum’s Fine Arts Club, for example, build on the personal interests and competencies of the volunteers who work for them.

In a two-year workshop offered by the Estonian Heritage Centre, the team found a programme that serves a public desire for deeper familiarity with traditional values, such as the methods for making folk costumes, while at the same time generating a hefty profit. The same institution organises lecture series for foreign students and workers that teach participants about local culture and diversity.

Also studied were successful initiatives aimed at providing activities for the elderly, while working to preserve their stories and facilitate inter-generational dialogue. Examples of this included the Memory Boxes project of the City Museum in Cardiff and the Swedish History Museum’s work in expanding the 3D interactive material of the Dimensions in Testimony exhibition (an international project of the USC Shoah Foundation) by recording the stories of Swedish holocaust survivors.

2City tours on foot, by bicycle, and—believe it or not—swimming! Another set of initiatives—one marked by a combination of intriguing topics, multilingualism, and multifaceted use of the knowledge embedded in insitutional collections—worked to involve and inspire not only individuals, but even entire communities. At the Estonian Open-Air Museum, staff hold lecture series on traditional architecture, while regularly organising practical/on-site demonstrations and community work events to help local people renovate their homes. Other programmes offer gardening and open-air activities for people suffering from anorexia or depression; instruction on identifying and protecting pollinators; nocturnal tours of haunted buildings; living history programmes; guided tours combined with wine-tasting; and much, much more.

Though the team did not find recognition of the fields of cultural transmission and educational science to be a self-evident feature of all museum organisations, they did see teamwork and a spirit of mutual support as going far toward ensuring that initiatives meet with success and ideas are brought to fruition. Museum professionals

at the institutions studied were not afraid to adjust their exhibitions in response to visitor feedback and indeed, even calculated the possiblity of post-implementation technical problems into their cost projections. Interactive elements were used in targeted fashion and staff strove to remain in continuous dialogue with their visitorships, reflecting on current social topics with the aim of demonstrating parallels between past and present through the medium of the collection. Also fundamental to the knowledge transfer process was the notion that a child taught the language of the museum today will become the adult visitor of tomorrow and that both teachers, and parents must therefore receive support to this end. This particular idea is exemplified by Together, an exhibition of the Swedish Museum of World Culture that—expanded or refreshed yearly—uses material from the institution’s collection to teach children accompanied by adults about the customs and forms of societal living through playfulness, exploration, and interpretation.

2In its new building opening in the spring of next year, the Museum of Ethnography will be presenting the results of its ongoing scientific activities via a complex new exhibition structure, combined with events, programmes, and intensive visitor relations work. In this, the goal will be to make the institution’s stratified scientific knowledge available to all interested persons, including new target groups, by means of the latest methods and technological innovations. Its new interactive space (MÉTA), ZOOM exhibit, Ceramics Space, and other large-scale displays of collection holdings will give visitors the chance to explore via a range of services that transfer knowledge to adults and children in the form of lasting experiences. The Erasmus+ team’s findings will be incorporated into these units on a continuous basis, just as numerous elements that draw on or derive from them already feature in the museum’s overarching knowledge communications concept. The Erasmus+ study trips produced a rich array of documentation in both written, and photographic form, while partner institutions granted access to complete project descriptions comprising a large number of printed and online documents. Certainly, the scope of application of these valuable resources goes far beyond the institution’s plans for the present.

Still, the greatest and most valuable output of the three-year project has been the set of relationships it has helped forge, a resource that proved fundamental in ensuring that the project reached a successful conclusion. Though burdened with the difficulties of a global pandemic, professionals at partner institutions proved helpful, congenial, and welcoming beyond expectations, resulting in a cooperation that can only be described as full and productive. At every institution the team visited, staff received them with both meticulously prepared, quality programmes, and participative opportunities that underscored the practical aspects of their activities. Happily, the yearlong extension of the project made necessary by the pandemic worked to the team’s advantage by allowing for more intensive preparations and process tracking, exemplified by the team’s opportunity of observing the Swedish Viking exhibition in both its planning, and implementation phases.

Also of exemplary value to the team was the positive attitude displayed by the museum itself, institutional financial support having been an important key to the project’s success. During a period of determinitive value to the institution, the Museum of Ethnography recognised the role of strategic implementation and positioning in the field of knowledge transfer as a cornerstone of effective operations going into the future. It was with this in mind, for example, that team members were given the opportunity to participate in the London Museum and Heritage Show, bringing them into contact with internationally renowned service providers and exposing them to the very latest in exhibition technology, comprehensive educational programmes, and research methods. These mutually reinforcing processes were so successful in spurring creativity that the team not only completed the project as planned, but—despite trying times for all involved—succeeded in maximising the opportunities it afforded. During each phase of the project, opportunities arose for the team to report on the particulars at conferences, workshops, and other professional events. The current hope is that they will be able to present a comprehensive picture regarding how their experiences might be put into practice at the Museum Andragogy Conference to be held next year.

Useful links:

Teacher resources

Memory boxes project

Kolhoz House – The Estonian Open-Air Museum

Exploring the Swedish Museum of Ethnography

City Faces Project

Live the Lives of Estonians – culture courses