Public engagement and education – known to visitors at Museum Wiesbaden through our icon with the black speech bubble and the letters ‘edu’ in white – has become an integral part of our museum work and one of the universal standards that we, like all museums around the world, aim to uphold.
‘Public engagement and education are fundamental elements of the work of a museum. The earliest forms of museum education were object labels, catalogues, public talks, and guided tours.
Through the opening up of museums to the wider public, education and outreach programmes have become institutionalized and more professional. Today, concepts for community outreach and learning come in a huge variety of formats, both related and unrelated to specific exhibitions, and are directed at a diverse range of target groups.’ (Deutscher Museumsbund e.V. 2017)
Much has happened with regards to education at Museum Wiesbaden, too – many popular programmes launched in cooperation with various partners, such as our Nature or Art Breaks, Youth + Art + Club, and the Museum Workshop for Kids. Together with our formats aimed at kindergartens and schools, they attracted more than 1000 different groups to the museum in 2019.
Yet we believe that there is still much potential at the Hessian state museum to further expand this exciting and important field of work and, with a planning team made up of one permanent full-time member of staff and two part-time positions, there are still many possibilities to be explored.
The Education and Outreach Team at Museum Wiesbaden – Who We Are
‘We’ are the biologist Gabriele Knepper, responsible for the engagement programmes of the Natural History Collections, educationalist Daniel Altzweig, responsible for the education programmes of the Art Collections, and Astrid Lembcke-Thiel, who attained her master’s in cultural education in schools in 2018 and focuses on current developments in the museum as a place of learning outside the school environment, with particular emphasis on early cultural education. For the last eight years, her work for the project ‘School + Museum’ has been supported by Christine Scholzen (teacher of biology and art at the secondary school Gymnasium am Mosbacher Berg) on a part-time basis, funded by the Hessian culture ministry.
‘We’ of course means much more than just the four people who design the edu programmes for the museum’s different types of visitors. It also includes the team of freelance educators and tour guides. Their different viewpoints and perspectives, their wealth of experience, and above all their expertise are what enables us to develop so many different ways of looking at our natural history and art collections. Their varied approaches stem from their diverse professional backgrounds in the humanities and natural sciences as well as art and design. These are the people that shape the public face of our museum.
The hands-on team comprises:
Helena Adam, Lavinia Becker, Elisabeth Berninger- Renz, Andrea Bosse, Uta Brossolet-Becker, Sabrina Faulstich , Heidrun Friedl, Gina Gorzejeska, Sibylle Hoffmann-Merz, Annkatrin Kaul, Dr. Inga Kostrzewa, Dr. Martina Mauritz, Tim Milz, Dominik Mohr, Fabienne Müller, Marius Müller, Tamina Müller, Jessica Neugebauer, Monika Öchsner, Blanche Priel, Dr. Andy Reymann, Patricia Sant Ana-Scheld, Irene Schwetz, Sabine Weber Hermanowski, Laura Wolf, Ronja Zenz.
Here are a handful of questions and answers that reveal what makes the museum special in the eyes of our hands-on educators, with some of their personal highlights and memorable experiences on the job.
Tell Us Some Visitor Highlights?
‘The polar bear in the Colour room! When you’re sitting with a group in a semicircle facing the polar bear, the focus is entirely on him, and a hush descends on the room and you notice that everyone in the group is hanging on to every word I say.’
‘Definitely Rebecca Horn’s installation Jupiter in the Octagon! Young or old, it doesn’t matter – every visitor first stares in the mirror and is captivated for a while. Gazing into this illusion of depth with the moving mirrors is a fascinating sight for everyone! A young boy, about 8 years old, once said to me, “Looking up is like looking at the future and looking down is like looking at a tragedy.” I’ve never forgotten that.’
‘Seeing the animals up close outside of the cabinets always gets a great response. Especially when you then spot details that you often won’t be able to see at the zoo or in pictures. And the incredible diversity of the crustaceans or insects, for instance, always amazes visitors.’
‘The Jugendstil collections – that moment when you step into the gallery and enter another world and are transported back in time, starting with Loie Fuller’s Serpentine Dance.’
What Are Your ‘Magical Places’ for Learning in the Museum?
‘The installation Grapheme by Robert Seidel – its transcendent, intangible “floating” effect with the mirrors that also reflect the viewers, bringing you from the worldly sphere of the museum as a place of collecting into the transcendent atmosphere of sacred art in a holy place.’
‘In the studios – when I can see, sense, and experience pure creativity.’
‘In the liminal spaces that act as transition zones, as intermediate spaces between the different exhibitions. Like the bridge, for example, that connects art and nature. It’s a bit like the navigation bridge on a big ship.’
What Exactly Do You Hope to Communicate; What Is Important to You?
‘I love museums and I love meeting people in this special environment. I love being able to show them what an exhibition is about, in an entertaining, competent, and stimulating way. I think that museums can help us to enjoy life but also to understand and question it. The educational mandate of museums is extremely important, I think, but I always see it in connection with a sense of wellbeing and pleasure, with shock, too, sometimes thrown into the mix. I would like to convey just how exciting and interesting museums can be.’
‘The combination of art and nature enriches both disciplines. Certain pieces displayed in the exhibitions might seem out of place at first but they encourage questions, and help provide a different and above all lasting impression of the exhibitions and the concepts behind them. On that basis, I hope that visitors have fun when they come here, and mostly want to entertain and inspire them to ask questions. It’s important not to underestimate the personal, emotional level to connect with the different lived realities of our guests.’
‘I never want to make a visitor, young or old, feel ashamed for not understanding or not knowing something or for being afraid, perhaps, to ask a question out loud. Humour is really important here – with all age groups. Through humour, preconceptions and inhibitions can be broken down.’
Your Best Experience:
‘Most of the “magic moments” I’ve had so far were with people with disabilities or dementia – situations where it went way beyond just telling people about the exhibits and providing information. The verbal or intellectual side of the job was not paramount in these cases, but rather the personal connection between me and the visitors. People, for instance, becoming alert who otherwise (according to their carers) never spoke and then started talking in the museum about their childhoods and couldn’t stop.’
Edu is shaped by the varied perspectives offered by an interdisciplinary and multigenerational team with a wide range of professional backgrounds and a shared passion and enthusiasm for our goals.
Astrid Lembcke-Thiel, Gabriele Knepper und Daniel Altzweig
Department of Education