Get close to Rembrandt. Interview with Michael Huijser

Friday, November 14, 2014
Get close to Rembrandt. Interview with Michael Huijser

Michael Huijser, who became the director of Rembrandt House Museum in spring 2014, talks about the future of the museum and explains why the "storytelling" format is worth paying attention to.

Get close to Rembrandt. Interview with Michael Huijser

Michael Huijser, who became the director of Rembrandt House Museum in spring 2014, talks about the future of the museum and explains why the "storytelling" format is worth paying attention to. 

Daria Kravchuk: At the beginning of July you started the campaign “Get close to Rembrandt”. Have you already got feedback from art professionals and journalists or just from your audience?

Michael Huijser: Yes, very diverse. From “very nice images”, to like, someone from the Metropolitan museum said, “a fashion store”, because they thought it looked too fashionable. And also very good remarks in the way that, if people see these images, they have expectations of the museum. They are ready to see the collection and they arrive. I think it's good, that we're moving in a certain direction. We celebrated the birthday of Rembrandt on the 15th of July outside in front of the museum. There were a lot of people from Holland as well. Usually Rembrandt House attracts a lot of foreigners, but now we have more Dutch visitors. I think we will continue with this idea of getting closer to the person, to the house, more activities. And we will use the outdoor area in front of the museum more often.

DK: So what are the upcoming projects?

MH:  We will publish a children’s Bible, based on the prints of Rembrandt. It will not be a real Bible; it's going to be a story book for children, related to the biblical prints of Rembrandt. We invited eight children’s writers to renew the perspective of these prints. So that's one of the ideas. Another idea is to make a musical about Rembrandt in the Wester Tower. We will organize dinners in the Rembrandt Tower, starting at the end of September. So we will develop the idea of putting the house outside. We're busy with the exhibition which will be devoted to the later pupils of Rembrandt, which is going to be held in spring 2015, and we're going to have another exhibition also connected with pupils of Rembrandt in collaboration with Amsterdam Museum in 2016. Right now we're working on an exhibition which will be in Kazakhstan. We will renew the organization; we will be more active online. We have a new strategy to attract more people to our social media, because I believe in creative communities, and now we're at a time when we have to create some values for the house. The value will be more like a teacher towards the pupil, but also entrepreneurship, because this building was a trader’s house. So we'll have this idea of entrepreneurship more connected with the house. And we'll humanize the building more. Our goal is to go in this direction.

DK:  Are you going to work on the project which will connect different places in Amsterdam, somehow connected with Rembrandt?

MH: Yes, it's planned for 2015. We want to connect all the places related to Rembrandt. Actually, we recently had a talk with Bols, the Dutch genever brand. Bols was founded in 1575 on Rozengracht Street, on the opposite side to Rembrandt’s house, where he lived after he became a bankrupt. Bols own a painting by one of the pupils of Rembrandt. The idea is that Rembrandt used this painting to pay off his debts for alcohol. Some researchers think that the story is false, but we're thinking about a collaboration with Bols. I'm always searching for partners, either a brand like this or a place in the city.

DK:  Do you think that the number of visitors has increased after July campaign or is it too early to tell?

MH:  Yes, it's too early. Let's see after the summer. I don't believe in short term campaigns. People have to get to know the museum a bit more.

DK:  Will this campaign be outside just during summer?

MH: This one will be during summer. Afterwards we'll run the campaign with similar models in the autumn. We'll have continuation.

DK:   So you already have the whole strategy for the development of the museum set. You imagine how it should proceed.

MH: Yes, almost. In Rembrandt House we're talking not that much via objects, but via subjects. We're more a storytelling museum. We're talking about the art trade, for example, in the 17th century, but also about the art trade now. We're talking about the Rijksacademie to create more links between the two institutions, because this was also an education platform. So we want to link their institute with our institute. And next year is interesting, because we will renovate the studios of the pupils of Rembrandt, and we want to start teaching again. This project is due in autumn 2015.

DK: So you think you'll put a stronger focus on marketing?

MH:  Yes, on marketing and rebranding. Rebranding is important for us, in order to be more visible in Amsterdam. As a part of our marketing strategy, we will be more focused on our online presence. Now we're represented on all the platforms, but there is no real strategy behind it. We are still at the beginning of some processes. We also have to put the right people in the right spots. First of all the organization should be set up, professionals who can handle it and who can make it happen. Now we're at that stage. I had to postpone some projects till the autumn. The moment we have a good organization, we can move forward.

DK:  Are you going to have some new departments in the museum?

MH:  Yes, the structure will be slightly different. We’ll have a completely new commercial department, which will focus on events and new merchandise. Fundraising is a part of this division, but we link it more with PR. I believe that fundraising is completely different from sponsoring. So I have changed that. Sponsoring, marketing and sales is a different department to PR. We have a content part. First of all, we have a new head of division. We have three curators. That’s the new division and of course education is a part of it. I have content, the operational side and commerce. And then there are the project manager and the secretary. That’s the new organization.

DK: But are you planning to have a development department?

MH: Yes, I’m thinking about it. Now it’s part of the marketing department. Sometimes development is more based on fundraising, but I think the development department should be more about new ideas.

DK: What are the most important aspects of the marketing campaign in the case of Rembrandt House?

MH:  For us it is development of the online presence, but also the return of visitors. So far people come once and we do not see them again. I think it would be very good if we had more activities and people would come again and again. Then you can create a community; you can communicate; you can be in contact with your audience.

DK: You were saying earlier that you’ll concentrate more on stories and storytelling, because Rembrandt House doesn’t have its so-called icon, masterpiece, which can be the face of the museum.

MH: That's what I was talking about during my lecture in Moscow during the Intermuseum: even if you have a small collection, you still have great stories. And I think there is a lot to do for our museum with its great stories. Every museum has this possibility. We will change from being an object-oriented museum to a subject-oriented museum, and I think that's a very big change here. Before I became the director of the museum, the museum was more about the etchings of Rembrandt. Of course there were some exhibitions related to storytelling, but there was a stronger focus on the objects. The story was told of how Rembrandt made etchings, about his technique. Museums can talk just about the size of the painting, techniques and materials, but I think you should put it in some context. That's the direction we're moving in. Because when people come here, they have no idea what Amsterdam was like in the 17th century, how it compared to the city nowadays, how important the 17th century was for Holland, what was Holland’s identity. We have a lot to tell. People need to know more about the time when Rembrandt was working. In order to understand his works, you need to understand what was happening around him.

All images are courtesy of Rembrandt House Museum

The interview was first featured in the Russian magazine Mart


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