Universiteit Leiden

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Research project

The Critical Visitor

The Heritage Sector at a Crossroads: The way of Intersectionality. This project investigates how heritage institutions can achieve inclusion and accessibility within their organization, collection, and exhibition spaces that meets the breadth of demands placed by today’s “critical visitors.” Fifteen heritage partners collaborate on activities to develop language and tools that dismantle intersecting oppressions, forms of exclusion, and marginalization.

2020 - 2025
NWO Smart Culture Grant NWO Smart Culture Grant

Prof. dr. Hester Dibbits (Amsterdam University of the Arts and Erasmus University) and Dr. Dirk van den Heuvel (TU Delft and Het Nieuwe Instituut)

Project summary

The Dutch heritage sector is currently highly committed to achieving more diverse, inclusive, and accessible cultural institutions, as evidenced by the renewed national “Cultural Diversity Code” and the Museum Association announcement of 2019 as year of “connection and inclusivity” for employees and visitors. The 2018-Roadmap SMART Culture explains this sea-change as partly due to the “critical visitor”, making new demands to present culture through physical, virtual, and interactive means, accessible for all abilities and inclusive of all backgrounds. Although these observations are right, we need to go further than conducting empirical research on publics or visitors to fulfill such demands. Neither does an “add-and-stir” identities inclusion model help to transform heritage spaces in a long-term sustainable fashion. Instead we need to develop cohesive strategies, involving different stakeholders pivotal to the Dutch heritage sector.

This research project takes an “intersectional approach” towards a cohesive strategy of inclusivity and accessibility. Consisting of fifteen consortium partners from the heritage sector active in six work-packages we test and make recommendations to foster such inclusion. Our aim is to enable cultural institutions to implement daily working practices (selection, collection, preservation, display, interaction) that alleviate structures of exclusion. Through the method of triangulating “theory-ethics-practice,” the project will innovate the field of critical heritage studies and propose a palette of inclusive practices that fulfill today’s ethical standards set by governmental bodies and critical voices in heritage spaces. The policy-driven, scholarly, artistic output of enhanced tools and concepts will establish a new benchmark in museological theory and practice.

Background and objectives

The rapidly evolving set of inclusivity, cultural diversity, and accessibility practices in The Netherlands makes for a dynamic living lab of evolving good and to-be-improved practices to study the tensions in museology between identity politics and universalist humanism. Our research consortium’s intersectional approach to rethinking and retooling accessibility and inclusivity strives to be a solution to resolving these ethical tensions and advancing the theoretical and practical field of critical heritage studies. The research program acknowledges that ongoing initiatives have pioneered and adopted tools and means for practicing diversity and inclusion work, but as yet do not have a formal network or platform through which they can exchange information and that provides a means of reflection or quality control. In other words, what is lacking is a space created for a “professional learning community” on this urgent topic. Consequently, our consortium project—bringing together researchers at five universities and ten professional and heritage partners—promises to lead to groundbreaking insights, interventions in working habits, recommendations for future applications, and the formation of the new network, “Heritage for Everyone,” to lay the groundwork for future collaboration.

We collaboratively work towards these outcomes through the following work-package activities:

Led by Hester Dibbits

Field Labs: Testing Intersectional Approaches to Inclusive Actions at museum/archive partner’s sites to evaluate current practices with SWOT analysis, further refine for broader application, and inventory recommended intersectional approaches relating to cultural solidarity, digitization for decolonizing, institutional transformation, and accessible storytelling; resulting in a published white paper bundle.

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Led by Eliza Steinbock

Archival Interactions: Artists and Archivists at museum/archive partner’s sites bringing together artists and archivists to develop strategies for conducting intersectional archive/artistic research especially when faced with loss and gaps in collected knowledge; resulting in a performative symposium and articles in Journal for Artistic Research or similar open access forum.

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Led by Dirk van den Heuvel

Queer Salon, bringing together insiders and outsiders.

HNI / TU Delft Seminar Series at Het Nieuwe Instituut connects intersectional groups of publics and personnel from ‘insider’ dominant archives and ‘outsider’ archives to exchange perspectives on inclusivity and accessibility; resulting in experimentally staged, recorded sessions and journal special issue on “The Critical Visitor and Accessing the Built Environments of Heritage” (target: Architecture & Culture).

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PhD researcher: Liang-kai Yu

Queering Museums: Contemporary Artists and Curators as ‘Critical Visitors’ and Their Creative Intervention into Dutch, British, and German Cultural Institutions.

Doctoral research on recent developments in museological practices by “critical” curators, interventionist artists, and personnel initiatives, focusing on ‘queering’ as an entrance point to broader intersectional issues; resulting in a report on the ‘Queer Baseline’ (to be launched in 2020), a popular and scholarly article, and a dissertation.

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PhD researcher: Nina Littel

Founding Inclusive Spaces: Legacies of Alternative Archiving Practices in the Netherlands, Germany and the United Kingdom

Doctoral research on the history of the critical visitor and their efforts at founding alternative archives including LGBT+-focused, feminist, disability and digitizing projects, resulting in a traveling exhibition on findings (with audio-guides), popular and scholarly article, and a dissertation.

Visibility and Vulnerability in the Physical Space of the LGBTI+ Archive

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The overarching aim is to investigate how intersectional approaches may facilitate merging accessibility needs of different disabilities with queering and decolonizing methods for inclusivity.

The consortium will carry out this research in close collaboration with these committed partners whose developing expertise in inclusivity practices directed at the four P’s comprise the selected source materials of the living laboratory:

Partners Source materials of study

IHLIA LGBT+ Heritage (Amsterdam)

Co-Initiator of Queering the Collections (QTC) national network since 2014, focused on raising awareness of LGBTQI heritage in non-LGBTQI institutions, through programing, international symposia and publishing tips and tricks

Atria: Knowledge institute on gender equality and women’s history (Amsterdam)

Manages and shares the heritage of women with recent research foci in ‘Representations’ project on gender diversity and sexual stereotypes, and on transgender people in print news and television (Steinbock advised on)

Research Centre for Material Culture (Leiden/Amsterdam)

Research programs on Decolonizing, Un/engendering, and Care and Dis/repair within the National Museum for World Cultures (2016-present), “What a genderful world” exhibition (2019-2020)

Het Nieuwe Instituut (Rotterdam)

Organized public seminars/debates on Feminism, Youth Culture, Queering Architecture, Non-Compliant Bodies, Dwars door het Archief: Through Queer Eyes (2016-18) (run by van den Heuvel)

The Amsterdam Museum

Currently running ‘Queer History Talks,’ won awards for their ‘New Narratives’ programming, and is practicing co-creation with community, e.g. the ‘Transmissions’ program for collecting heritage objects from the transgender community

Imagine-IC (Southeast Amsterdam)

Documents, presents, and discusses everyday life in the neighborhood, which they envision as “heritage of our time,” including contested heritage such as “Black Pete” (in Emotion Networking project led by Dibbits)

The Van Abbemuseum (Eindhoven)

Hosted transgender of color artists-in-residence, developed a Queering Glossary, is piloting an ‘Inclusion/Diversity Process Toolkit’ developed with researchers, professionals, government representatives, and designers from the QTC

Studio i Platform for inclusive culture

Sponsored by the Stedelijk Museum and Van Abbemuseum: brings together over 75 advocate partners in their network, and offers on their website inspirational cases for practicing inclusivity, and is offering training modules including the ‘Inclusion/Diversity Process Toolkit’

Dr. Sher Doruff, DAS Research (Amsterdam University for the Arts)

Conducting movement based Artistic Research on the ‘anarchive’ concept (the excess or uncollectible)

Prof. Charles Jeurgens, University of Amsterdam, National State Archive

Advisor on digitizing project of the Dutch national archives, researching potential for users from former colonized countries to construct new histories

Nynke Hieke Feenstra

Cultural expert in disability inclusion, training deaf community members to become museum guides

Arjaan Kunst, izi.travel

Platform for accessible digital storytelling in audio-guide form, developed 50+ stories with queer, migrant, and deaf perspectives

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