Blog — 7 Nov 2014
Every year, fifteen young people – the Blikopeners – make the Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam their own. Now, with the peer-to-peer program in its fifth year, the moment has come to look back on what the program has achieved. And to discover how taking part in the program has affected the Blikopeners, the people they know, and the museum.
‘I think that ten out of the ten Blikopeners saw the program as part of their personal development rather than a regular side job. We were all so passionate about being Blikopeners,’ says Kaoutar. She was part of the second group of Blikopeners that worked for the Stedelijk Museum. Since the program’s inauguration in 2008, the Blikopeners have given guided tours, organized activities and offered the museum advice. The museum launched the Blikopeners to connect with young people, through young people. After all, adults don’t always know how to trigger young people’s interests, and the museum was keen to harness and benefit from their knowledge. Each year, a group of fifteen new Blikopeners take over; so by now, the Stedelijk has 75 Blikopener alumni. As the program celebrates fifth birthday, it’s time to take stock: what does the program mean to the museum? And, more importantly, what does it mean to past, and present, Blikopeners?
Blikopeners often say that it’s unusual for each person’s opinion to be given the same weight – that no distinction is made on the basis of educational background or knowledge of modern art. A Blikopener may be preparing for university or technical college; a Blikopener may live in a flat on the fringes of the city or in an historic townhouse along one of Amsterdam’s canals; a Blikopener may be an art lover or may never have set foot in a museum. Social and economic backgrounds don’t mean a thing. When Kaoutar first became a Blikopener, in year 2 (2010-2011), as a Moroccan she was anxious about being different: “But you soon discover that you’re no different from anyone else in the group. That’s what makes being a Blikopener so amazing.” In recent years the museum has given more attention to selecting young people who aren’t necessarily from the same backgrounds, and don’t know each other socially. This way, the Blikopeners get to meet young people they might not necessarily know through their current social network.
They are bright, empowered young people and their contributions and options matter. I truly loved being infected by their energy, curiosity and ambition
The idea of peer-to-peer education is to connect with young people through young people, and thus have a greater impact on the individuals in their network. However, the effects of peer-to-peer education differ greatly in practice, depending on the individual Blikopener. The group with little interest in art has most impact on family members. The group of art-lovers primarily influences other young people with an interest in art.
More comfortable with somebody young
School students are more open towards Blikopeners than teachers or adult tour guides. They tend to keep quiet while another young person is talking, and even adults are less likely to complain when they’re dealing with the Blikopeners. A security guard at the museum spots this the instant people enter the museum: “If people have been waiting in line for a while, they’re often a bit irritated. But when they come face to face with a young person, their irritation de-escalates.” And having tour guides the same age as the museum visitors is encouraging. Abdoella, 18, took a tour with Blikopener Karima and concluded: “You feel comfortable with a young person. You feel that if someone your age has learned about this stuff, you can, too.”
Visitors who are more familiar with art do say that they would have liked to hear a little more background information. But a Blikopener guided tour isn’t about sharing knowledge – it’s about interaction. In future, it might be better if the museum made this clearer to visitors in advance.
The Blikopeners also have an impact on organizing openings, symposia and workshops. The Blikopeners are responsible for much of the organization of Museum Night and, in 2013, the museum won the N8 Award (the public prize for young people), thanks in part to the Blikopeners. What’s more, the Blikopeners’s cheerfulness also has a positive effect on the work floor. “They are bright, empowered young people and their contributions and options matter. I truly loved being infected by their energy, curiosity and ambition”, said former director Ann Goldstein.
Ready for the future
Blikopeners are more self-confident after their year working at the Stedelijk Museum. They have learned more about teamwork and are more comfortable with modern and contemporary art. They feel valued by the other Blikopeners, by the museum and by the (young) museum visitors. In its turn, the museum reaps great rewards from the Blikopeners – from their fresh approach to art, the way they connect with young people through their guided tours and activities, and from the energy they bring to the museum. The Blikopeners is an incredible and rewarding program that offers enormous scope for the museum to build on for the future.