Intercultural Dialogue in Open-Air Museums

Open-Air Museums and their Social Roles

New museology, which had been developing from the 1970s, became critical museology in the early years of the 21st century. Nina Simon’s 2010 work, however, already spoke about the participatory museum.

By today it has been proved that a museum cannot be an institute simply based on reputation and asseveration. We have to look for the possibilities within which we allow for both interaction and contemplation, since a museum is not only based on the prestige of its collection. It has to relate to the public’s different points of reference. Consequently, different tendencies are present in a museum – aesthetic contemplation and relaxation, connoisseurship and consumption, individual delight and public service.

Open-air museums represent one of the world’s most successful museum types, with important ethnographic and historical collections, visitor-friendly and attractive exhibitions, and activities and events relating to them. Their success has mainly been due to their ability to appeal to a diverse range of social layers, irrespective of educational background and social and economic status. Open-air museums speak about the daily life of people: visitors can see themselves and their families reflected in the stories presented. This was the basic conception of the open-air museum. Arthur Haselius (1833-1901) dreamt of a museum type which, with the help of relocated dwellings, would reflect the rural or urban architecture, interior decoration and lifestyle of each region. They were not simply museums of architecture and/or interior decoration, but real social museums which, reaching beyond the spirit of the times, not only dealt with the usual tasks of collection, preservation and presentation, but also had a function serving both education and relaxation. This was the role of the Stockholm Skansen, which was simultaneously a folk park, a multifold relaxation park, a green area and a meeting place. The success of the Skansen and other open-air museums was based on the creative mix of scholarship and entertainment.

Initially historical minorities and social issues of both the majority and minority were addressed in the research and collecting of open-air museums, as well as later in their exhibitions and promotional / educational events. Within this basically historical perspective (and narrative) the lifestyle of regional minorities was presented.

European open-air museums were among the first museums which, with their own resources, aimed to reflect the issue of migration. From the 1970s, huge numbers of non-European migrants settled in the western and northern parts of Europe. The museum representation of the minority groups which had migrated looks back to earlier times than the wave of migration experienced today. Several open-air museums have adopted the documentation of the migrants’ culture as part of their collecting and exhibiting tasks.