Real Rotterdam Heritage: the active collection of the city
Museum Rotterdam manages the collection of historical objects of the city of Rotterdam. The objects are stored in the depot and feature in engaging exhibitions that tell the story of the city. For over a century this has been our strategy, but the city is changing.
New Rotterdammers don’t always see themselves reflected in our historical collection. That’s why in 2000, we began working with local communities to start collecting and presenting objects that reflect life in today’s Rotterdam. Our programme includes projects with Vrouwen van de Velden, a women’s group in Rotterdam South, with Bulgarian migrant workers, and with people working as informal carers. To embed this new approach in the museum, we needed to find a new strategy.
A multi-year project with Bulgarian migrant workers in Rotterdam put us on the track of a useful method. The Bulgarian community maintains close ties with the home country. Because their tourist visa didn’t allow them to stay in the Netherlands for more than three consecutive months, from 2010 to 2014, a group of Bulgarians frequently drove to and from Rotterdam and Bulgaria in a Volkswagen van. And with this, the van – an anonymous mass-made product – came to embody a changing Europe and Rotterdam.
Because the vehicle’s owners still needed it, we didn’t want to keep the van as a museum object in our depot. So we decided to adopt the object, label it as collection and continue to follow and record the stories of the community that shares the van. This is how it became the first item in our active collection of the city: Real Rotterdam Heritage. A new approach museums can use to collect and connect.
This new way of collecting is a sustainable and dynamic way of connecting the museum with urban communities. Once the van had joined our collection, more objects followed. Initially pragmatically: most of the new additions originated from a project in Rotterdam West that we were involved in at the time. Gradually, we developed and refined the concept and strategy. Our key aim is to do this with Rotterdammers, and use their insights to build an active collection of the city that reflects contemporary issues and experiences. A new and important instrument in this participative process is the Real Rotterdam Heritage Council.