Foam sees it as its responsibility to reach a wider audience than solely the visitors of the museum and to get new visitor groups acquainted with the medium of photography. By opening a location within the neighbourhood, Foam let’s go of the institutional walls and focuses on reaching a new audience within their living environment. Photography projects are by nature about looking closely, zooming in and seeing new things. Foam wanted to use these qualities to help people in the area to see their neighbourhood and their neighbours in a different light and help establish new connections between people in the area.
Description of project:
Foam came in to contact with the social housing associations and collaboratively decided to set up a project location in the area of Nieuw-West, an area that was built in the 1960s and was going through a period of extensive renovations, populated by many people who don't frequently visit museums. Within a very short time the associations provided them with an old store location and the funding to start developing activities. Foam did projects there for four years, always including the community and putting photography at the centre of the work.
Before opening their location, Foam developed a photo booth that travelled through the neighbourhood. People were invited to come in and take their picture with another person from the neighbourhood. The photos that were taken of these randomly put together neighbours were placed in the windows of the empty buildings surrounding the square during the opening festivities, literally giving the neighbourhood a face.
The Foam team noticed that their regular communication channels didn’t work on this new ‘target group’. Often people didn’t have computers in their homes and didn’t speak or read Dutch. And so they went door to door, ringing doorbells and explaining to people who they were and what they did, inviting them to come in for an event or workshop. After a while the building and the red T-shirts where recognized and this method proved to be the most effective way of reaching out to people. Foam continued ringing doorbells, visiting school squares and participating in neighbourhood activities for the four years the project ran.
Foam started doing workshops for children and adults. Depending on the success of the workshop the frequency would go up or down. The results of workshops were displayed in the window of the project location, in exhibitions in the location or on public locations like show windows. The public exhibitions were much appreciated by the neighbours.
What have they learned?
Lisa Kleeven, former head of education at Foam and project coordinator for West Side Stories, says that looking back, surprisingly, not having a fully developed plan was partly the reason she thinks the project was so successful. Going into the project they got their space very quickly and they had to start activities very soon. Kleeven explains that not having everything thought out in advance meant that there was room to improvise, listen to feedback and be flexible to wishes from and developments within the neighbourhood. Foam was able to adjust strategies as they went along.
Kleeven also says that part of the success came from taking on a very personal approach and really listening to people that came in, about what was going on in the neighbourhood and what their needs were. The Foam team kept an extensive file with contact information, interests, family members etc. on participants so they could personally invite them for activities that might interest them or their children. The team also wasn’t easily satisfied with the activities they were doing and was constantly looking for improvements, both on content and number of participants. In this way, activities evolved and became more sensitive to community needs.
The museum space in the centre and the project location influenced each other. Programming that worked really well in the project location, such as workshops for adults or short programs that people could walk into without registration or tickets, were transferred to the city centre and are still there as part of the educational programme. Lessons learned in both locations were shared between staff members.
Why is it a best practice:
West Side Stories is inspiring as a best practice in co-creation, because:
Seeing it as a responsibility to be a museum for all people within Amsterdam, Foam decided to commit to a new community by moving towards them, literally.
Going in without a set plan, taking residents of Nieuw-West very seriously and listening to their needs, allowed the team to change plans according to whatever worked best to achieve the project's goals.
A very personal approach and accessibility were the key factors in reaching neighbourhood residents of all ages.
High quality work was central to the project. Residents of Nieuw-West were taken as serious as visitors of the main location.
Description of institution:
Foam is an internationally operating organisation based in Amsterdam. Foam informs and inspires the widest possible audience by presenting all facets of photography. They organise a range of activities, from exhibitions to publications, to debates and educational projects. Scouting and presenting young, emerging talent is one of their distinguishing activities. Many activities take place from within the Amsterdam museum, but for specific projects, Foam will also approach an international audience. The organisation wants to be more to Amsterdam and its inhabitants than just a museum on the Keizersgracht. They deliberately choose to actively take part in the community and aim to get the widest, most diverse audience possible involved in the museum and the photographic medium. In their outreach programmes, photography has proven to be a great tool in bringing people in contact with each other, look at their surroundings and each other in a new way, and in helping people develop their own critical attitude towards photography and image making.
Interview with Lisa Kleeven by Robin van Westen via phone on August 11th 2015. Presentation with Lisa Kleeven on the West Side Stories project, during expert meeting ‘Hacking Heritage: the Audience, in Amsterdam on October 5th