STAM – Ghent City MuseumPaper
Frederik Verstraete, Belgium
In 2010, after a radical reconstruction of both buildings and exhibitions, STAM re-opened as a modern city museum. The permanent exhibition leads visitors along a chronological trail of objects and multimedia which trace the development and growth of Ghent, one of the largest towns in Belgium. But, whereas most museums start in the prehistoric period, STAM starts in the present-day city, with the motto ‘from the present to the past and back again’. STAM’s real showpiece, its raison d’être, is the city itself.
In order to tell ‘the story of Ghent’, STAM makes use of digital media on a much larger scale than most other city museums. The web-based software application Views of Ghent reinforces the connection between the different rooms (and times in history) in the permanent exhibition. Views of Ghent contains maps, pictures and textual information about streets, squares and buildings in the past and present. And there is more: the exhibition contains entire rooms covered with screens, 3D models and digitally enriched photographs on floors and walls, next to more traditionally curated rooms. For instance, the room that focuses on the period after the Second World War is set up as a lounge, where visitors can actively choose what film footage they wish to see. Two MS Surface multi-touch tables contain short film fragments about Ghent. The visitors can pick and choose fragments of their own choice and compose their own film, which can then be projected on a big screen.
STAM tries to implement multimedia, 3D and technology in a well-considered way. We actively use technology when it brings an added value to the story, this of course within the limits of what is practically and financially feasible. In 2012, a temporary exhibition about Ghent photographer Edmond Sacré (1851-1921) could be visited with a smartphone that allows you to compare Sacré’s photograph of a particular location with the present day situation on Google Streetview. In 2013 STAM integrated a 4D interactive model of the site of the world exhibition which was organised // World Fair held in Ghent nearly 100 years ago. And of course, the ‘Views of Ghent’ is an ongoing project with a regular update of information and input of new streets.
Currently, we are preparing a project about migration. STAM has listed 35 locations around the city that are important in the history of migration. Some of these places still serve the same purpose, others have changed beyond recognition. STAM makes their meaning and the connection between them clear in audio trails and guided walks and so brings the past to life. A website provides a digital translation of everything, and the locations are linked and placed in a broader context; moreover, migration is set against a historical background based on existing and new research by means of texts, photographs, film clips, newspaper clippings and anecdotes, arranged by country, period and subject. Residents can also contribute their stories, photos and films, so that they become part of Ghent’s migration heritage in the STAM collection.
More than just a museum, STAM is a junction with many roads leading off it. As local residents, users and (international) visitors explore them, they are inspired by the story of Ghent and urbanity in general. To this end STAM works with (heritage) partners in Ghent and beyond. Since STAM opened in October 2010, it has won several awards and welcomed over 250,000 visitors. Both young and old, and old & new style museum lovers have welcomed and embraced STAM and keep on doing so.