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Deconstructing the traditional guided tour with Hanna Piksen




Today I’m so happy to be talking to Hanna Piksen about deconstructing the traditional guided tour and creating a completely new experience where guides are given free rein to design and lead the tour entirely from their own perspective. 

Hanna Piksen is the Head of Co-learning at Het Nieuwe Instituut in Rotterdam. This is the national museum for digital culture, design and architecture in the Netherlands.

Hanna has a background in art history, art education and in collaborating with artists.

She believes that the most valuable and unexpected things happen when museum education is content based, visitor focused and experiment driven.

In today’s episode Hanna talks to me about the Detour Experiences that she has developed in Het Nieuwe Instituut.

Detours are unlike any other guided tour you have been on. 

Detours are deconstructed museum tours that give their guides the flexibility to present information in a way of their choosing.

Each one is specially designed from the Detour guide’s unique perspective as a musician, dancer, art teacher or designer.

In this episode we talk about the innovative hiring process for their unique team, the qualities that they are looking for in a Detour guide & the unlearning that the department had to do in order to co-construct these new experiences.

We explore how a Detour Experience works and the ways in which it differs from a traditional guided tour.

We also chat about what benefits the guides and the audience get from these experiences and Hanna shares feedback on how they have been received.

This one will open your eyes to new ways of looking at, thinking about and designing guided tours.


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Hanna Piksen

Het Nieuwe Instituut

More info about Detours and Detour Guides at Het Nieuwe Instituut

MuseumNext article about Detour guides


Claire Bown  04:14

Hi, Hannah, and welcome to The Art Engager podcast.

Hanna Piksen  04:18

Yes, hi, happy to be here!

Claire Bown  04:20

Thanks so much for coming on to chat to me. So perhaps you could start by explaining who you are, what you do and where you do it.

Hanna Piksen  04:29

Alright, so I am Hanna Piksen, and I am the Head of Co-Learning at Het Nieuwe Instituut and Het Nieuwe Institute is placed in Rotterdam in The Netherlands. Let me see, where shall I start, I can start with what a new institute is? Because it’s a bit of a weird name. We are actually the museum, the national museum for digital culture, design and architecture in the Netherlands. And it’s a really fun place to work at. I’ve been working here for five years now. And it’s a place where everything is questioned. And that also allows a lot to be possible – so you can just experiment along and yeah, it’s so I’ve been, I’ve been able to do quite a lot of cool things here. And I also I said, I’m the Head of Co-Learning. And that’s actually a new thing that we were we’ve decided on that we were the Education Department. And it was not feeling well for us, because it felt like we were sending information. When you listen to the name education, it felt quite formal and traditional. And we’re more and more trying to work together with our participants and to co-create. So we’ve been thinking, what should we do with this name? And so we recently decided, let’s call it co-learning, because we think learning goes both ways. So that’s a new thing. So I’m the head of that team, which is quite nice.

Claire Bown  06:00

I love it. Yeah, yeah. I think I always think about education as something that happens to you. Whereas learning is something you do together. So being the Head of Co-Learning is, yeah, it’s perfect.

Hanna Piksen  06:13

Yeah, yeah. Oh, that’s nice. Yeah.

Claire Bown  06:16

So, welcome to the show, what I really wanted to talk to you about was the Detour experiences that you’ve created at Het Nieuwe Instituut. So perhaps you could start by telling me a little bit about what they are.

Hanna Piksen  06:32

Yeah, sure. So when I started working at Het Nieuwe Instituut, we used to work with regular tour guides. And we used to script their tours for them, like, like most museums do. So we used to write out a tour. And they would have to tell certain things at certain places and do certain workshops with them. And it’s didn’t feel like it was the best fit for Het Nieuwe Instituut, because Het Nieuwe Instituut is all about learning that you are a designer of the future, and that we’re designing the future together. And this felt for me, maybe too traditional, too passive. And so I was thinking a lot about that. And together with a team, we came up with a new plan, that we would start all the way from scratch, and would only hire people who are designers, makers, artists themselves, and that we wouldn’t anymore script their tours, but it will be totally up to them how they give a Detour, because we decided this shouldn’t be called tour guides anymore, because we’re really doing something different. So they became the Detour guides. So, the idea of the Detour guides is that this is a group of people who all have their own expertise. For example, we have all designers obviously, like graphic designer or an interaction designer, but also an artist and dancer. And they are all giving Detours from their own perspective. And we make sure that they have all the information they need about exhibitions, and we give them all the training they need. And then they can do whatever they want with it. And the only thing we ask them is, of course, a certain quality when we choose good people, and they are fantastic. So that’s okay. But also, we will always like it when there’s not only talking, but also a lot of making and interaction and participation.

Claire Bown  08:33

Yeah, so I was watching a film about one of the Detour guides in action, and it seems like that, yeah, so it’s very interactive, it’s very participative. So how do you choose your guides? What training do they have? You’ve already shared a few examples of the type of people who become Detour guides, but yeah, who are they and what sort of training do you give them?

Hanna Piksen  08:59

Yeah, so how we choose them… We thought we really need to rethink the entire process. And so we started by we… so we’re based in Rotterdam, so we started by approaching all kinds of interesting partners that are rooted in like, ‘will you help us, like find these people? Because they’re out there somewhere and we don’t know where. And we tried to stay as far away from traditional….How do you call it in English?

Claire Bown  09:32

Oh, yeah. So like formal interviews.

Hanna Piksen  09:35

Yeah, exactly. And also the whole process. So we made, like, question..lists with questions that they had to fill in with questions like, ‘What are your three favourite things?’ And ‘if you wouldn’t be human, then what would you be?’ And by using those kinds of questions, we quite quickly found out who would be a match and who maybe wouldn’t. And there were so many people who totally surprised us with their answers. And then we had audition days where, like, I don’t know, 50 people would come. And they would audition in groups, because that way, we could really see they would stand in front of a group, how would you speak in front of a group? And those were my favourite days ever. That was so much fun.

Claire Bown  10:23

Did you have..? I’m sorry to interrupt. Did you have qualities that you were looking for in the guides? Did you have certain things that you thought would make a Detour guide? Or were you just looking for a general feeling from someone of creativity or something?

Hanna Piksen  10:40

Yeah, that’s a good question. We actually had like a list of things that we want to look out for as also what we had described in the text, what we were looking for. So one of the most important things is that we were looking for people who would be themselves and that way we make other people feel like they could be themselves too. And that was one really important quality or as one really important quality. But also, I think it’s very important to be flexible, because there are always always things going to happen that you don’t expect to love and embrace experiments to be able to make like lean connections between disciplines, and subjects and people to be connector. Well, a lot of things, but those are a few that aren’t very important.

Claire Bown  11:41

Yeah. And to be a guide, generally there are there are so many different hats that you wear, but being able to connect with people. And the collections that are around you, is one of the main things. And I would I would imagine, with this kind of experience, it’s even more important that they’re able to create those really quick connections with people so that they can carry out some of these activities that they want to do.

Hanna Piksen  12:06

Yeah, yeah, definitely. So that, that also, because we didn’t really look for traditional tour guides. We also like we didn’t expect this too, but somehow, we ended up with a lot of people who had never given a tour before. And so that really surprised us and that made sure that we were working with people who also could redefine what a tour could be. And but also asked a lot from us that we needed to give them a certain skillset that they weren’t used to have already. So they didn’t have to, didn’t… maybe someone had been a chef until then, or maybe someone had been like a full-time artist or something else. So we really needed to help them along also, like what is it that we are doing here, but also they could help us shape this new profession we were trying to figure out, because they they didn’t have this reference yet yet. So that was actually quite nice.

Claire Bown  13:14

Yeah, so that you didn’t have to do that unlearning, that sometimes has to happen, for people to be able to see things from a different perspective or to give a tour in a different way or to run a programme in in a way that’s more suitable to your organisation. So yeah, that sounds perfect.

Hanna Piksen  13:33

I think most of the unlearning that took place is what we had to do ourselves. So what our organisation had to do, and I think that’s something we’re still working on. So there’s quite often that I get a question like, but ‘what about the content?’ or ‘Isn’t it too much about making and interaction and not about like, heavy, deep conversations?’, and I never, ever worry about that. Because all these Detour guides, they choose that new institute because we are very content-driven and they are very happy to work with our content. And I also Yeah, it’s such a traditional way of looking at what a tour should be.

Claire Bown  14:12

Yeah. And it’s something that comes up for me time and time again, when I’m doing trainings with people as well. People who are worried about what to do with the information they’ve learned, or the contextual information or the content, as you say, and where will I share it? And how will I share it as though this kind of way of working is perhaps not sharing any content? Which is not the case, is it? You are still sharing content, but it’s a very different way of being able to share that through people’s curiosity and people’s questions.

Hanna Piksen  14:45

Exactly. And that is, you know, if you’re a good tour guide, then you know, what kind of needs your group has, or your participants have. So then if they have need for a certain type of content, and of course, you will give that to them. But I always believe that it works the best when it’s in a conversation. And when it’s on demand, then that you would just flush it over them. Of course, that doesn’t stick then.

Claire Bown  15:09

No, exactly. That’s the worst way of sharing any type of information, as we know, yeah. So tell me, I’m really curious to hear how an experience would unfold. So how would you describe I know, they’re all different and planned by the Detour Guides, but if you were to explain one for our listeners, how would you explain it?

Hanna Piksen  15:34

Yeah, let me see, trying to remember one that I can really go through step by step. Well, maybe Bas is a nice example. He actually isn’t a Detour guide anymore. But he was one of our first Detour guides, and he was a dancer, and philosopher, or still is, but not these are guys anymore. And what I really loved about what he did was he would build up. Somehow, he would build up the need for movements in his Detour. guide. So he would know all about the exhibition and you could tell you all about the exhibition. But then he would, for example, use certain words and think about what kind of movements would fit with these words. And then, in the end, step by step, but in the end, everybody was dancing, and they had made their own choreography. And I’ve been with the tourists from Bas, and then I, you know, there were, there was this group, and there was like an old architect, and I thought, ‘Oh, no way that he’s going to dance’. And there was another woman who just only want to, sometimes there’s this person in your group that only…she actually wants to talk, you know, the kind of person I mean. But in the end, he had a way because he built it up. So I don’t know gracefully, and because it is all, it is such a perfect method who he is. So you see, he’s a dancer from, like, miles away. So he just had built it up so well, that in the end, they were all dancing to their own group choreography, and it’s just moving, it’s really moving me to see that, you know, you’re never too old to play and to surprise yourself, I think. And I loved also how it was always, based on the exposition.. the exhibition, it was never about the dancing itself. It was always an interaction between the dancing and the theme of the expo. And of course, then there was always a bit of philosophy somewhere in between,

Claire Bown  17:48

Amazing, what a combination, a dancer and a philosopher! And it’s no mean feat is it? I was talking about this today, I was talking about creating ‘tableau vivantes’ in front of paintings and things and how you have to be able to understand your audience. And while some people might find that super exciting and fun and enjoyable, other people might find that a little bit scary or not be ready to do that. So for Bas to be able to ensure that the whole of his group were ready to dance by the end of his experience. He must have had a real way with connecting with people.

Hanna Piksen  18:24

Yeah, yeah, definitely. Yeah. I’m still a fan of him. I hope one day he comes back.

Claire Bown  18:29

Brilliant. Yeah. So could you share some of the benefits of, you know, maybe for the guides for the participants? Have you had any feedback from your audience about any of these experiences?

Hanna Piksen  18:42

Yes, yeah. The audience often says that they didn’t expect this to happen and that they are very pleased that it did. And, for example, teachers say that they.. that their pupils or their students are more involved in the tour. So that’s really nice. That was we were hoping for, and that the subject matters that they, I don’t know, come to life, that they’re not as aesthetic and as distant. And for the Detour guides, yeah, I don’t know, it’s such a nice group of people, and they’re so happy doing this. And I’m so happy with them. So it’s like one big love party. But yeah, so they, they are, they’re really enjoying it. And they’re often people who are an artist or designer and who wants to spend their time doing that, but also feel the need to connect with people. And they don’t want to sit in their studio only working on their things, they’re working on that that moment, so. And they are so happy that we really make it like tailor-fit. So they can really make it.. make their Detours in a way that it really fits them. But it’s not only the Detours, it’s also the the the tour guides are like growing within the organisation. And they are, when they see a chance, they often approach me and say, ‘I saw this is happening, maybe this would be a cool idea’. And most of the time, I can say ‘yes, let’s go for it’. And then before you know, it’s I don’t know, they are making their own installation within an exposition, or they are hosting an evening or something else. So. So it’s, it’s very fulfilling for them, I think because they can really use their talents.

Claire Bown  20:38

Yeah. And it gives them I think, endless outlets for their creativity as well.

Hanna Piksen  20:42

Yeah, yeah. And of course, I am only, like cheering from the side when something like that happens. I’m so happy to see them, like flourishing more and more within the organisation.

Claire Bown  20:55

Oh, wonderful. Oh, well, thank you so much for coming on to talk about the Detour experiences and all your fabulous Detour guides. I’d love to come and have an experience myself. So let’s see if we can arrange that as well!

Hanna Piksen  21:09

Every Thursday night at seven, you can join a free Detour.

Claire Bown  21:13

Amazing. So yeah, thank you so much. how can listeners find out more about you or Nieuwe Instituut or reach out to you?

Hanna Piksen  21:21

Yeah, so if you go, then you can read all about it. Just look for the tour guides or ‘rondleidingen’ in Dutch, and then you will see something about it. And of course, also our Instagram often highlights one of the Detour guides or one of the upcoming Detours.

Claire Bown  21:41

Yeah, and I’ll include a link to the MuseumNext article, which is in English, which also has a video of some of the guides at work as well so that people can look at that as well if they want to good idea. Yeah. Brilliant. Thanks so much for chatting with me, Hanna. Have a good weekend and we’ll speak soon.

Hanna Piksen  21:58

Bye. All right. Thank you. Bye. Bye.


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