An is responsible for families and young people in the museum and is the project leader for Radio Bart.
Bart has been working at KMSKA since 1992. He used to work as a receptionist. Despite slowly losing his sight like his brother, Bart has always been an active person: from presenting at a local radio station to reciting poetry. When the museum reopened, they matched Bart’s many talents to the museum’s audience engagement ambitions to amaze, enrich and connect. This is how Radio Bart came about.
Radio Bart is an informal conversation between visitors and Radio Bart hosts, who are all blind, about art. A mobile studio moves around the museum and is placed in front of certain paintings. Anyone can go and join one of the Radio Bart hosts in the booth for a chat about what they see in the artwork.
And this is where the magic happens.
I’ve experienced Radio Bart for myself and can tell you that it’s a wonderful way to experience an artwork slowly. We sat together in front of a Karel Appel painting in February and Bart asked me questions about what I saw and asked me to describe the painting to him. We talked about the colours, shapes and lines. He asked me to describe how it made me feel and to choose where I would step inside the painting. We ended up having a conversation about my blind grandmother.
Being in conversation about an artwork with someone who can’t see it, makes you look at it differently. You observe and describe more. You notice more. You describe a mood, emotion, story;
– You reflect on the artist’s state of mind or motivations; you fantasise and use your imagination. You express what you see and think, you suggest things or wonder aloud. You look again. This creates nuance, creates depth. And deeper meaning too.
Radio Bart has now expanded and is now a team of 4 mediators. It takes place every Wednesday and Friday in the galleries continuously from 10:30 to 16:30. Chat for 15 mins with Bart or one of his colleagues about art. It’s free and reservation is not required. Anyone can take part.
In this chat we talk about how Radio Bart started, and how it works. We talk about how people can take part and the effects it has on people. We also explore how the museum trains the mediators and equip them with the skills they need.
If you get the chance to experience Radio Bart, do! Hope you enjoy our chat. Enjoy!
Claire Bown: Hello and welcome back to the Art Engager Podcast. I’m your host Claire Bown of Thinking Museum, and this is episode 98. So I have two guests for you again on the podcast. Today I’m talking to An Van Hertum and Bart Van Peer from the Royal Museum of Fine Arts in Antwerp,
We are talking about a wonderful audience engagement project that I had the chance to experience for myself, Radio Bart.
But before that, I talked to Denise and Sarah from the National Civil War Center. Last week we talked about the visual literacy project called Collect. Connect, create. This was a pandemic response to the disrupted learning that 14 and 15 year olds had experienced, and this project helped to develop creative writing skills through art raise exam attainment, and used thinking routines in really innovative ways. So listen to episode 97 if you haven’t already, and if you are interested in developing literary skills through art and thinking routines.
As always, if you’d like to support the show, you can do so by buying me a cup of tea on buy me a coffee.com/clairebown. I’ll also put a link in the show notes and you can help this podcast reach more people by posting about it on your own social media accounts, and by sharing, liking and commenting on my social media feeds too.
This podcast is now more than two years old, so do recommend it to your friends too. Thank you for all your support. It helps to keep the show going.
So let me introduce my guests this week. Ann and Bart are both members of the audience engagement team at the K M S K A in Antwerp. Anne is responsible for families and young people in the museum and is the project leader for radio bart.
Bart has been working at K M S K A since 1992 now. He used to work as a receptionist. Despite slowly losing his sight, like his brother, Bart has always been an active person from presenting at a local radio station to reciting poetry. He is renowned for his beautiful voice. When the museum reopened after a long renovation, they wanted to match Bart’s many talents to the museum’s audience engagement ambitions.
And this is how Radio Bart came about. So Radio Bart is an informal conversation in the museum between visitors and radio BART mediators. All of the radio BART mediators are blind and the conversations are about art. There’s a mobile studio that moves around the museum and it’s placed in front of certain paintings.
Anyone can go and join Bart in the booth for a chat about what they see in any of the artworks, and this is where the magic happens. I’ve experienced radio Bart for myself and can tell you that it’s a wonderful way to experience an artwork slowly and to see it differently. Bart and I sat together in front of a Karel Appel painting back in February, and Bart asked me questions about what I saw and asked me to describe the painting to him.
We talked about the colours, the shapes, and the lines. He asked me to describe how it made me feel and to choose where I would step inside the painting. We ended up having a great conversation and talked about my blind grandmother too.
Being in conversation about an artwork with someone who can’t see, it makes you look at it differently. You observe and describe more. You notice more. You might describe a mood, an emotion, a story, or reflect on the artist’s state of mind or motivations. You fantasize and use your imagination. You express what you see, what you think, you suggest things or you wonder aloud and you look again. All of this creates nuance and depth and deeper meaning too.
Now radio BART has now expanded and is now a team of four mediators. It takes place every Wednesday and Friday in the galleries of the K M S K A continuously. You can join in anytime from 10 30 till four 30. You can chat for 15 minutes with Bart or one of his colleagues about art. It’s free and reservation is not required.
Anyone can take part.
So I think there’s audience engagement and then there’s radio bart. This is something really special. It’s a conversation, an encounter, an exchange, a dialogue, an experience. It’s spontaneous and it’s very much unique.
So in this chat today, we talk about how radio Bart started and how it works.
We talk about how people can take part and the effects it has on people. We also explore how the museum trains the mediators and equips them with the skills they need. If you get the chance to experience Radio Bart, do. I hope you enjoy our chat.
Hi, Bart and Anne, welcome to the Art Engager podcast.
Bart van Peer: Many thanks. Claire.
An van Hertum: Hi.
Claire Bown: Now as we have two guests today, perhaps you could start off by introducing yourself separately. So I’ll start with you, Bart. Could you tell us who you are and what you do?
Bart Van Peer is a member of the audience engagement team at the KMSKA (Royal Museum of Fine Arts Antwerp) and the host of ‘Radio Bart’. Bart has been working as a receptionist at the museum since 1992, gradually losing his sight over time. During the 11-year closure of the museum for renovations, the Audience Engagement department began exploring new job descriptions, leading to the creation of ‘Radio Bart’.
An Van Hertum is also a member of the Audience Engagement team at the KMSKA. She is responsible for devising programs for families and young visitors at the museum and serves as the project leader for ‘Radio Bart’. An firmly believes in the capacity of all individuals to appreciate, discuss, and derive meaning from art, and her ultimate objective is to democratise art and make museums accessible for all.
Bart van Peer: Yes, my name is Bart van Peer. I am blind and I work since 1992 for the museum, for the K M S K A or Royal Museum of Fine Arts. In the past, I managed the museum reception as a telephonist, and after the closure since four years I became a member from the department’s audience engagement, and my project is named Radio Bart.
Claire Bown: Lovely. Thank you bart. And An could you introduce yourself?
An van Hertum: Yes. So my name is An van Hertum. I’ve worked for a museum for four years. And I’m also a member of the audience engagement team. I’m responsible for families and young people in the museum, and I’m the project leader of radio Bart.
Claire Bown: Brilliant. Now, I had the pleasure of visiting your museum a while back.
I absolutely loved it. I came with my daughter. We had a wonderful time in the museum, but perhaps you could tell our listeners a little bit about the Royal Museum of Fine Arts in Antwerp, otherwise known as the K M S K A.
An van Hertum: Yes. So the museum reopened its doors in 2022 after 11 years of closure. So the building has undergone a comprehensive restoration, as well as an expansion within the museum walls. We manage a collection of visual art from the southern Netherlands, from the 14th to the 20th centuries supplemented also by international masterpiece.
And we intend to make this collection accessible to a wide audience.
Claire Bown: So you have a variety of different educational programs at the museum. Perhaps you could talk a little bit about your, your mission for the education, the learning team, and your ideas around audience engagement.
Because from what I’ve seen, you think somewhat out of the box when it comes to audience engagement.
An van Hertum: It’s great that you noticed that. Because we have all sorts of educational programs and forms of audience engagement. There’s the guided tours, the app with the audio guides. We have open studio days, school programs, workshops. There’s K M S K A draws where we motivate every visitor to sit down and draw we also have several digital tools. We have multimedia with different levels for all target groups, and we offer digital experiences like an immersive space where we show details from works of art in a projection and we have a virtual reality experience.
But then we have also two more innovative analog experiences. We have the 10, which is an adventurous journey through the museum for families. Visual artist Christophe Coppens created 10 intriguing installations, inspired by strange or alienating details from paintings. And in collaboration with the opera house La Monnaie / De Munt in Brussels, he created high quality interactive objects that invite a visitor to look at art differently.
That’s why we have, for example, a very popular dromedary sofa in our Rubens hall. And then there’s also Radio Bart ,but Bart will tell you more about this later. We have five pillars of audience engagement. It’s look differently and see more an attitude of questions, dialogue and encounter, inspire and experiment.
And participates and dynamise and I think Radio Bart fits into each of these.
Claire Bown: Thanks for explaining that. I absolutely loved all the different types of audience engagement that you mentioned there. The camel that we found in the museum things that we could touch, the multimedia experiences were all fantastic. But I brought you on today to talk about radio Bart because I think it’s unique. I think it’s a, a unique program of its kind in the museum. So, Bart, could you tell me a little bit about what Radio BART is and how it got started?
Bart van Peer: Okay. First, I’ll tell how it got started. Our director, Carmen Willems, asked my colleague An to think about a new job for me which matched with the museum goals. She recognised that I have made local radio in the past. And I had some other talents like reciting poetry. I have a great knowledge of music, a beautiful voice. And Radio Bart was born. Radio Bart takes place in a mobile studio, in a museum room next to a painting. And people can sit down next to me and we look together to an artwork with somebody who is blind. I ask questions about the painting and. People also may ask questions to me, and it’s not necessary to know something about it in advance. I let the people look different and see more.
Claire Bown: I had the opportunity of sitting down with you Bart, and experiencing Radio Bart for myself when I was in the museum in Antwerp, and I can tell you it was a wonderful experience in slow looking, but also to have you as the mediator asking me the questions. I’ll ask Ann for her perspective about what radio bar is, and how you would describe it as well. I’m, I’m sure you have your own perspective.
An van Hertum: Yes. Bart already told us how it got started. So we got this question from our director, Carmen. She saw already the talents that Bart had, and she gave us this opportunity to put all of this together in a way to reach our strategic goals, to give every visitor a warm welcome and to look differently and see more.
So it was a very, and it still is a very experimental project, and we are searching and trying out, and also sometimes failing, but also succeeding. Luckily. Right now we, we even have three more hosts. So Bart is not alone anymore. We have three more people that take over this role as a host, as a mediator.
And why is this such a nice project? Why is it so innovative or unique? You already said like, it’s very unique to have a blind mediator. So this is not a project that targets blind people, or visually impaired people, but they’re not the target group, they are the mediators. I think we’re quite unique because these blind people, they formed a bridge between the visitor and the visual art collection, and they contribute as full mediators.
And we don’t approach these blind people from a disability. But from a rather special talent, the talent to make a sighted person, a seeing person look better.
Claire Bown: I think that’s exactly what happens. Because you are seated next to someone who can’t see, when Bart asked me what do you see, I was encouraged to share what I could see in front of me to observe and to describe and to really look for details. And in doing so, that really helped me to notice new things in the artwork that we were looking at. So what effect does it have on looking, does it help to slow people down?
How does it enhance the art experience?
An van Hertum: So we have this quote from a visitor. He said, without this conversation I would’ve been more inclined to look at the artwork from a distance and pass by. So just looking at it without actually seeing it, I think that says it all. People look at art I think. Four seconds, 20 seconds, 30 seconds. There’s different research about it, but even when they look, they don’t really see, they don’t slow down. They don’t really think about it. So I think Radio Bart helps them to believe in their ability to really see and to interpret and to give meaning to an artwork.
Claire Bown: And I know you took part in Slow Art Day as well in the museum, but a lot of what you’re saying is also reminding me of the goals of Slow Art Day and the fact that you don’t need to know anything about art to look at it. And sometimes people are just looking for a framework to help them slow down or to help them look at the art. You mentioned that you have some new mediators for the program, so perhaps you could talk a little bit about what’s next for Radio Bart. Perhaps how you’ve been training these new mediators and what skills you are looking for.
An van Hertum: Yes. So we have three new hosts. We train them with the help of Janien Prummel. She is a consultant in conversation methods in museums. She’s like a guide for museum guides. And in this training, she also used your techniques like step into a painting. It’s something that Bart uses a lot. So we have to thank you for that. The skills that we trained our new hosts in we have five skills, it’s curiosity and openness; co-creation: so they’re able to build a story together with the inputs of the visitor. Give meaning: so place the topic in a broader context. Take the conversation to a level of depth and meaning. Then there’s creativity, and of course there’s also language and voice, but our hosts have many more skills and we want to do a lot more with these talents.
So, Bart will step by step, take over my role as a coordinator of this project. So he will be the project leader of Radio Bart. Ditmar (Goes) is very poetic and well spoken, so we’re thinking about asking him to write about the radio Bart dialogues that he has for social media or for a blog post.
We noticed that Youssri (Mejdoubi) is very great with groups. So maybe we can further expand that Radio Bart with groups, we’ve been experimenting with that. Lesley (De Ceulaer) is very curious and insightful. She has no problem at all to have a conversation with the most timid visitors. So we will brainstorm about the possibilities together with our hosts. One thing they all have in common, also Bart, is their great sense of humour.
So actually, actually we laugh a lot. I think that’s important as well. And currently we’re making a podcast with students from a school about Radio Bart so you can feel that this is a living and an experimental project that has many ways to grow.
Claire Bown: Fantastic. Perhaps you could lead listeners to how they can find out more about Radio Bart. Or reach out to you?
Bart van Peer: Yes, if people have some questions.
There’s Radio Bart’s email address. It’s [email protected] Radio Bart takes place every Wednesday and Friday from 10 30 until 1630, and you also may visit our website.
Claire Bown: Fantastic. And An, did you want to add anything?
An van Hertum: Well I just wanted to thank the entire team because everyone worked really hard on this to make this possible and to believe in this project because it wasn’t that easy to start.
And I think now it’s already a big success and it can only grow bigger. And right now we, we have to end this lovely conversation because Bart has a very important visitor. The Belgian King and Queen are coming to visit the museum and they want to meet Bart and do a Radio Bart session, so that’s very special.
Claire Bown: Indeed a very special event that you have to get yourself to. So thank you so much for coming onto the podcast for sharing about Radio Bart. I’m so glad I could take part myself, and I’m delighted to share it with lots of listeners around the world as well.
So thank you Bart, and thank you Anne for being on the podcast.
An van Hertum: Thank you, Claire.
Bart van Peer: See you next time, Claire.
Claire Bown: So a huge thank you to Bart and Anne for being on the podcast today and for talking about Radio. Bart, I hope you enjoyed our chat. Go to the show notes to find out more about this really unique experience. And before you go, if you are interested in finding out more about what thinking routines are, do go and download my ultimate thinking routine list with over 100 thinking routines on it.
I’ll put a link in the show notes. That’s it for this week. Thank you for listening. I’ll see you next time. Bye.
Thank you for listening to the Art Engager podcast with me, Claire Bown. You can find more art engagement resources by visiting my website, thinking museum.com, and you can also find me on Instagram @thinkingmuseum, where I regularly share tips and tools on how to bring art to life. And engage your audience.
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