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Heart for Art and the Van Gogh Museum


Today I’m talking to Gundy van Dijk, Head of Education and Interpretation at the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam about Heart for Art – an outreach programme that brings art education and inspiration to children who may not have easy access to it. This programme uses Vincent van Gogh’s life story and artworks as a means of engagement and personal development.

Gundy van Dijk has over 20 years of experience in the field of museum, art, and cultural education. Gundy has a natural talent for connecting people and organisations, and she has built a strong international network. Currently, she holds the position of Head of Education & Interpretation at the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam.

Gundy values connection, dialogue, process, and quality in her work within the museum world. She believes that art plays a vital role in initiating discussions about social change and innovation. 

Throughout her career, Gundy has been deeply engaged in the field of education. Her passion lies in inspiring people, bridging the gap between the audience and the story, and promoting interaction and participation. 

In our chat today we talk about the Heart for Art programme at the Van Gogh Museum supported by DHL.

This programme provides children with limited access to art education the opportunity to learn about Vincent van Gogh, foster their creative development, and engage in meaningful discussions about themes from Vincent’s life, including identity, pursuing dreams, and overcoming obstacles. It includes teacher training sessions led by experienced educators from the Van Gogh Museum either in-person or online. 

Participating schools receive tailor-made teaching materials and a Van Gogh Museum Edition: a high-quality 3D reproduction of a Vincent van Gogh artwork delivered to each school to help bring the lessons to life.

Heart for Art, which was first piloted in New York in spring 2022, is now being rolled out to other American cities with plans for a global expansion in the pipeline. The US expansion means that over the next 3 years, thousands more children with limited access to art education can be inspired by Vincent van Gogh’s work and life story.

I first met Gundy back in 2011 at the Tropenmuseum and we’ve been great friends and collaborators ever since. We had a great chat and I hope you enjoy it too!


Claire: Hi Gundy. Welcome to The Art Engager podcast.

Gundy: Good morning!

Claire: So I’m delighted you are here with me today. Could you explain for our lovely listeners where you are in the world?

Gundy: Yes, of course I can. So I’m based in Amsterdam at the Van Gogh Museum. So that’s in the centre of Amsterdam. And at the moment, I’m working from home because of the recording of the podcast, because on Tuesday it’s really busy in the museum and in the offices….

Claire: Excellent. So we’ve got you at home. You’re in a nice quiet space. Hopefully we won’t get interrupted during this recording. You never know. Mm-hmm. So tell us a little bit about what you do and where you do it.

Gundy: I will, I’d love to. So I’m Head of Education and Interpretation at the Van Gogh Museum and the Education Department is a quite big department, so we have around 16 employees in the department so it’s quite a big team and it’s fun to do. And always lovely to say that we have in Amsterdam, the Van Gogh museum but we also take care of the Mesdag Collection in the Hague. So we actually have two museums…

Claire: Prior to working at the Van Gogh Museum, we’ve known each other for quite some time, but could you tell our listeners a little bit about what brought you to this job?

Gundy: Yeah. Yeah. So I studied museum studies way back.

But what I did during my studies was that I focused on museum education already. I was so interested in how to engage with your audience, how to tell. Story to your audience, how to work for different target groups.

So I was really interested in that. But every museum where I worked, I worked on education and was responsible for the education. And we met in the Tropenmuseum. And we were both inspired by how to engage your audiences.

Claire: Yeah. And that was back in 2011 now?

Yes. Quite some time ago. And that’s where I discovered Visible Thinking. That’s where I developed the ‘Stories around the World’ program and we kind of met each other and we’ve been friends ever since. Full disclosure, before we carry on with this conversation. But I brought you onto the podcast today…I could talk to you about so many different subjects. We’ve obviously worked together a lot over the years. We are fascinated by the same things. We are both really interested in engagement in the museum. But a program that really struck me was the Heart for Art programme that you’ve started, an educational programme at the Van Gogh Museum.

So perhaps you could tell us a little bit about what Heart for Art is. How would you describe it?

Gundy: Yes. Yes. So the Heart for Art programme, we started, I think last year with it. And it’s a programme for children who have limited access to education.

 The mission and vision of the Van Gogh Museum is that we want to inspire everyone with the life and work of Vincent van Gogh. So a lot of people can come over and visit the museum, but there are plenty of people and young children who won’t have that access.

 So we said we want to do it in a different way. We are going over to schools and to reach out, it’s a kind of Outreach programme to those children. And what we do is we train the museum docents. So it’s a ‘train the trainer’ programme because thinking of, well, global issues, the environment, sustainability….

So we said, okay, we will do it from based from Amsterdam, but we will globally inspire teachers and children. So we only can do this because of extra funding we got from D H L.

Claire: Yeah. So you’re partnering with D H L for this programme?

And it started in New York last year, I believe.

Gundy: Yes. So what we did is that we were looking for a partner because we said, well, we are not based in the United States. And then we said, okay, we’re looking for partners who can work with us.

And in New York, we found an organisation that’s called New York Edge. And New York Edge offer after-school programming. So we thought that’s a good idea because we did the research. And in the research we find out that in the school curriculum there is so limited space to do something extra.

And then we thought, okay, a lot of children go to after school programmes and they are searching for more educational programming.

So they do sports, they do arts, they do theatre and we thought, well, it fits in perfectly. So we reached out to them and they were enthusiastic about it, working together with us in this programme. So they are our first partner and later on we found another partner in Houston.

And Houston, we work with a school district. So one is an after-school programme, organisation, and the other one is based in school.

So we said the, the objectives of the programme is that, well, what I already said, we want to inspire as a museum, everyone in the world by the life and work of Vincent van Gogh. But we thought the life of Vincent van Gogh, there are so many connections to children nowadays.

So we use the past and the present together because Vincent van Gogh was searching his whole life… how do you say that? What his vocation was. Mm-hmm. So he started as a teacher. He was a, an art dealer. As well. So we, we thought, So that’s also a good objective for children to learn about your own identity, how to get used to disappointments in life and how you go on . So these are the objectives of the programme.

“We use the art of Vincent, but it’s not mainly about the art of Vincent van Gogh. It’s much more about how you become a person, more about your own identity. It’s also about chasing your dreams. It’s about your identity and who you are. And how to cope with setbacks in life.”

Claire: These are fascinating . Perhaps you could explain to listeners how you engage students with the art of Van Gogh through these lessons, what teaching methods, approaches you might use what kind of creative assignments you’re talking about? Yeah.

Gundy: Yeah. Lovely. So we, we created two series of lessons.

So what we do is that we have a Museum Edition. That’s a painting by Vincent van Gogh and it’s almost, looks as real. And we send them to for instance to New York Edge. So they will have a painting, a museum edition of ‘The Bedroom’ and then we have those lessons around it.

So what we did for ‘The Bedroom‘ and for ‘The Harvest‘, we designed five lessons. You learn in the lessons about who is Vincent van Gogh. So that’s one lesson. Then for The Bedroom, for example, there is a lesson about how you can draw in depth.

So then you have more the art skills but also they are going to paint a chair. And that chair is not you think, okay, we’re going to paint a chair, but then it’s about a self-portrait. So how do you want via a chair (to) show yourself to the world? What’s important for you? So you have those conversations with the students, and then in the end, they have that self portrait via a chair. And it’s lovely to have those conversations with the students.

They learn about the 21st century skills, so to reflect on an artwork, to have a dialogue, to ask questions, but also in a creative way. So they learn about colours and, and how you use colours in a painting.

And then reflect on that. And they paint of course, and they learn how to make their own colours. So we did that for two lesson series. So one was The Bedroom and maybe it’s lovely to share as well that we had. Lesson series about The Harvest as well.

And on that lesson series, we’re focusing more on feeling and how do you feel? When you look at a painting, what kind of feeling does it give you? But also Vincent tried to bring his feelings as the best he could in different paintings.

And in the lesson series of the Harvest, we also put a meditation. So that’s a meditation session of five minutes looking at the Harvest, and then later on the students have to come up with their own feelings and then create, so how do you feel? What do you want to put on paper of your own feeling? And they are going to create during The Harvest lessons, a leporello, So that’s an accordion book. And then I already said, so we are looking at the past, like Vincent, but we are also connecting, connecting our lessons to artists nowadays.

So what we did for the leporello is that we used Etel Adnan. So she was an artist I think she lived in France and in the United States, but she was based from the Middle East. So we use that as well because I think it’s important that. Vincent van Gogh is a white artist from Europe or the Netherlands.

And how do you relate thinking of the students, for example, in New York or in Houston to an artist like that. So we have in the lesson series as well one assignment is that ‘are you like Vincent?’ And then you, at first you think, no, I’m not. But then looking at things he said, he felt, are you loving nature, for example, or do you like to write or, and then you can say, oh yeah, maybe I’m more or less, I have same things as Vincent as well. So that’s what we want to So give to the students as well that they realise that, and also realise that we have different artists we can use in the programming.


Claire: Yeah. I love that you’re making connections with the past, with the present, you are connecting Vincent Van Gogh with different artists, but you’re also connecting the participants, the children, with Van Gogh, even if they don’t think they have connections, they can find connections through this sustained looking, this close looking that you are encouraging through the lessons.

I’d love to just talk a little bit about the replicas because I was watching one of the videos and there’s great excitement, these replicas for everyone who hasn’t seen one of these, they are life size. They’re the same size as the actual painting. They look like the actual painting.

And they’re transported to the organisation that you are partnering with. How are children responding to receiving a life-sized version of a Van Gogh painting in their school or after school club?

Gundy: Yeah, so they are so enthusiastic about it. Having this in the class or in the school, and it stays there during the period they are working on the lessons. So it’s not that it’s only there for one moment, but it stays for a whole period. So you open the box and then you have that life-size painting and you can touch it.

So normally in a museum you’re not allowed to touch, but you, you have this in your classroom and then you can feel it and it’s like impressive that you have this in your classroom and you are able to touch it and you can connect to it. So yeah, that’s

“…what I hear from the teacher is that it’s a magical moment when you open that box and you put that painting in your classroom and it stays there for a few weeks.”


Claire: And the difference between that and looking at an image on the screen Yeah. Is immense, isn’t it? Yes. Because you can actually see the brush strokes, you can see the paint, the technique, you know, it, it almost looks. Looks so like the real thing. So I can see, and you can see the wonder in the children’s faces on the videos as well.

Yes. Yeah. You mentioned there about training the teachers, so I’d love to move on to that because it’s the, the teachers that deliver this program, yes. You have Yes. Video lessons for them, but the teachers are the ones who are actually facilitating it. So how do you train them?

Gundy: Yes. Yeah. So before we designed this programme, we run in the Netherlands already, Van Gogh At School.

So that’s also an outreach programme. And then we use our own museum teachers. And we have that big online platform where we have over 200 lessons. And they’re free. So you can go there and you can use those online lessons in your classroom.

So we make that combination in the Heart for Art programme and we said, okay, because of the global issues about sustainability, it’s better to do a ‘train the trainer’ programme.

So we start with those museum lessons and then we create an online video. And in that video someone is explaining the whole lesson series. So in the Houston Online video, I’m the teacher who teach the teachers.

But it could be one of the museum docents or one of my colleagues. So we step by step, we explain what you’re going to do as a teacher, but there are always questions, so afterwards we have a live Q and A session so you can ask all your questions. So we try to stay connected to the teachers and ask them also to ask us questions, but also share the experience of the students and their own experience, how it’s for them to do those lessons.

Claire: Wonderful, and they’re kind of helping each other along by collaborating and getting to know other teachers who are working in the same project and how they’re handling certain lessons.

I’d love to hear what the impact has been so far of the project. How are you evaluating it? How’s it gone so far?


Gundy: So we ask the teachers to send us an evaluation. So we created those questions because we are not allowed to ask every student, of course, how it was for them.

And they said to us already that it was great that they could offer these lessons and that that it was so inspiring for the, for the students. So we just started well almost a half a year now, I think, with the lessons. So you’re a little too early maybe I can share that later on with you.

So we did two, but there will be another three coming up, so we use that information as well.

And one of the most wonderful stories I had, so I did that live training in New York last year. And the teachers were really moved by having the Museum Edition in the classroom that they, that we we working together.

So one of the teachers visited the Van Gogh Museum a few months ago, and so I welcomed him in the museum and he said, oh, you are the teacher in New York last year. I said, yes, I was, oh, I remember you. And he said, you made me draw during the lessons.

And he said, yes, but it didn’t stop there. I said, oh, tell me. And then he said, well afterwards, every weekend I started to draw and to paint. So I also inspired teachers with the lesson series. And he also said that: Van Gogh, I was not feeling connected to him in that way. But then during the lessons, learning more about him, learning about his life, his struggles we talked about the letters. It was such a big inspiration for me.

So, Yeah. About impact and knowing about more about impact, I think it’s too early to say something about it, but as I told you, we’re doing an analysis now already and we do that every, several periods to know and to, to stay connected to the lessons and if the lessons are really fitting for the teachers.

Claire: Fantastic. And yeah, we, we’ll stay in touch and we’ll find out what you find out as the program evolves. But what does the future hold for the project?

What are your plans?

Gundy: So we’re now in all those different cities in the United States, New York, Houston, but also Philadelphia and Detroit. And Los Angeles is coming up. And we are doing research to bring it more globally. So we are researching now where to go further. And thinking of offering lessons in Spanish. So I’ll let you know where we go.

Claire: Brilliant. So global ambitions there. Yes. Which is very exciting. So how can people find out more about Heart for Art, about the Van Gogh Museum and about you as well?

Gundy: So there’s for art, but also the, the general website, I think.

And then Heart for Art, there is more information. I think you refer to the small film we made during our pilots periods in New York. I think that’s a lovely way that you can see how it works for the students. And knowing more about me, I think that’s on my LinkedIn page, and that’s just Gundy van Dijk

Claire: We will share the links for all of that, including the video. The video‘s great to watch. It really gives you the emotion and the excitement and the wonder that you can see in the, in the student’s eyes when they see this replica for the first time.

So thank you Gundy for coming on The Art Engager podcast. It’s been a pleasure to chat to you.

Gundy: Thank you so much, Claire.