Sticking Around. Over 50 years of Migration to Ghent

composite project, including a city-wide exhibition outdoors, a series of guided and audio-guided tours in the city, and a digital platform with historical background information on different elements of migrants' intangible heritage

Museum: STAM  website
Years: 2014


The core mission of STAM - the Ghent City Museum - is to tell the story of the city of Ghent in particular and of urbanism in general. Throughout the permanent exhibition, the museum pays particular attention to historic customs and traditions, such as those of the ancient archers society, as well as processions and rituals. One of the top pieces showcased in the exhibit is a series of processional torches that were taken out by the trade guilds on the occasion of festivals and ceremonies. 

Furthermore, STAM also focuses on the collection, preservation and valorization of oral histories that are witnesses to different aspects of urbanization, such as city renewal and sports in the project 'Ottenstadion' (2013), migration in the project 'Sticking Around' (2014), and more recently hospitals and healthcare in the project 'Bijlokesite' (2017). In the near future, STAM will continue this focus on oral histories through a new community-driven project, 'The square kilometer', where urban dwellers and users of different areas will be asked to share their knowledge, experiences and customs of the city with the museum and the public in general. 

Sticking Around. Over 50 years of Migration to Ghent

Description of the project / practice / program

From April to November 2014, the Ghent City Museum ran the project ‘Sticking Around. Over 50 years of migration to Ghent’. This project focused the attention of the inhabitants of Ghent on the variety and richness of the city’s migration past, by showcasing 35 lieux de mémoire related to migration and telling the history and stories behind these and other significant places, linking them to the wider history of the city and of urban society as a whole. In preparation to the project, more than 100 interviews were carried out with migrants and locals from many different backgrounds.

As the history of those who came to the city as outsiders has not left many tangible clues, the museum chose to focus on the history and commemoration of migrants’ intangible heritage: their social, cultural, economic, political and religious practices in a new environment; their stories of acceptance and rejection by the host society; and the memories of their customs, traditions and festivities in an initially unfamiliar setting. 

Through the installation of large columns where historical buildings no longer exist, as well as window stickers where a construction was still present, albeit with a different function today, the project tried to make this particular heritage visible in the urban landscape. Historical pictures and explanatory texts in different languages were intended to introduce those who did not know the hidden history behind these places and spaces, as well as acknowledge a place in the urban memory for those who did.  

Together with ICH-practitioners who were migrants themselves - some professionally involved in the field of cultural heritage, others people with an individual passion - the museum recorded five audio-guided tours. These led visitors across the city, from the centre to the ethnic neighbourhoods and back again, along places and spaces that were of interest to one or more migrant communities. Some tours dealt with stories of work and crafts, such as Italian mosaic and ice cream making; others dealt with cultural practices such as music and religious festivals and traditions. These tours were always recorded in two languages - the local Dutch and the native language of the people telling their stories. 

Finally, the project provided a website where all these places and spaces were discussed from a historical point of view, and related to broader stories about specific migrant communities, periods in time and themes surrounding migration. The website also served as a gateway for feedback and for the crowdsourcing of migration-related heritage from the audience.

How were practitioners of intangible cultural heritage involved?

The most direct involvement of ICH-practitioners was through the telling of their stories. The stories told in the framework of the project, on locations throughout the city and on the website, were told by people who were migrants to the city, commemorating the intangible urban heritage that related to them and their communities, but also to urban society in a wider sense. The city-expo and digital parts of the project exhibited written excerpts of these stories. More importantly, some 25 ICH-practitioners, centered around 5 key figures, told their stories in their own voices on five audio-guided tours that led visitors through the urban landscape, along places and spaces that were meaningful to this 'Migration Heritage'.

Further, the project was set up to connect other projects dealing with Migration Heritage (initiated by ICH-practitioners from many different backgrounds) to a broader historical framework. A network of individual practitioners, NGOs and cultural institutions was set up to commemorate, celebrate and critically engage with Migration Heritage in the city. A myriad of musical events, theatrical performances, guided walks and exhibitions - many of them community-driven and rooted in neighbourhood and ethnic networks - took place in Ghent during the running time of the project. All of these initiatives were connected through a central city website, providing a calendar and search function, and were related to the migration histories presented on the website of our project. 

CV of the author

Jozefien De Bock received her PhD in History from the European University Institute (Florence). Before graduating, she worked on several public history projects dealing with migration. After graduating, she curated for the Ghent City Museum STAM an open-air and digital exhibition on the history of migration to the city. Since then, she has worked for the Ghent Institute of Social History and held a postdoctoral position at Ghent University. In the meanwhile, she served as a consultant on several projects in the field of migration and cultural heritage, at a local, national and European level. Currently, she is a Fulbright fellow in South Carolina, working on a public history project on African American voices in the textile industry.



13 July 2018 from 09:49 to 09:49



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