Uw toren is niet af

Participatory exhibition 

Museum: Museum Hof van Busleyden
Years: 2014-2015

Museum Hof van Busleyden

Museum Hof van Busleyden is the result of a five-year comprehensive participative process in the search for a broadly based and widely supported new concept for the museum. Participation is at the core of the organization: the new completion of the museum happened in dialogue with various communities and the current policy sees participation as a transversal line through all aspects of museum operation.
This underlying attitude has an effect on our policy towards ICH and ICH-communities as well. Active community input lies at the foundation of the museum, and we take an integral approach towards all our communities, ICH and otherwise.

Intangible cultural heritage has an equal input into the museums’ collection plan as do the other collections. The museum sees the evolution of its collection policy in dialogue with the different communities that cherish and safeguard this intangible cultural heritage.
An example of this approach are the participatory spaces in the museums’ permanent exhibition space. Various Mechelen based organisations are asked to represent themselves and their link to the city there. Their representation acts as an actualisation of the past city life that is presented in the preceding museum rooms. A substantial part of these ‘new’ organisations are communities that cherish intangible cultural heritage (such as a lace bobbin society or a puppeteer), and the museum thus supports them in their safeguarding activities. But next to that we also provide a ‘museum stage’ for new organisations that aren’t consciously active in the field of heritage and museums and in that way we sensitize these organisations to discover the heritage in their day to day practice.
The museum thus does not only show the cities' past, but also brings that past up-to-date by linking it with life in the city today. It assumes that the history of the city is only meaningful in the light of its current points of connection with the visitor or user.

© Karin Borghouts - Hof van Busleyden (2015)

Uw toren is niet af

Description of the project / practice / program

The exhibition Your Tower Isn’t Finished was the last phase in a lengthy stakeholder survey we held to investigate what people expected from and envisaged for the new city museum of Mechelen. In the phases preceding the exhibition we had questioned museum experts and academics as well as the local policy makers and civil society organizations. On the one hand, the exhibition was a translation of this growing vision-forming process, while on the other it was a dialogue with the final group we still had to question, namely, the public, every museum’s fundamental stakeholder.
That exhibition was a crucial phase for the museum team to test different methods of participatory work. Mechelens organisations, but also individual visitors were called upon to actively intervene in the exhibition.
At first we invited all sorts of Mechelen organisations, from heritage over performing arts to sports, and asked them how they wanted to be represented in the exhibition. We sat down with all the interested parties and worked out a customized programme together.
In total we welcomed more than 53 different organisations to the exhibition and they organised more than 40 activities there in the timespan of three months. More than 73 objects were added by Mechelaars and the timeline representing the history of Mechelen was an active tool for visitors where they commented on historical facts or added their own vision on Mechelen history. The evaluation of this exhibition taught the museum the added value of participatory practice as a way to involve communities and visitors and to link their perspective to the museums objects and stories.

How were practitioners of intangible cultural heritage involved?

ICH practicioners and communities were involved in this project in the same way as all the stakeholders that were an active part of the exhibition: we asked them in what way they wanted to contribute to the exhibition. What did they want to share with the public, what heritage did they hold dear and wanted to see integrated in the exhibition? The response of all these communities was overwhelming. We supported the communities in their presentation, but they decided themselvers what they wanted to show. With regards to ICH, the following activities where programmed in the exhibition. They encompassed the different domains of intangible heritage: performing arts, traditional craftsmanship, social practices, rituals and festive events:

  • The lace bobbin society held their weekly meeting in the exhibition
  • The carillon society decided to have their classes in the exhibition, thus sharing their music and expertise with the visitors
  • Local craftsmen shared their expertise with the public, f.i. a traditional cigar maker and a hat maker demonstrated their skills
  • A local theatre company celebrated it’s 60th anniversary by incorporating key events from their history to the exhibition’s timeline
  • Puppeteer Paul Contryn gave a lecture on his family history and told a story about the craft puppeteering and puppet-making
  • Stories were told and shared about local traditions in celebrating carnival in the different city quarters
  • The members of a local circus and theatre company (Circus Ronaldo) described their history and their ties with the city in front of an immense circus backdrop that was presented in the exhibition


CV of the author

Sigrid Bosmans has a Master of Art History (KULeuven) and works in the Belgian cultural heritage sector since 2005. Since 2015 she is head of the Department Museums & Heritage Mechelen and artistic director of the Museum Hof van Busleyden. Throughout her career she has been an active member of several expert groups and commissions. She is Vice President of Het Firmament, center of expertise for the cultural heritage of the performing arts. Since 2014 she is also member of the board of directors of APPS, the Activation Platform for Participatory Solutions. The association aims at facilitating and extending an international network around participatory methods.


  • Working with intangible heritage gets things moving, literally and figuratively speaking. Make sure to reserve enough space in your exhibition room. For objects, but primarily for people! For performers, storytellers, dancers, ... and for the audience that wants to sit down and enjoy.
  • Take the time to go over all the angles of a cooperation with the partners involved. Take multivocality as a starting point! An object gets another meaning if different people look at it and comment on it. 
  • Document! Incorporating intangible heritage in a museum presentation is often a unique opportunity to bring together the isolated knowledge, available in the minds of several tradition bearers.




05 February 2018 from 16:43 to 16:43



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