Schoonvolk: an audio guide especially for young people | MSK Gent
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Schoonvolk: an audio guide especially for young people

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Lotte (26) is in her penultimate year as a psychology student at Ghent University, where Maaike (23) studies art history. Both are members of the MSK’s youth collective Schoonvolk, whose aim is to make the museum a place that visitors of all ages can enjoy. The group spent a year collaborating on a new audio guide designed especially for young people and covering topics of special interest to them. Whether it’s body positivity, FOMO, gender issues or climate change: why shouldn’t a medieval painting or a work by Paul Delvaux have something relevant to add to the discussion?

What motivated you to make this audio guide?

Lotte: We wanted Schoonvolk, the MSK’s youth collective, to have more of a presence in the museum. An audio guide seemed like a good tool for that. We also wanted to illuminate issues that young people are interested in, and at the same time link them to art.

How did you choose the topics and write the text for the stops?

Lotte: We started with a list of about 20 topics that are relevant to young people’s lives: mental health, gender roles, Instagram filters, their relationships with their bodies and so on. Then we distributed the topics among the Schoonvolk members and asked them to look for works of art that reflected them.

Maaike: We also did research. For example, my entry about dancing (see below) discusses the idea that we all have a natural sense of rhythm, and I looked into that in depth. For the entry about the human body I did some historical research on clothes that people wore in the past.

Lotte: Then we attended workshops by Marthy Locht from Museumteksten, who taught us how to write specifically for audio guides - what to keep in mind and how to create a cohesive whole. And then everyone got to work on their first drafts and we gave each other feedback. It was so interesting to hear all of the different stories, and there were lots really great things in them.

Maaike: We wanted to make the text as accessible as possible for all kinds of people. One thing we really paid attention to was getting messages across in a way that anybody can understand them and get the point. That’s something we worked hard on.

Did you include any of your own personal stories or anecdotes in the audio guide?

Lotte: I wrote the text about growing up to go with Felice Casorati’s painting Young Girl on a Red Carpet. For that I was able to use my knowledge of psychology: the various theories and the things that transform young people into adults. I also wrote another, more personal text about mental health, specifically depression, which I have suffered from myself. I told some of my own story in this one. Sharing something like that in an audio guide feels a bit like coming out, since it’s something I wouldn’t talk about much otherwise. But it did feel like something that was relevant to share with other young people, because others have similar stories. And I’m in a much better place now. The work I chose for that was Mary Magdalene, by Alfred Stevens. Sarah Bernhardt, an actress who was the model for the picture, also suffered from depression. I think it’s a really beautiful painting, and to me her face seems to show what depression feels like.

Listen to the audio guide stop ‘Growing up’

Maaike: I wrote the text ‘Dance’, which is about dancing but also about people’s innate desire to get out and party; it goes with Gillis I Mostaert’s Feast of Saint George. We started working on the audio guide just after the pandemic, and that feeling was something that was very much on people’s minds. I was really candid in this text, and I did my best to awaken my own inner party person. I also worked with Hannah and Noë on the text on how little pubic hair we see in the museum, which goes with the painting The Staircase by Paul Delvaux. I told my friends and family about that, and since then they’re constantly telling me about how they’ve visited various museums and not seen any pubic hair there either. [She laughs] I also contributed to the text about the human body.

Listen to the audio guide stop ‘Dance’

Maaike: To help us get started, a friend of mine who is a speech therapist gave a workshop on voice techniques and how to sound as natural as possible. We did the recording in a real studio, which was fun. I was a little anxious about it beforehand, but the recording process was fairly straightforward. We just read the texts and the director gave us instructions or asked us to read something again, or differently. In my case you could too often hear a smile in my voice when I was reading - and that sometimes sounded like I was mocking, so I would have to do it over. [laugh] But the quality of the audio is good and it all sounds very professional. 

Would you like to record something else in the future?

Maaike: Not really, but we all agreed that Hannah, another member of Schoonvolk, should really do something with her voice! [laugh]

Do you use an audio guide when you visit a museum?

Lotte: I don’t normally use an audio guide, since I prefer to do my own thing in a museum. But this experience has made me curious and I intend to try it more often. Particularly if it’s an unusual one, like ours is.

Maaike: I started to use them more often when we started this project because I was curious about how other museums did theirs and what might be possible. And having done our audio guide I’m convinced that it can add something to a museum visit.

Why is it important for you to discuss issues that are so topical?

Maaike: The museum has a lot of audio guides, and I’m happy that we have added one that presents the voices of young people and their ideas about art. I hope it will also help older visitors understand why these issues are so important to us. The audio guide gave us a platform to explain ideas and link them to art. I also think it’s important for us to stand up for issues in different ways, for a change. For instance, instead of protesting on the street, we’re using a 17th-century painting - Fox Hunt, by Paul de Vos - to talk about the importance of biodiversity.

Lotte: We’re quite proud of what we’ve created. There was a lot involved and it took a lot of effort, but it’s great!

The Schoonvolk audio guide is free to use and available at the museum entrance.