‘Ranes Museum’ star Rane Willerslev shares secret to his success: fun + education

By Luo Yunzhou Source:Global Times Published: 2018/11/28 18:18:40


A Chinese poster for a Viking exhibition at the National Museum of Denmark Photo: Luo Yunzhou/GT


Rane Willerslev (middle) Photo: Luo Yunzhou/GT


After journalists finished gathering into a small meeting room at the Royal Danish Embassy in Beijing on November 22, Rane Willerslev, general director of the National Museum of Denmark, pointed to a cute round button sitting on a table: "This is the 'Boring Button,' when you push it, anything could happen."

Curious, one of the journalists gave the button a press and suddenly the sound of a loud ambulance siren rang through the air, invoking a ripple of laughter through the room.

Buttons just like this one can be found here and there throughout the Denmark museum. Their purpose is to help keep boredom at bay by adding a little spice to museum visits.

The miracle button

"Children do not like to go to the museums," Willerslev said, talking about the biggest problem he faced after taking over as director of the Denmark museum. He realized that a bunch of static displays accompanied by written explanations lacked the punch needed to capture the interest of visitors, especially young children and teenagers. Without something to interact with, children would quickly grow bored and miss out on the amazing experience that exploring the museum can be.

In order to bring more children in and keep their attention once they were there, Willerslev decided to make some changes.

"How can we make the museum exciting?" Willerslev said.

"I asked everyone on the staff and the best idea we came up with was the Boring Button."

"It is quite simple," Willerslev said in an excited voice as he pointed at the button on the table.

"You place these buttons at different places in the museum and change them every week. When you push one, something amazing will happen."

Willerslev played some recordings he made of visitors interacting with the buttons at the museum, showing off their surprise and delight as mummies came alive or a "time tunnel" opened up to take children to visit an ancient historical figure.

"It achieves a situation where children are now actually forcing their parents to bring them to the museum! It had a great effect!" he noted.

The success of his Boring Button strategy caused Willerslev to begin to think about the connection between fun and education.

"There is an unfortunate tradition in which you think that if things are funny, they cannot be knowledgeable," Willerslev said.

"All our research shows that if you combine the two, the knowledge will actually stick in children's minds, much better than they just sitting there and getting passive learning."

Cultural ambassador

Besides being an anthropologist and the director of the National Museum of Denmark, Willerslev is also something of a celebrity due to the documentary series Ranes Museum, which documents his first six months as museum director.

The second season is currently in production, with Willerslev shooting one episode while he is in Beijing.

"I study culture, and I think there is less interaction between Chinese and European museums. I chose to come to China to find out what kind of museum experiences might be attractive to Chinese," Willerslev said.

"This trip is tremendously useful for me in that I have got a sense of what Chinese audiences like. And what is positively surprising to me is that Chinese people are very open to the idea that you can have fun and learn something at the same time. Now I have a much better sense of what we could develop," he added. 

Willerslev mentioned that his trip has inspired a number of ideas that he plans to try out to attract Chinese tourists to the Denmark museum and that he plans to return next year to finish his "homework."

Newspaper headline: The cure for boredom


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