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Museum Rietberg

Museum Rietberg: Nice-to-have is all in the past

The offerings of the art education programme “Kunst sehen – Religion verstehen” (Understanding Religion Through Art) at the Museum Rietberg are developed in close collaboration with teachers and pupils. Photo: John Patrick Walder
The offerings of the art education programme “Kunst sehen – Religion verstehen” (Understanding Religion Through Art) at the Museum Rietberg are developed in close collaboration with teachers and pupils. Photo: John Patrick Walder

With Kunst sehen – Religion verstehen (Understanding Religion Through Art) the Museum Rietberg is expanding its art education programme for primary and secondary schools: various offerings provide in-depth looks at Buddhism and Hinduism – in museums, online and in the classroom. For the first time, the programme is already collaborating with project classes during the concept phase of an exhibition – which is a first for the museum.

“Look for a Buddha!” is the task assigned by art educator Caroline Spicker. The children don’t have to be told twice. They immediately scatter in all directions to search through the cabinets of the substantial viewable storage area. Here in the cellar of the Museum Rietberg, there are thousands of sculptures, masks and jewellery from Asia, Africa, North America and Oceania.

The children are also taking part in a workshop on Buddha statues and so have already become familiar with his typical characteristics. “We are giving the pupils the tools they need to immerse themselves in the museum,” says Caroline Widmer of the Museum Rietberg. “This means that to them, statues are not just old, dusty rocks.” The gods come alive through stories. “For example, according to Indian tradition, Ganesha likes sweets, Shiva and his wife Parvati like to play – and even cheat sometimes.” Children like that, she explains. Learning about art together makes children and adolescents more aware of it, making it possible for them to recognize Hindu, Buddhist and any other religious symbols in general in their daily lives. 

Making abstract topics understandable

Caroline Widmer is the project manager of “Kunst sehen – Religion verstehen”, which is made possible by the Migros Pioneer Fund. The museum’s art education programme is being expanded thanks to the three-year-old project, which was launched in spring of 2015. With additional tailored offerings for primary and secondary schools, teachers and educational institutions, the aim is to strengthen the museum’s link to these spheres of the public. “Especially in teaching about Buddhism and Hinduism, it is hard for many teachers to find areas in the lives of their pupils where they may relate to them,” explains Widmer. “Our collection offers many different ways to access the topic. Scholastic performance, whether it is “right” or “wrong”, ceases to apply.”

Johannes Beltz, the deputy director of the museum, participated in the development of the teaching materials for the school subject “Culture and Religion” of the canton of Zurich and is now connecting the programme directly to the canton’s curriculum. Nine workshops on Buddhism and Hinduism have been held thus far and they have been continuously further developed in collaboration with teachers and the pupils who attended. After many meetings with teachers and experts from the Pädagogische Hochschule Zürich, the project team also developed classroom materials that frame the visit to the museum. “Plug and play, just download and apply,” says Widmer. The museum makes abstract topics understandable for pupils, and it has established itself as a professional contact and centre of expertise for teachers and educational institutions. 

Over 100 children and their families attended the closing party of the pilot class, presenting their own projects on the subject of Buddha and Ganesha. Photo: John Patrick Walder

Over 100 children and their families attended the closing party of the pilot class, presenting their own projects on the subject of Buddha and Ganesha. Photo: John Patrick Walder

Location-independent offerings

“Kunst sehen – Religion verstehen” is a success story. “We have received extremely favourable feedback,” says Caroline Widmer happily. “Teachers who have been here return with other classes. In the meantime, they must plan early to reserve their place. Therefore, an important part of the project are also new offerings that bring the museum directly home or into the classroom in digital or analogue form.” An example is the ZOOM online platform, which lets young people get to know the Hindu gods Shiva, Ganesha and Durga through a playful, virtual journey of discovery. She reports that it is especially good to hear that many pupils have returned to the Museum Rietberg with their families and recreated the rally that was created as part of the project.

“The art education programme took off at the right time.”

The collaborative effort with the Migros Pioneer Fund was close from the beginning. “We received wonderful support as we drafted the project’s objective and built up the network,” says Caroline Spicker, Project Manager for the art education programme. “Thanks to the Migros Pioneer Fund’s support, the programme took off at the right time, which resulted in a positive upsurge and broad support, and it really showed insiders and outsiders what art education can achieve,” says Spicker. “Nice-to-have is all in the past; today, art education is essential to the museum and being taken seriously as part of its core expertise as it is integrated, supported, included and questioned.”


Art education and curating go hand in hand

The planning phase of an exhibition about Buddha is currently underway, one that is strongly aimed at teachers, children and adolescents, and primary and secondary schools. The museum is treading on new ground: for the first time, the programme is already being taken into consideration during the concept phase of an exhibition, offering fundamental input. Which topics should be treated? What interests visitors? Which objects should be displayed and how should they be presented? Certain exhibit content is even processed together with project classes. “The exchange between the art education team, the exhibition team and young visitors is very in-depth,” says Caroline Widmer. “A pivotal aspect of ensuring that the museum works as a vibrant place for various age groups to have an in-depth experience is including a wide variety of needs from the beginning,” adds Petra Miersch of the Migros Pioneer Fund. “It would be wonderful if this way of working were to become the standard.”