The Jamtli Museum in Sweden as one of SoPHIA´s case studies, interview with Lena Bäcklin

SoPHIA interviewed Lena Bäcklin, former Chairwoman of the Board of the Jamtli Museum in Östersund County, Sweden. The Museum is one of the case studies selected by SoPHIA for testing of heritage impact assessment draft model.

Good morning Lena, thank you for this interview. Could you briefly present the Jamli Museum and its context?

The museum was founded in 1912 by local heritage organizations, mainly in the city of Östersund. Today, the County has approximately 130 thousand inhabitants but, back in the days, there weren’t as many people living here. Östersund has always been the only town in the County, and still is. The County covers about 12% of Sweden’s territory, so it is very sparsely populated and that is a challenge for both the Jamtli Museum and Foundation. The Jamtli Museum was in the outskirts of the town of Östersund but, today, it is a part of its centre.  In 1974 the Foundation Jamtli Museum was set-up and two more actors joined: the municipality of Östersund and Jämtland County. In 1994 we became a Foundation with a public-private partnership. 

Since the mid80s, the museum has tried to make a stand for living history, with actors and staff placed in the open-air museum and it has been quite a success. We were the first museum in Sweden to adapt to this, then it has spread to the rest of the country. In 2013 we were nominated ‘Museum of the Year’ in Sweden and we were very proud! The Museum has permanent and temporary exhibitions, and national art, also temporary. In the open-air section there are permanent and temporary exhibitions and activities.

The Jamtli Museum has grown quite a lot and, in the last ten to fifteen years, has developed into quite a success story, by regionalizing and thinking outside the box but also because of our ambition to reach out and bring Europe to our small County in the north of Sweden where people did not really want to be part of the European Union back in the days. But today a lot of work has been made. People values about what the EU has changed. Today is not like “stop here, we have a border in Jämtland County”. We also are interested in EU issues, policies and projects for regional development. Talking about impacts… It has been very exciting to be in member of the Board.

How can one construct a dialogue between museums and society? Or between the Jamtli Museum and the residents of Östersund? 

The dialogue is mainly with organizations and companies questioning what kind of dialogue we could have to strengthen both the Municipality and the County. Individually, dialogue happens mainly when citizens come to the Museum and interact with the staff, and of course through surveys. 

Do you agree that cultural heritage sites, practices and programmes can produce cultural, social, economic and environmental impacts?

Yes, I agree. I think Jamtli is an underestimated actor in this sense and underused many times. The knowledge and power of the Museum and its staff touch extraordinary competences, in the sense that it does not just stay in history but also goes forward from history; this is often undervalued. First of all, its social impact is very important. We have many programmes and projects for inclusion, also together with the Region and the Health Care Department. For example, with them we developed a project for people with dementia: taking our small groups to the open-air museum, so they could have a social arena. Moreover, I am very proud of a project which took place in 2015 during the big refugee crisis. We had over 100 thousand refuges knocking at the door of Sweden. Together with the Östersund Municipality, we built housing for refugees. We did not have the funds ourselves but, in partnership with Östersund, the housing company and us, we made it! Not only they came to live here, but also regular Swedish people and families. They all could enjoy the new open-air museum and be part of projects for history and documentation. I hope there will be assessments to show the impact of this: even if it did not involve a large number of people, it was like a signal to follow and expand our identity as a museum. 

Environmentally, we are working a lot with learning projects on sites for children: how windmills or waterpower work, for instance. We try to teach environmental knowledge and we also have school programmes for this. Lifelong learning is a very big theme for the Foundation, for all ages. 

Economically, the impact is harder to display, but we try to show that we are an important part of the County’s economy. It is easier to do in tourism:  you count over nights, employees, etc. But there is so much more to show. A couple of years ago, we had a project about teenager dropout: we tried to show that the Museum can be an actor, together with the municipality and schools, also besides all the human aspects. Because you can have teenager going home, but it is society that pays the price and no one is happy. So, we had a quite good turnout for that project and showed that we could be an actor in that way as well.

In addition, every year we have both regional and municipal assessment, and we agree on what the Museum must do throughout the year, through a mutual discussion. Following this, they check how the Museum has worked and this ensures the following years’ funding. They have like key rigid check-up and figures; it is hard to show politicians what we do. Unfortunately, the problem of culture is not being able to explain itself and having to do it all the time. We still must find ways to be smarter.

When you relate to other practitioners or museums, is impact assessment a topic of discussion? 

We have a hard time to really get the real and interesting model. One example was when we built a new building at Jamtli for temporary exhibitions from the collections of the National Art and Design Museum in Stockholm. We made a partnership so we could regionalize parts from the National Museum and some of its collection into temporary exhibitions at Jamtli Museum. This is quite unique, not many central museums in Stockholm have regionalized the country’s ”treasures”. This is an important statement- that all people of Sweden should have better access to their own, common cultural heritage. It is of course an important establishment to attract tourists to this part of Sweden as well. It was a big success. We tried in this small County to get everyone excited about this, also because of the investment. But it was difficult to decide how to present this work to get the Municipality, the County and the inhabitants excited about it. So, we engaged a company that made a study for us, proving the impact of the project on tourism, employment, etc. It was an ex-ante impact assessment, to support what we wanted to do, in the future.

The Jamtli Museum is one of the case studies where to test SoPHIA’s impact assessment draft model. At a first glance, do you see the potential to measure impacts in the case of your Museum? Do you have any comments?

Not right off the bat. I am sure it will be a step forward to have such an assessment model because no one really has the whole picture. I see that there is a long-term vision, and this work is very important because I think it is hard to get a “comprehensive” assessment model. I am really looking forward to following your work.

Thank you Lena for your time. 

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