A Widget and Smart PR Make 'Closed' Rijksmuseum a Popular Attraction

How an Amsterdam Museum Broke Records Even While Under Renovation

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Mark Aink Mark Aink
He wouldn't normally pop up on your list of usual suspects, but this month Jan Willem Sieburgh, commercial director of the world-renowned Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, was one of the five nominees for Advertising Man of the Year. And while Dutch fashion designers and cult icons Viktor & Rolf received the judges' vote and ultimately won the title, it was Sieburgh who won the public vote.

Say what? The guy running the communications department of probably the most old-fashioned museum in the Netherlands is the new icon for the advertising industry? What's happened to the once so forward-thinking and mold-breaking reputation of the capital of free spirits?

In May 2003, the Rijksmuseum, in what seemed to be commercial suicide, closed its doors for a complete renovation. Though parts of it are still open to the public, the facility will not be fully functioning until at least 2012 and the price tag is steadily creeping into the hundreds of millions. And yet since the renovations began, the number of visitors has risen consistently, leading to a staggering record of 1.8 million in 2006 -- 35% more than before it "closed." It rather begs the question: How the hell did they do that?

Sieburgh, a refugee from the Lowe Group of advertising agencies, must have nigh-on scratched a bald patch on his head facing this seemingly impossible task. Most of the museum would be closed, his budget greatly limited -- even by the standards of a cultural institution. But he somehow sidestepped these obstacles and set to work.

If Mohammed won't be coming to the mountain, he reasoned, the mountain would have to come to Mohammed.

Among an array other new initiatives, he came up with and introduced a widget (embedded below), giving people a gateway to the Old Masters on their desktop every day -- the first in the museum world to use this medium. He introduced a breathtaking magazine on art called "Oog" (Eye). The Rijksmuseum opened an outpost at Amsterdam's Schiphol Airport, with constantly changing exhibitions on different themes. And this year the museum started collaborating with one of the best-known and most accessible warehouse stores in the Netherlands, HEMA, and launched a new line of ceramics.

Amsterdam's Rijksmuseum, a major tourist attraction, opened an outpost at the city's airport, among other initiatives.
Amsterdam's Rijksmuseum, a major tourist attraction, opened an outpost at the city's airport, among other initiatives.
During the past couple of years, the Rijksmuseum has grown to be one of the most forward-thinking advertisers in our country.

Sure, Viktor & Rolf do marvelous stuff and deserve all the credit for their conceptual and refreshing view on fashion, but when one of the oldest museums in the world starts muscling into the cool-brands territory, you can surely say hot shit's happening here in the 'Dam.

Here's the widget mentioned above:

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