From high schools to the psychiatric ward — the unusual journey of a cabinet of curiosity

A conversation with Aurélie Maguet, Head of the Public Department at the Museum Picardie in Amiens, about a radical experiment in public engagement.

The Cabinet of Curiosity displayed at a high-school in Montdidier, photo credit: Musée de Picardie

Hello Aurélie, please tell us a bit about yourself:
I’m the Head of the Public Department at Musée de Picardie. We are a museum of Fine Arts and archeology and one of the first purpose-built cultural institutions in France. My department is responsible for all aspects of public engagement — from educational programmes to a wide range of cultural activities. As for my role, I see myself as an enabler, someone who connects people and ideas. It’s very important for my team to explore new ways of working.

“Our department has evolved from being an appendage to the main event, which is the exhibition, to becoming responsive cultural mediators.”

“I also feel that the cabinet is an opportunity for us to make a radical departure from our current model of public engagement. What happens when we don’t set the rules of engagement?”

“There are so many moving parts to this project — context, environment, themes, people, artefacts. We are operating far outside our comfort zone.”

“This is a very analogue project! But we still view the cabinet as a technology to spark conversations and create personal reflection.”

“There are so many unusual links we are trying to create. There are absurd items, surreal items, beautiful items, ugly items.”

How can we engage with the project?
It’s been quite an adventure to get all the pieces in place. I’m very proud of the fact that we have a cabinet in a high school. But the project has many lives. You can follow us online to track the journey of the cabinets. We also plan to share images of objects from the cabinets as well as share stories they inspire. If you are a museum professional and want to setup your own cabinet, we’d love to have a chat with you, please get in touch.

Small Cabinets of Curiosity is one of the 17 joint activities being undertaken as part of smARTplaces — a visionary, long-term European audience development project co-funded by the Creative Europe Programme of the European Union. Both partners are using the Digital Identities framework to explore new participatory formats and storytelling techniques for social media.

I am interested in the context & values of our Digital Identities.