A biotechnologist's thoughts of the Street Art Museum of Amsterdam


My name is Gunvor Bjerklund Røkke, and I am a PhD candidate from Norway. I do my PhD within the field of Biotechnology, and what I usually do is writing articles about the photosynthetic machinery of microalgae. Today I'll make an exception, and write about art.

I visited the Street Art Museum of Amsterdam (SAMA) in May 2017. I've always liked street art, which is why I decided to visit the museum in the first place, but before my visit I nevertheless did not know much about it. I was met by a nice and knowledgeable guide, who took me on a tour through the collection of the museum, which was not like any other museum I've been to before. I got to see beautiful, strange, funny and touching pieces of art, and I learned about techniques and styles of different street artists. When I left the museum, I still loved street art, but I knew a whole lot more about it than I did before my visit.

The past weeks I have thought quite a bit about my visit at SAMA. As already stated, the museum was unlike anything I have ever seen before, and in my opinion that makes it very valuable. It offers an alternative to the more common forms of art that can be viewed in the common-type museums with four walls and a door. I've been to my fair share of art museums in my life, and sometimes, the meaning behind the artworks are abstract and hard to grasp. In contrast, street art is made for the common man (or woman), it is way more accessible than the art of regular art museums, and it also usually conveys a strong and understandable message that makes the pieces relatable for people. If it hadn't been for the museum and the guided tour, I would still have liked the pieces and found them interesting, but hearing about them from an inside perspective made them even more relevant, and the messages even clearer.

The way I see it, SAMA is important both for tourists visiting Amsterdam, for the city itself, and for the neighbourhood it is situated in. The museum lets tourists discover a part of Amsterdam that it is unlikely they would otherwise get to see, which might give them a more nuanced picture of the city, and also make the already over-touristified centrum of Amsterdam a tiny bit less crowded. I know perfectly well that one museum alone will not make that much of a difference in terms of reducing the tourist crowds in Amsterdam centrum, but I nevertheless think it is important for the city to encourage people to see other parts of the city as well, and to support establishments outside of the city centre that people could visit.

I also see the museum as incredibly important for its local community. Both Slotermeer and Geuzenveld are multicultural neighbourhoods where people of many different nationalities and cultures live together.

Art is unifying, and especially when the art in question is as accessible as street art, everyone can enjoy it, and it might bring people closer to one another. Since the museum works as a link between the city council / municipality and the artists providing the neighbourhood with street art, the museum is extremely important for making the neighbourhood an including one. Without the museum, the citizens of Slotermeer and Geuzenveld would have one less thing to connect around, and especially because so many nationalities and cultures are gathered in these neighbourhoods, I think they will benefit strongly from having citizens that feel a sense of community.

Last, but not least, I think SAMA fits well in Amsterdam. This city has a tradition for fellowship between people of different nationalities and cultures that goes all the way back to the golden age. By accepting all the different people moving to Amsterdam for various reasons throughout the ages, the city also has a tradition for being different and embracing otherness. SAMA thus goes along with Amsterdam's image, by being a different museum bringing people of all nationalities, cultures and religions closer together through art.

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