‘Co-location of the new Norwegian Printing Museum and the Norwegian Canning Museum?’ (The text was published in Norwegian in the newspaper Stavanger Aftenblad, 4 April 2014, as a debate contribution.)

MUST needs new premises for the Norwegian Printing Museum. This museum has been in Sandvigå, but it must now move due to the area being re-zoned for hotel development. A new printing museum is therefore a priority project for Stavanger Municipality’s ‘Cultural-Area Plan 2012 – 2016’. The museum was established in 1991, through much volunteer involvement from local printing business, in collaboration with Stavanger Municipality, and with support from Arts Council Norway. The printing industry in Stavanger grew parallel to the canning industry, and only in Oslo has there ever been a larger printing milieu in Norway.

Due to the shared and parallel histories, it is natural and very desirable to co-locate the Norwegian Printing Museum and the Norwegian Canning Museum. With this strategy, we can share resources and make the running of the museums more economical. We can offer more activities and experiences to the public. Today, the Norwegian Canning Museum is a popular success, welcoming over 30,000 visitors annually. Through co-location, we anticipate doubling the visitor numbers.

Today completely different demands are being made on museums and museum buildings than were made 20 and 30 years ago when these two museums were established. Now museums must focus more on the public’s experience. It is easy to forget that for most of us, a concert, exhibition or stage-play is a social experience. Museums are expected to develop into more socially inviting venues with attractive exhibitions, cafés, museum shops and workshop facilities for the public. Museums that will be relevant in years to come will provide activities the public can participate in, where they can make things themselves. There should also be exhibitions enabling visitors to touch objects. A new building would also mean we can upgrade important functions for the museum through giving it a ‘universal’ design that enables access for everyone.

Our starting point is that a museum building in the backyard of the canning museum should make as minimal an impact on the surroundings as possible. A new building should not be visible in Old Stavanger’s skyline; it should have an open yard just as today. We will put as much of the building underground as possible, with the visible structure in an area where there already is a building that in 1999 was recommended to be renovated and used for the printing museum.

A co-location of these museums offers a unique platform for conveying Stavanger’s industrial history. We will create new exhibitions about the art of printing, the history of canning and a new joint exhibition about lithography and the production of sardine-can labels (locally known as ‘iddisar’). The Norwegian Printing Museum’s new exhibitions will be rooted in local history, newspapers, printers, publishers and their bespoke products, as well as local trade associations. In this way, the museum can become a ‘media museum’.

Lithographic production laid the foundation for Stavanger’s robust printing industry. Parallel to this, a need emerged for other types of printed matter – for businesses, for new newspapers that were being established in the burgeoning city, and for printers and publishers who were producing books, calendars and much else besides. Accordingly, the letterpress technique was important in Stavanger’s printing industry. Johannes Gutenberg’s (1398 – 1468) invention of movable type cast in lead and an innovative printing press laid the foundation for a faster, more professional production of text. Since then, the printed word and the printed image have contributed to processes of democratisation in society.

Media scholar Marshall McLuhan (1911 – 1980) argued that modern human beings emerged with the art of printing. Starting in the 1300s, the Renaissance and Humanism set the stage for a more critical attitude towards text and authorities. These factors, in combination with the amount of printed matter the presses could produce and disseminate, provided some key conditions for the Reformation. And with the invention of lithography in the early 1800s, it became possible to create reproductions of artworks and portraits of important persons; now, for little money, everyone could have art on their walls. In this way, the printed image also played a role in society’s democratisation.

Critical and secular currents from the Renaissance continued developing up through the Enlightenment and Modern period. Literature printed in people’s mother tongues helped spread knowledge, encouraged critical reflection and strengthened the growing desire to be heard and able to actively participate in society’s development – not least, to be enfranchised with the right to vote.

In the new and expanded exhibitions, we want to tell about the significance that written culture and the art of printing have had in society. We will create exhibitions and learning-and-engagement programs that challenge and encourage dialogue and discussion about the printed word and image. We are serious about written culture and the spread of knowledge, the development of democracy and freedom of speech.

The exhibitions can address relevant social issues related to the written word’s explosive force. This we have witnessed in the ‘Arab Spring’ of late.

In the new museum, all visitors will have a better overall experience than in our former premises. We will create a new public space that is good for the local community. We want to collaborate with clubs, associations, printing workshops, Stavanger’s cultural centre Sølvberget, the University of Stavanger and newspapers to provide activities and courses. We will become involved in the new urban plan inasmuch as our activities will expand the public’s pattern of movement through Old Stavanger and towards the street Løkkeveien. Providing exhibition venues and meeting places for art and culture in Old Stavanger will also expand the cultural axis between the city centre and the Bjergsted neighbourhood.

In recent years the museum has developed an exciting room-programme and sketches for the new printing museum. A new museum co-located with the Norwegian Canning Museum will be adapted to the backyard and take into careful consideration the buildings of Old Stavanger. During the spring, we will announce an architectural competition for a new building for the Norwegian Printing Museum – a generous and relevant museum that concerns us all.