Almost 100 years of the Netherlands

Open Air Museum In 1912 a group of private individuals who were concerned about increasing industrialisation and urbanisation threatening the Netherlands' rich heritage of traditions and regional diversity set up the ‘Netherlands Open Air Museum Association’ in Arnhem. The founders leased the Waterberg estate from the city of Arnhem and transferred six buildings to the grounds. The Netherlands Open Air Museum opened its doors to the public on 13 July 1918.

The Second World War

In 1941 the museum temporarily became the ‘National Folk Museum’ and the original association was renamed the ‘Association of Friends of the Netherlands Open Air Museum’. During the Battle of Arnhem, the museum offered refuge to evacuees and members of the Dutch resistance, but before long they too had to flee. Several buildings were destroyed in the fighting, together with the collections of regional costumes and painted furniture.

The 1970s

In 1970 the Zaan section of the museum was partly destroyed by fire. Two of the smaller buildings were permanently lost. The museum constructed the pleasance and the carriage house in their place.

Threat of closure

1987 was an eventful year for the Netherlands Open Air Museum. In the same year that it celebrated its 75th anniversary, the government threatened to close it down. Fortunately the public came out in force to support the museum, and this backing from the public may have proved decisive, as, on 1 January 1991, following a few years of uncertainty, the Netherlands Open Air Museum Foundation assumed full responsibility for the continued existence of the museum as an independent organisation. Its buildings and objects, however, remained the property of the state. The government provides the foundation with an annual subsidy for management and maintenance, but the museum itself is responsible for operation.

Into the future

Since then, the museum has set out on a new course, widening its focus from life and work in the countryside to include everyday culture. In addition, the historical presentations are increasingly being brought to life. In the museum park, for example, you will come across the wheelwright and the miller, who will be happy to give you a demonstration of their work. But you will also be surprised by smells, sounds and multimedia presentations, all of which fit in perfectly with the historical ambiance.

With the completion of the stunning HollandRama attraction and the new entrance pavilion with its exhibition halls and auditorium in 2000, the Open Air Museum opened the door to the future.

European Museum of the Year

In the years that have passed since, the Open Air Museum has developed a very individual museology, introducing themes that traditional museums have long kept outside their doors, in the belief that they did not fit in with the traditional image of Dutch culture.

Light is shed, for example, on modern developments in the countryside in a huge converted farmhouse, which had to make way for the high-speed rail link. In the Moluccan barracks stories are told about ‘new arrivals’ to the Netherlands. Here the emotional tale of the arrival of Moluccans and the first years they spent in this cold land are brought to life for visitors. The theatrical presentation of the East-Groningen farm workers’ strike in 1929 – which lasted for almost a year – also illustrates a darker side of our history.

Together with the new, permanent exhibition on saving, storing and collecting, known as Spaarstation Dingenliefde, and the HollandRama attraction, which is based on 18th century panoramas, these acquisitions convinced the European Museum Forum’s international jury of the innovative policy being pursued by the Netherlands Open Air Museum.

In May 2005 the Open Air Museum was awarded the title of European Museum of the Year!