Holidays! In the East and West – The School Church
In 2020, the exhibition Holidays! In the East and West opened, presenting holidays and related traditions of the Christian and Islamic religions – the two largest religions in The Netherlands –, with the aim of encouraging children to create a mutual understanding of their own cultural background and that of others. The unique exhibition is integrated in the bell tower of the church of Garmerwolde, Groningen, also known as The School Church, one of nearly 100 churches managed by the Historic Groningen Churches Foundation, a secular foundation committed to the re-use of existing historic religious architecture.
This truly inspiring example of re-use of religious buildings was funded by the Rijksdienst voor Cultureel Erfgoed, Municipality Ten Boer, Province of Groningen, Regio Assen-Groningen, Programma Herbestemming Cultureel Erfgoed, VSB Fonds, Prins Bernhard Cultuurfonds, J.B. Scholtenfonds, Dioraphte, BNG, BPD Cultuurfonds, Stichting Tuikwerd Fonds and Nationaal Programma Groningen. The research behind the exhibition was undertaken in an earlier project in collaboration with the Catharijneconvent Museum in Utrecht and ten other museums in The Netherlands and Suriname.
While climbing the bell tower’s Escher-esque staircase, designed by MX13 Architects, visitors encounter eight depictions of Islamic and Christian holidays: Christmas, Easter, Laylat al-Qadr (The Night of Decree) and Ascension, and are greeted by a magnificent view; when descending visitors pass Ramadan, Eid al-Fitr (Festival of Breaking the Fast), Eid al-Adha (Festival of the Sacrifice) and Whitsun. Studio 212 Fahrenheit depicted these holidays by searching for new symbols that were tested by an Arabist and translator of the Quran, a theologist, a museum educator, a professor of contemporary Islam and members of the Islamic and Jewish communities.
“The work stimulates tolerance and teaches participants how to live together with people from different backgrounds in an everyday environment. This very interactive project, well-designed by an interdisciplinary team, has brought about innovative results, developing creativity and integrating heritage into the community by keeping the building in use and giving it a new meaning in society,” the Jury noted.
In addition to being open to the public, Holidays! In the East and West is a programme for elementary schools, containing a guided group-dialogue in the medieval church, a visit to the exhibition, educational games and additional teaching materials for the classroom. This material focuses on the underlying everyday themes of these holidays to make them relevant to today’s children. Partnerships with five primary school organisations increase the exhibition’s potential to firmly embed interreligious understanding through dialogue and play in the standard curriculum of these schools.
The Jury praised this child-centred approach of promoting intercultural togetherness: “This project demonstrates how to deal with very common heritage, the reuse of which is not always obvious. It places heritage buildings within everyday life and creates dialogue between this heritage and contemporary issues in daily life. It promotes a common cultural understanding with a focus on the celebratory part of life and families. It is child-centred and gives agency to children which is the best way to promote togetherness.”