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We make history together. History of the people of Bydgoszcz – history of the museum [1923-2013]

The exhibition was organised in connection with the 90th anniversary of the creation of the Leon Wyczółkowski District Museum (Muzeum Okręgowe im. Leona Wyczółkowskiego) in Bydgoszcz, and its slogan speaks for itself: we make history together. The sobering effect of this date resulted in the creation of this unusual exhibition, which will be prepared with the aid of the citizens of Bydgoszcz.

In striving to emphasize the connection between the people of Bydgoszcz (those well-known and those less so) and the museum, this cultural institution took steps to involve the inhabitants of this city on the Brda River in organising a special exhibition. There would be no museum without the people of Bydgoszcz, while their loss would be high if the museum were to cease organising exhibitions and educational initiatives. The museum would not be here without donors, artists, people devoted to art, people keen on history, people collecting mementoes of ages past, collectors, dedicated friends, people supporting its activities, and people who may not take part in museum events very often but who value the underlying principle and the mission of this institution. Ever since its creation, the museum, as an institution, has been an integral part of the city and today it still constitutes a link between the city and its inhabitants, both those who have long lived here and newcomers. It would be difficult to overestimate the role the museum has played in the interactions between the city and its people.

5th August 1923 is a meaningful date for the museum and the city alike. It was on that day that the City Museum was founded. The beginnings were difficult – the institution thrived in the interwar period but the outbreak of WWII put an abrupt halt to its development. It lost its premises while its collections suffered considerable losses. The post-war period saw the museum gradually develop, its collections increasing. New departments and branches were created while more buildings were adapted to serve as exhibition rooms, workshops, or office space, at the same time the museum was employing increasing numbers of people. It travelled a long and difficult road, moving from its first home in the non-extant western frontage of Stary Rynek (Old Market Square) to a complex of buildings located on the reclaimed Wyspa Młyńska (Mill Island) and Exploseum. Prior to WWII it had been a mere city museum, but later it became a specialised institution of national significance, holding valuable collections of works of art and precious historic artefacts, offering a wide range of exhibitory and educational options to its visitors. Its collections, initially small and based on the meagre resources of German associations, grew over the years, eventually to become subject-specific, well-developed collections of indisputable artistic and historic importance. All this progress was only possible thanks to the involvement and efforts of past and present employees, without whom there would be no museum.

The exhibits form a multi-layered mosaic of photographs, documents, and everyday objects which illustrate the ninety-year history of the museum. They remind one of the beginnings of the institution, reflect on its development in the context of historical events, and tell a great deal about the exhibitory, research, and educational activities of the institution. One can see how particular collections were created and grew in size. By examining the exhibits (works of art, historical mementoes, archaeological artefacts, numismatic pieces, objects of material culture, including those of rural origin), which are often of considerable value, one can learn more about the long and strenuous process of developing collections. This process has left its mark on the overall image of the museum.

In line with the slogan of the exhibition, the history of the people of Bydgoszcz is presented alongside the history of the museum, and visitors can observe slices of life from many different decades. The connection between those people and cultural institutions like the museum cannot be ignored. Many intertwining subjects are presented here: the museum, the city and its changing appearance, and, most of all, the people – the former and the current inhabitants of Bydgoszcz, some of whom in coming here to settle from faraway lands enhanced the city's image and contributed to its development. The exhibits show Bydgoszcz and its inhabitants through old photographs and family documents, once stored in dusty cupboards, along with products of material culture that bring to mind memories of both the distant past and a past more recent. Obviously, the exhibition also sports multimedia presentations, an important element of which are the recorded memoirs of Bydgoszcz people from various walks of life concerning their interactions with the museum, and recorded interviews regarding various aspects of the museum's activities.

The exhibition emphasizes the social role the museum has played over the past 90 years. The history of this institution has been presented against a background with which it is inextricably connected: the history of Bydgoszcz itself. This background contains the stories of local individuals, their experiences, events important to them, and the vicissitude of their fates. The museum is where all those tales and stories intersect. While it does have a history of its own, it also carefully records the histories of particular inhabitants of Bydgoszcz, thus contributing to the creation and preservation of a shared memory. The museum is therefore a vast and ever-growing vault containing that shared memory, helping to preserve it.

In its use of the past, the museum is drawn forward, into the future. With the changes that take place in the present reality and in public expectations, the museum now faces challenges different from those of the past. In ten years time, it will have existed for 100 years. During those ten years the museum will undoubtedly make its relations with the people of Bydgoszcz even closer, and intensify its activities in ways beneficiary for the city and its inhabitants. The slogan “We make history together” will not lose its pertinence.

 Danuta Sójkowska


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