Case: Verhalenhuis Belvédère, a place built from stories (Rotterdam, The Netherlands)

Located in the neighbourhood Katendrecht in Rotterdam a different type of museum has been formed. One that revolves around people and their stories, not around objects. A museum that doesn’t always create exhibitions to showcase these stories. One that knows how to work with communities and is not afraid to travel beyond its own four walls to seek out new connections and partnerships. Since 2008 Verhalenhuis Belvédère (Storyhouse Belvédère) knows how to connect with visitors, the neighbourhood, the city and beyond from all different backgrounds and layers of society.


In its earlier beginnings the Storyhouse had not yet found a location to call its home. Created by three individuals its goal was to facilitate and create connections as an open invitation to get to know ‘others’. A project was set up in which different groups and communities from the south of Rotterdam were photographed. The project sought out these groups in the easiest way possible, simply by ringing doorbells and by travelling from house to house, to neighbourhood centers, clubs and foundations. All were captured in around 150 group portraits. Meanwhile stories were collected and shared. Connections were made, groups were listened to and put on a pedestal. They made this part of Rotterdam special and their stories are worth collecting. It all came together in an open-air photo exhibition and a book sharing all the portraits, stories and important information about each group.

From this project on, other initiatives were stated. Different forms of storytelling were used. Cooks from different parts of the world made dinner for large groups while telling stories about their lives, a small shack transformed into a mobile recording studio to record stories from all around the city or working with Bulgarian construction workers to renovate a building but also to collect and preserve their story and their heritage. All ways in which the Storyhouse works towards its mission: connecting people and their stories with each other and the city of Rotterdam.


Personal stories are always the starting point for the Storyhouse. Every third month they organise a different exhibition about the people of Rotterdam and always with people from Rotterdam. This can be one person or a group. Personal objects like personal objects and stories are collected. Connections are made between these objects and objects from different museums or heritage sites. Partnerships are sought out, with residents, museums, clubs and institutions. These parties are the ones that add value to the Storyhouse. The goal is not to be a traditional museum but to create a space where people can come and go, to offer space for communities to create.

Around 20.000 people a year visit the physical Storyhouse in Katendrecht. Through partnerships with other institutions more and more people are reached. In the city as well as far beyond inspiration is taken from the way in which the Storyhouse is designed.

Impact (usability for WINSOME)

The impact of the Storyhouse is far greater than a traditional museum could ever be. It was created from a need to collect stories, not objects. A physical exhibition space was not immediately needed but grew organically with the creation of different projects. People from the community are offered a space to create, share their story and organize events freely. The organization does not create a new exhibition and then decides to involve different communities as a sort of afterthought. Communities come to them with a need and projects or exhibitions grow from that need. It is truly of, by for all.

What we can learn from this example is mainly how we approach our target audience. Do we design a program from a need expressed by the target audience or from a need expressed by us? Should we offer a space, free of our own rules and intentions, for them to organise activities or events on their own? Or do we truly work together to create something both parties might not realize it was exactly what they needed.


Malherbe, Linda. “De magie van Verhalenhuis Rotterdam” Reinwardt Academie. March 8, 2018.

Verhalenhuis Belvédère. “Missie en doel”, (accessed June 16, 2023)

Contact information Verhalenhuis Belvédère:

  • Linda Malherbe (exhibitions and projects)
  • Els Desmet (debates and projects)
  • Joop Reijngoud (photography and projects)


Juultje Slotema, National Museum of


Header Photo by Jason Goodman on Unsplash