Meeting Review

Foam’s Mathilde Smit

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By Karel de Leeuw

On December 13 our research group had a meeting in the cafe of Foam, the photography museum in Amsterdam. Renée Steenbergen was there to introduce us to Mathilde Smit. Her title at Foam, Development & Membership, explains a little bit of what she is doing, but it would be more fair to call her head of Club Foam, the young patron circle of the museum. Before explaining what she does at Club Foam and how she does it, I’ll first give some information on Foam and Club Foam.

Foam

Foam (Fotografiemuseum Amsterdam) is a young museum in the heart of Amsterdam. Located at the Keizersgracht, it opened its doors in 2001 and has been pursuing their slogan – Foam is all about photography – ever since. They not only host exhibitions, but are known for scouting talent and educating and informing its public by hosting debates and educational projects. Besides all of this they are also known for Foam Magazine, a photography magazine published by them, three times per year. They specifically have chosen to aim at an international public, and they see themselves as an international photography museum (that just happens to be based in Amsterdam). Annually they have around 200.000 visitors and the average age is about 31 years old.

Club Foam

There are several ways to support the museum. You can become a Foam Fan (€34 per year), a member of Club Foam (€450 per year), or part of Foam Fund (€3000 per year). The first and last groups are free to join by everyone (if a person is willing and capable of meeting the financial requirements), but Club Foam has an age restriction and is meant for people younger than 45.

At the time of our conversation with Mathilde Smit Club Foam had about 35 members, who all give at least €450 per year. €300 of the total sum is a direct gift to Foam. The remaining €150 is used for different privileges, e.g., Foam Magazine, free access to the museum, Club Foam dinners, exclusive tours, workshops and lectures.

Mathilde Smit & Club Foam

Mathilde Smit is in charge of Club Foam (and is one of the founders of Club Foam) and her main task is to get people involved with Club Foam. This consists of two different tasks. The first task is maintaining the people that are already member of Club Foam. She makes sure everyone feels comfortable and she puts a lot of time and effort in getting to know the members. By doing so she knows how to level with someone and make them feel like they are in a friendly environment. This helps the members to interact with her, but also with other members of the group, a point she thinks is most valuable. Essentially she tries to be the perfect host, so that all the people at the party are having a good time.

The second task is all about getting to know potential Club Foam members. Foam has a big database with all sorts of individuals who are in some way involved with Foam. They might have registered for a newsletter, bought something at the Foam Store, or have been a Foam Fan. The database has some complex features. It not only shows the amount of times someone has been to Foam, but can also include the networks of people, education levels, interests and information about someone’s wealth. This might sound a bit Bit Brother is watching you, but it is not that scary. Mathilde just uses this system to remember everyone. So if you, as a Club Foam member, come to one of the events and bring you cousin – who is a Foam Fan – she will come up to you, have a chat and if she finds out what your relation is she notes it down in the system. The same goes for peoples interests. The information about wealth is a bit of a different story.

To see if people can be addressed as potential members for Club Foam Mathilde Smit sometimes decides to check the internet and see what kind of information she can find about you. Things she explicitly looks for are age (e.g., by checking LinkedIn), general interests, other patron memberships and address. If she can figure out where you live (by an extensive google search or perhaps by data someone has given Foam themselves) she can check in what kind of neighborhood that person lives and uses real-estate websites to check housing prices of neighboring houses. It might not say everything, but it gives her a bit of an idea about someones finances.

When asked how Mathilde learned how to do what she does, she replied by saying that a lot of previous experiences have helped her. Her bachelor’s degree in Language and Culture studies helped her to get a very broad understanding of things that happen in the cultural field. Her work hat the Dutch embassy in Jordan helped her in understanding what kind of information people place on the internet. Working at the Fundraising and Relationship Management departement of the Dutch National Opera & Ballet has taught her a lot in how to approach people if you want something from them. Mathilde also has contact with other people in her line of work and they exchange information, although she did also say that this does not happen that often. All of the rest is in her personality. She is a kind and empathetic person that comes across as very sincere and that is something that you cannot teach.

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