Professionally, she would usually introduce herself as a public programme producer for museums. Currently though, Stella Toonen works as a PhD researcher on a project about how museums can engage with audiences in new ways. “However, what characterises me more accurately is not my job, but the things I feel passionate about: equality, democracy, the climate, education, and opportunities for young people to achieve their dreams.”
A pretty big statement
She’s a bit of an activist, really. “Though one who quietly works on changing the system from within, instead of through big protests. For instance, I was that kid in secondary school who set up a school newspaper because I felt my peers and I needed a platform to be heard. And I’ve challenged curators and museum staff to think about what stories their museums tell and whose voices are being ignored. I’ve also been mentoring younger arts professionals to help them discover what difference they can make. And now I research how museums can bring us one step closer to equality. Those are the small ways in which I hope to change the world a little, and which characterise me more than anything.” Stella is not giving away much about her TEDxMaastricht talk. “I’m going to talk about how museums can save democracy. It’s a pretty big statement, but it will make sense when you hear the whole talk.”
Talk and listen to each other
If there is one change she would like to see in the world, it would be more understanding between people. “There is so much prejudice and fear in the world, and so much of it would be solved if we would just talk and listen to each other. And so I’m a big believer in bringing people together, creating space for discussion and exchange, and giving others an opportunity to learn more about the world around them. Which leads to another change I hope to see very soon: a major commitment towards saving our planet from the current climate emergency, otherwise soon there might not be a world to learn about anymore…”
How to bake ‘vlaai’
Talking about her bucket list, Stella thinks she’s been doing pretty well so far. “I always wanted to live in London, work at Tate Modern, and to do PhD research into museum management, and those are exactly the things I’m doing right now. I also hoped that through work or general experience, at some point I’d have a story interesting and important enough to tell on a big stage, and so I was really excited when TEDxMaastricht approached me. What’s left on my list at the moment is to write more, to learn how to bake ‘Limburgse vlaai’, and to grow my own vegetables, as well as a whole bunch of countries I still want to visit and a shelf full of books I really want to read. I suppose it’s time to think about some new things to add to the list.”
Wouldn’t want to miss out on Stella’s talk? Register now for TEDxMaastricht 2019.