The collections in the Mission Museum are the property of the Societas Verbi Divini (SVD), a missionary order that was founded in 1875 in Steyl and has been active all over the world (and still is today). From the beginning natural historical and ethnographic, as well as missiological items were collected in the mission areas. The objective was to get to know the mission areas better, to prepare prospective missionaries and to create support for the mission among the faithful. Most of the items were sent to Steyl by missionaries. Apart from these, items were also purchased in Europe.
In 2015 the Mission Museum became an independent foundation and is therefore now organisationally separate from the SVD. The collections in the museum are on loan from the SVD. That is significant, because major decisions regarding the collections are ultimately taken by the SVD. Advice is given by the museum due to its knowledge of museum matters.
The museum and the SVD are aware of the current discussion surrounding colonial heritage. The museum will use the coming years to position itself in this discussion, by doing provenance research (from whom and in what way were objects acquired) and offering context to the visitor (what was the position of the mission in the colonial project, how and with what view were objects collected).
To take a stance in these discussions, it is very important to discuss it with the communities of origin. This is an intensive process: first, research has to be done to determine exactly where objects come from and how they were acquired, then contact has to be made with the communities of origin and dialogue has to be established. This requires a lot of time and resources. The Mission Museum itself has a small staff, so it will link up as much as possible with initiatives by universities and other (large) museums. Dialogue with communities from countries of origin in the Netherlands will also be part of the process.
In 2020, the Council for Culture published the Advice on Colonial Collections and Recognition of Injustice. One of its recommendations is that objects looted by force should be returned to their country of origin immediately, if requested. But by no means all colonial collections have been looted. They have sometimes been bought, donated, bartered or otherwise acquired. This will have to be looked at and dealt with on a case-by-case basis. Currently we have no indication that the Mission Museum has any looted art.
Exactly how the Mission Museum's collection was acquired will be the subject of research for the coming years. In this regard, the museum and the SVD conform to the advice of the Council for Culture when it comes to restitution or other forms of dialogue and cooperation with the countries of origin.
The manner of displaying items in the Mission Museum is unique, as it has remained almost unchanged since its opening in 1931. This makes it a 'museum within a museum' and of great cultural-historical value. The museum wishes to preserve this value as much as possible and not interfere too much with the display. However, the museum is aware of the worldview and views of the time, which are expressed through the display, mostly implicitly. The museum considers it its duty to make that background explicit and give the visitor the historical context. It is not a 'value-free' display, but a presentation that underlines the ideas of the time. A body of thought that neither the museum nor the SVD share any longer.