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The idea for the museum formed in 2000, drawing from Herford's status as a German center of furniture and home furnishing production. The name MARTa is an acronym for Möbel (German for furniture), ART (simply art in English), and Ambiente (ambience). The founding director of the museum was Jan Hoet, a noted Belgian curator. Roland Nachtigäller (de) took over as director in 2009.