I was invited to talk about the future of museums by the Danish Customs and Tax Museum on the occasion of their 100 year anniversary, and because they had decided to replace their physical museum with a digital experience, and to take the old museum and objects on tour in Denmark. This might seem like a very bold move, because can there be a museum without a physical space? I believe so, and as a matter of fact, making the museum digital and collaborative opens up a wide set of new opportunities to expand, scale and engage the audience in creating and sharing the entire experience. But before going in front of the camera, I researched the state of the museums around the world, to see how they approached the digital sphere, and to spot any signs of a trend or the future within this space. I did not find anything radical innovative, in terms of giving audiences a new museum experience using different media elements. There were incremental add-ons to the physical exhibitions, like MOMA's Century Of The Child or their Google Art Project, digital - yes, social and engaging - not really.
[media height="600" link="http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QxiVeZOJba8&feature=share&list=UUWzX1KGZHwwtnwcldpneUwg"]
My take on The Future Of Museums (in Danish).
The Future Museum Experience How would the museum experience look like in the future, if we added these three digital elements:
1. Social 2. Global 3. Location based
If we start with social, involving the audience to participate in the creation of their exhibitions, to collect favourite pieces, an era or a specific artist, that would create a "Spotify" for museums. Because if all art is searchable and usable, the audience could make "view lists", present and share their own exhibitions, allowing people to subscribe, and be updated if new content is added. In the same way as with music and fashion, the first movers could share their knowledge, not only to the art or museum elite, but to everybody. If people in general knows more about art and history, because they constantly expand their knowledge in a collaborative manner, there would be created more curiosity and an increased demand for the physical objects, in the same manner as music fans going to concerts, or when fashionistas purchase the must have of the week, online. Art is as scalable as any other passion - when shared by people!
The second opportunity is to make exhibitions global, thereby scaling the experience and again increasing the demand for the physical objects and the museum hosting it. In the same way as music, books and fashion is globally shared and purchased online - so should art, history and exhibitions be. Do I really need to go to New York to see MOMA or to Denmark to see Louisiana? The experience will off course not be the same, it will be different, because you can add more layers to an object if it's digital. So if I want to se a sculpture, I can view from more angles than at the museum, I can see it from the ceiling, I can zoom in and most interesting the artist or curator can add online information. If I viewed a piece from the Pyramids, I could see a picture or video of the exact location, where it was found, watch how people looked and lived at that time. I could also see the archaeological process from locating the findings, excavation to preserving the item. If it's just a small piece I can see the entire picture of how it used to look like, and I can browse to other object that are related, while hearing the history in my earphones.
Some of the interesting initiatives you can experience today are at Guggenheim, which are quite far with providing a digital experience. They enable people around the world to view some of their exhibitions and other information, and they are even doing some minor social moves, with their blog and live chat. With Soundwalk you can randomly walk the streets of Manhattan and get information about the building you are standing in front of. Intel has made an interesting but narcissistic exhibition with The Museum Of Me, where people can experience themselves, their Facebook content and "friends" in a virtual museum, an example that could be used in more scenarios.
Looking at the museum experience from a location based angle, we should reverse the picture. Why not turn cities and locations into a live interactive museum, by adding information, history and objects to the original location. So if I'm Vienna, I will put on my earphones and saunter through the city, when I pass a spot I find interesting I can add a visual experience, by holding my smartphone up in front of a building or square, and see which artifact's that are connected to this spot, using augmented reality. I can also hear the shared whisper of people that passed by before me, by looking at my smartphone display I can get a social media stream showing what people wrote about this experience, artifact or piece of history, as well as I can add my perspective and pictures, to make the experience even more real-time and social.
These are just some of the opportunities, museums can use to amplify and share their exhibition in a digital world. If I cannot go to a museum or back in time - art and history should come to me. I look forward to a future where an exhibition is independent of geography and means, because art and history should be accessible to everybody, everywhere.
photo credit: Flickr/anacarina