Museums in the digital age:In conversation with the museum experts

As we live increasingly mobile and digital lives, museums are finding new ways to tell stories and engage their audiences. In recent times, changes in society and technology have reshaped how museums function and how they deliver experiences. Over the coming decades, new technological advances and social changes will place pressure on museums to innovate to meet changing audience’s expectations and economic realities.

Leading names in the museum world gathered in India last week for the ‘Strategic Transformations: Museums In the 21st Century’ conference. Martin Roth, V&A, Dr. Gordon Rintoul, NMS and Carolyn Royston, IWM share their insights here on the future and the impact of digital on museums.

What role does digital play in the future of museums?

Martin Roth: Digital is a great tool to help create a truly open and accessible museum. Digital helps to understand a collection, to understand objects and to explain what a museum is. However digital has to be something that is providing more opportunities and value to a museum. Decisions to incorporate digital into aspects of a museum must be carefully and sensitively planned, with a concrete objective in mind.

Dr Gordon Rintoul: Yes, digital is of key importance to the future of our museums. I also think that museums play a larger role in society than before and I think digital has helped speed up this impact as digital gives us the opportunity to reach out to a much more people than ever before, and in different ways.

Do you think digital technologies will ever replace the physical museum?

Carolyn Royston: No I don’t think so; they are different but yet complimentary experiences. For a museum in the UK, we have 2.5million visitors who come through our doors but we get over 5 million people who come to our website, so it is an opportunity for the museum to have a global presence and for us to show what we do, as well as support people who are planning to visit the museum. Digital needs to add value to the experience when you visit, and also to be a shop window for our collections. Digital is mostly the opportunity to engage with people who will never visit the museum.

As museums are rapidly transforming, what advice would you give to young artists or arts professionals?

Carolyn Royston: One of the biggest things is that there are so many places to display your content or work now and so much of it is possible through doing it yourself and for free. Looking at places where people in your audiences are most likely to consume the sort of things that you are making and doing should be the places that you target – not always big institutions or organisations. You are as likely to get your work seen on Pinterest or Flickr as you are being in an exhibition in a museum. I think young arts professionals should take advantage of these opportunities of self-promotion and to take control of your career.

Dr Gordon Rintoul: The opportunities for those people entering careers in museums are very different from before. I think there is a lot more opportunity and interdisciplinary working and more engagement between curators and their colleagues in other departments of a museum. As well as towards digital, there is a huge shift in the museum world towards putting your audiences as the focal point of the museum, so I’d say young curators should approach any work that they are doing with their audiences at the front of their minds.

Interviewed by Emer Coyle, British Council

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