How do museums innovate, where are museums heading, and where does digital technology fit within these institutions? These questions have been in my mind throughout my studies and during my internship in the Adult and Academic Programs at MoMA. In MoMA’s Education department we strive to produce innovative, experimental programs for our diverse audience. It seemed perfectly fitting, therefore, to attend a conference all about the future of museum technology and programming. Now in its sixth year, MuseumNext looks to bring together leading themes, trends, and related best practices, with the aim of providing clear insight into how innovation and technology are shaping our institutions and the world around us.
Koven J. Smith, of Kinetic Museums Consulting, opened MuseumNext by asking, “What does ‘digital’ mean to us?” I found myself thinking, Is it iPads? Smartphones and apps? Smith explored the idea that digital technology within museums should be at “the heart of everything” instead of an add-on. With research to support the shift to becoming “authentically digital,” speaker Colleen Dilenschneider, Chief Market Engagement Officer at IMPACTS Research & Development, delivered data collected from nearly 300 customer-serving institutions in western Europe and North America. For each venue she dissected metrics for reach, trust, and overall value of visitor experiences. With this she demonstrated how having physical touch-points and interaction in galleries greatly increases the likelihood of a visitor sharing their experience through social media.
Elsewhere at the event, alternate uses of existing technology and the advancement of smartphone technology were showcased. Andrew Nugee of the mobile media agency imagineear presented impressive information on the power of art and healing in “From Dubai to Chelsea Hospital and Museum Partnerships.” Mikolai Napieralski from Qatar Museums spoke about attracting a younger, more diverse audiences in “Reaching Out with Social Media: Experiences from Moscow and Doha.” Carlotta Margarone, from Palazzo Madama, in Italy, presented a case study about her small museum reaching an ambitious goal of funding a project with the help of the community in “Reimagining Museums and Crowdfunding for the Future.”
A presentation that really struck me was by Jolein van Krugten, from the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam, who presented on how the museum has recently conducted extensive technical research into Vincent van Gogh’s working methods. They were then faced with the challenge of shedding light on this fantastic technical information and making it accessible to various visitors. Krugten went on to present incredible ways in which she and her staff utilized new media, including multitouch tablets, and how this influenced the curation and interpretation of the recent research findings. As a result of implementing new media and technology so seamlessly, their audience is able to completely immerse themselves in a multidimensional view of the artist and his work.
Another highlight for me was Irene Haan’s presentation about Amsterdam’s EYE Museum. Haan showcased a new exhibit called the EYEwalk, in which visitors receive headphones and a tablet on which they see the actual space in the museum building, making it seem as if they are looking through a camera. However, the application plays a film that shows that very museum space with actors reenacting pivotal situations in film history, combined with archival footage.
I left the conference feeling inspired and with a newly broadened understanding of the term “digital technology.” The phrase is ubiquitous, and can be so overused that in some ways it has become meaningless. Ideas and progression within technology are shaping the future of museums, as they become more aware of advancements through events like MuseumNext.