for digitising collections and providing additional content, in an effort to reach and engage with new audiences.” Most simply, though, there is one channel all museums have equal access to: social media. “Social media helps museums to expand their outreach and break down some of the barriers which may make an institution feel inaccessible,” says Ward. The benefits of social media are huge and, as a free resource, even small museums get the chance to engage with new and more diverse audiences.” Museums can also partner with pre-existing initiatives, like Google’s
making everything available to visitors at home, they risk making their own spaces redundant. For the Rijksmuseum, which has made all of its artworks available on a creative commons license, this isn’t too much of a concern. “It’s very important that we reach people everywhere, including millions of people who are not able to visit the museum, so we offer our treasures for them online,” says Pronk. “There is no hesitation at all. Visitor numbers have been increasing all the time, so I think it’s very clear that there is no substitute for the real thing.
“IN THE MUSEUM WE WANT PEOPLE TO ENJOY THE ART, SO WE DON’T WANT TO HAVE TOO MANY SCREENS BETWEEN IT AND THE EYES OF THE VISITOR.” MARTIJN PRONK, RIJKSMUSEUM
Art Project. The Project offers digitised collections and virtual tours, via Street View, for several international museums, including the Rijksmuseum. “It would be useless to do something like that ourselves,” Pronk says. “We could never compete with Google.” Even these partnerships aren’t without drawbacks, however. There’s the issue of having to hand over the rights to artworks or exhibits, and, at the most fundamental level, the question of whether a museum can make so much of its content available digitally, that people no longer feel the need to visit.
No substitute “For us, the idea is to whet a potential visitor’s appetite, rather than replace the need to visit in person,” says Ward. This is a tricky balancing act. On one hand, it’s important for museums to be as inclusive as possible. On the other, by
“There is a Walter Benjamin essay from the 1930s that’s often quoted, which said that when we start to reproduce paintings photographically, it would diminish the aura of the artwork. Of course, this turned out to be untrue, and it’s still untrue in the digital age. You might have been working with Rembrandt’s Night Watch in Rijksstudio, or printed the image onto a mug, but it’s not like standing in front of the real work. Those are two totally different things.” Pronk does acknowledge, however, one lingering concern about mobile’s role in museums: “In the museum we want people to enjoy the art, so we don’t want to have too many screens between it and the eyes of the visitor.” This is the downside of all those people holding up their smartphones and tablets to the exhibits, an issue that’s acknowledged by everyone, old and young, in the fields of ancient
history and modern art, alike. An app like Pokémon Go might bring more young visitors through the door – many museums feature a cluster of the game’s Pokéstop and Gym locations – but if they’re ignoring the statues and dinosaur bones in order to hunt a Charmander, does it really count? “I see a lot of people who are stuck on their technology,” says Krantz. “They’re not really looking at the work, and that’s a problem. “It’s a problem that can be fixed, though, if you just think about how to use the technology correctly. You have to gear it, and the programming and the marketing around it, to say to the general public: we’re going to teach you how to look for longer, how to pay attention to details in the artworks. It’s a case of using technology not to take their attention away from the works, but to actually help people pay closer attention.” MM
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