Art, Audiences & Museums in the Social Age
By Pascal Beucler, SVP & Chief Strategy Officer, MSLGROUP
The recent Communicating The Museum conference that took place at the Met in NYC addressed a variety of key topics: local vs global, the challenges of being a world museum, what it means to be a brand, technology and innovation and adapting to a connected future. One of these topics, though, happened to be at the center of many presentations and conversations during the two-days event:
In a nutshell, how should museums evolve and adapt to a very fast-changing world, where the way people access art, and “consume” it is so different from what it used to be even five years ago.
Whether virtually, or within the museum itself, social apps and digital innovations play a major role today. And like all other institutions and organizations in the world, the museums’ ecosystem is at stake, under the pressure of the digital and social turmoil. Let’s try to briefly examine what’s at stake here.
The Age of Control and Broadcast Has Passed
It’s all about dialogue and, like all of us, museums need to master the art of conversation. While experts and curators are irreplaceable, they can hardly ignore the growing ‘bottom up’ demand. Museums have to do better at being:
- Open: happy to connect with wider audiences, which can be very stimulating!
- Generous: genuinely ready to share and to engage,
- Attentive: listen to people, let them talk, let them in!
The Age of Being Gods of Knowledge Has Passed
It’s a ‘let go’ world, and museums need to adapt to it. A.G. Lafley, ex-CEO Procter & Gamble, when addressing a US marketing conference four years ago, insisted on the necessity of moving from transactions to relationships, in an age where we don’t own brands anymore: only people own them.
From this standpoint, museums should be enablers, not guardians.
“We are no longer the gods of knowledge, we’re the servants of it” – Kartsen Ohrt, Director of Statens Museum for Kunst.
was the key buzz all through the conference.
Branding In The Conversation Age
Apart from NATO and The Vatican, who’s still in a command and control role? The verticalisation age is long gone. Museums need to reorganize structures and management. The digital platform, horizontal by essence, is at the center of everything. The question is no longer whether museums are brands, but rather what sort of brands they are in the Conversation Age.
And, even more importantly, museums need to clearly know what they stand for as cultural institutions. To be blunt here, none of the “big” museums which were invited to discuss this point appeared very convincing on the topic…. Again, this (re)purposing of a museum’s vision cannot be performed by three people at a board. It needs to be run in a collaborative way, involving all stakeholders. It needs to be: Purpose + People, for a better Performance.
The Quest for Modernity Vs Modernizing Museums
“From ‘view’ to ‘do’, people want to be engaged and involved in new ways” – Jane Wentworth, who runs the London-based consultancy Jane Wentworth Associates.
IMHO, this is true in two ways, which can – and should – be closely connected:
- Physically: like for Boltanski’s installation at the Grand Palais three years ago, or Buren’s one more recently, the new motto is: let’s make it experiential, and allow the audience to be part of the work – not just stay in front of it.
- Virtually: There are numerous new interactive features being developed for museums today. The sky is the limit here, given the boundless perspectives with new forms of art narratives, visual storytelling, 3D developments, etc.
If the tricky question of ‘modernity’ has been the vibrant topic of the past decade, the necessity of modernization is the holy grail for today and tomorrow. All museums around the globe need to expand, enlarge and, more importantly, attract more and more Gen Y members.
What Museums Need To Do Today
- They need to diversify and to reach out the people, beyond the experts.
- All of them need to creatively engage with people and communities. It surely is a question of programming, but it’s not only that. It’s also about branding, and expressing who/what you are and what/whom you stand for.
- It’s about creating the conditions for a permanent, wide and fruitful conversation with diverse audiences.
- It’s about digital: making the museum available online, anytime, anywhere, any way and to anyone. And it’s about getting mobile: go to the people, where they are, and engage with them THEIR way.
Secret Annex Online: Anne Frank House
Is it still meaningful to ‘export’ physical museums abroad, when any museum can be reached online? The Internet also pulls in a large audience and more global citizens. It is sometimes even better than the ‘real’ museum experience: see the award-winning “Secret Annex Online: Anne Frank House”, a remarkable 3D visit of the house, which offers much more detail with objects and furniture than the physical museum. This tricky question was not addressed at the event, maybe it should be next year, though?
Exploring The Relationship Between Audiences & Galleries
Another interesting debate at the event saw Joanna Mackle, Director of Public Engagement, British Museum; Denise Vogelsang Head of Marketing, National Portrait Gallery, London; and Marc Sands Director of Audiences & Media, Tate; discuss how museums put audiences at the core of campaigns. They talked about how the National Portrait Gallery successfully attracted new and diverse audiences through a series of innovative marketing initiatives.
Today, the full potential of the relationship between galleries and their audiences has not been fully explored. Especially when you consider new audiences – those people who don’t come to museums – either offline and online.
New tools of engagement can help change this passive relationship into an active one. Yes indeed, galleries are waking up and realising that audiences do really matter.
Again, the holy grail is in collaboration and creative digital engagement.
With mobiles becoming ubiquitous, museums are now launching several mobile initiatives. Sharing her experience, Allegra Burnette, Creative Director, Digital Media, MoMA, said, “Over the last couple of years, because mobile devices have increasingly become a part of our everyday world, many changes appeared. Many of our museum visitors arrive at our doors with smartphones in hand, while others use tablets to access our sites and apps.”
This is why the MoMA has launched several mobile initiatives over the last eighteen months, including an app, a collection/exhibition- specific app, mobile websites, and a new activity app – many of which have been awarded!
In my opinion, Pinterest is also a new frontier for museums. It’s a very fast-growing social network, which will be more and more dominant in the world of visual arts. Pinterest will soon become a ‘personal museum’, allowing the highest level of customization and the easiest way to share and experience other people’s choices.
Change is here, and change is good: it needs to be embraced, in this sector like in all other sectors.