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Photo: Ida Tietgen Høyrup/ SMK Photo

Mikkel Bogh blogger | News about the art | 10.aug.2016

Online presence: Why museums matter more than ever

By Mikkel Bogh, director of the SMK, and Merete Sanderhoff, Curator and Senior Advisor in Digital Museum Practice at the SMK.

Recently, several commentators have quite justifiably pointed out that art and culture is absent from political discussions – not least when a major election is coming up. Politicians do not regard art and culture as crucial pieces of the giant puzzle that is our society; evidently, subjects such as health services, integration and economic growth are given greater emphasis.

Art and culture are often seen as 'soft' values that must take the back seat when funds are allotted. However, studies show that art and culture – and taking part in these things – constitute important foundations for a well-functioning society with active, engaged democratic conversations and happy, capable citizens who enjoy a high quality of life. Why is this perspective absent from political discussions? How can we showcase and raise awareness of the real value that we create as agents on the art scene?

Increased focus on the societal value of museums
In recent years, numerous international studies and reports have focused on the social value generated by museums and cultural institutions. Museums not only have a powerful impact in terms of ‘soft’ values such as social cohesion, democratic thinking and universal access to knowledge and education; they also contribute to ‘hard’ values such as economic growth, urban development and job creation.

Museums help cultivate the conditions for the high quality of life for which Danes are justly famous, and which – exactly how high is something Statistics Denmark will begin measuring this year, will begin measuring in September, just as they are measuring the nation’s BNP. This is in keeping with similar efforts in other countries, such as the UK and The Netherlands, which have in recent years begun measuring how museums contribute to society and even change lives (for instance Museums Change Lives and More than worth it. The social significance of museums).

Museums in the digital age
In our digital age, simply measuring the social value of museums in terms of their physical artefacts and architecture is no longer enough.

Today, the Internet and social media allow us to enter into conversations with the entire world, across geographic, linguistic and cultural boundaries. For museums, this opens up entirely new opportunities for extending our reach and impact on society. We can do so by utilising our digitised collections and by contributing to the information flow that reaches out to billions of online users. A museum’s online presence can be more than a calling card for the physical museum: it can offer a set of valuable tools in the form of images, historical insight and structured data that become building blocks in the hands of people everywhere as they continue their daily journey of personal and intellectual growth – a journey that is now very much nurtured by the web.

Growing demand for digital content
As the Internet continues to overflow with information, one of the distinctive things that museums have to offer is high-quality content. Content from sources which people know they can trust.

There is great demand for digital content from credible sources among institutions of education such as schools, upper secondary schools and universities. But growing demand is also evident among informal learning scenes such as Maker Culture, Fab Labs and Wikipedia, which are gradually becoming major sites for building and sharing knowledge and competencies globally. Such entities increasingly seek open-source digital content that can be used in new contexts without any restrictions – often with startling, innovative results.

Inspired by pioneering institutions in e.g. The Netherlands, USA and the UK, we at the SMK have recently worked towards making our digitised collections available for free and unrestricted use. With this move we wish to support learning, creativity, education and innovation – not only for the approximately 400,000 visitors who anually pass through the museum, but also for the 30,000,000 users worldwide who come into contact with our collections online every year. Now, a generous donation from the Nordea Foundation allows us to upgrade our efforts with SMK Open, which will ensure, over the course of the next four years, that everyone can make unrestricted use of the museum’s digitised resources.

Digitisation generates value for users
It is obviously more difficult to measure the beneficial impact of museums when its influence is unleashed as bits and pixels on the wildly proliferating worldwide web. However, data collection and exchanges with users and communities reaffirm our conviction that making cultural heritage available for unrestricted use generates great value. For students and teachers. For scholars. For volunteers who put their time and insight at the disposal of cultural institutions, enriching their data collections. For creative and entrepreneurial spirits who develop new business models and services on the basis of freely available public data, thereby contributing to society’s growth.

We need to get better at translating these observations into tangible indicators of the museums’ relevance to society’s wellbeing and development. This point is growing ever more important in a political climate where culture is subjected to cutbacks unless it can produce figures to prove that it generates more value than it consumes.

When we speak of digitised cultural heritage, we move up into a very different league in terms of scope and impact. And we need to include and incorporate this in how we calculate the value of museums to society.

Art and museums are important to society
In a recent blog entry, Charlotte S H Jensen from the National Museum of Denmark/The Danish National Archives encourages us to begin measuring the impact that access to digital cultural heritage has on general levels of education and quality of life. We are used to measuring the number of visitors passing through our doors, and how well they feel welcomed, enlightened, entertained and challenged by our exhibitions and communication. We should introduce a crucial supplement to this information by collecting data on the impact when people use digitised cultural heritage to

  • boost their own creativity
  • obtain new tools and skills that improve their prospects on the job market or promote personal growth
  • increase their social network by meeting others online who share their interest in culture
  • experience a general increase in their quality of life as a result of having access to engaging with and shaping culture.

We are not calling on museums to translate what are essentially unquantifiable and unpredictable experiences into rigid spreadsheet formats. But we are convinced that it would be useful to have more analyses and statistics to shed light on the value increasingly being generated by museums and their digital resources.

Art and museums are important to society. We are keen on supplying the necessary documentation to inform future political discussion about the field of culture.

More about
The SMK’s digitised collections
SMK Open
The SMK’s co-operation with Wikipedia

arrow Comments (1)
Spændende blog.

Jeg synes det kunne være interessant med et blog-indlæg/artikel om et af de online-gallerier, der sælger billige malerier (eksempelvis Det er blevet meget in blandt danskere, at købe deres kunst dér, da de kan handle det til priser, der ligger langt under hvad man finder i danske gallerier. Jeg selv begyndte at købe fra sider som førnævnte - og jeg må ærligt indrømme, at malerierne derfra er lige så fine rent kvalitetsmæssigt som dem jeg har købt i danske gallerier.

Blot en lille idé herfra :)
  • Malthe
  • 18-09-16 11:55
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