How museums can adapt their content to new short-video formats…

Hollie Hilton
Original paper on MuseumNext>

In August 2020, Instagram launched a new content format for its users, to compete with the ever growing popularity of TikTok and integrate more diversity into its content offering. Instagram Reels are short, entertaining videos no longer than 30 seconds, which many have commented, mimic the style of the new video sharing network, TikTok.

This update from Instagram also included a redesigned user interface, which places Reels centrally in the main navigation bar, and is a sign of things to come from social media platforms, where the future is likely video-based.

In fact, over the past few years a number of reports have pointed to the growth and success of video based content as a marketing tool, with a rise in the number of businesses using video increasing 41% since 2016, and many marketers suggesting that video provides a positive return on investment.

So it’s no surprise that our favourite social networks, such as Facebook, Twitter and now Instagram, are adapting to new content formats, especially seeing the recent success of young platforms like Twitch and TikTok who put video first. Even YouTube, the long-time reigning video sharing platform, has recently introduced Shorts, to benefit from the popularity of the brief clips we saw on TikTok.

It’s likely we will have an increasing amount of places to now present pre-recorded visual content online, and this rapid proliferation of such formats can leave those, especially with tight budgets, bewildered as to which to invest their time and energy in, so below I’ve outlined some things to consider when creating content in this new format.

Choosing a video platform

TikTok, Instagram and YouTube all now cater to short form clips. So if you’d like to cut your teeth on this type of content it’s important to consider what each platform offers specifically.

For example, we’ve seen many museums, cultural organisations and educators, flock to TikTok for the promise of a younger audience that they may not currently reach on other platforms. In this way, the video content you create for TikTok should be a departure from the themes and tones you use on your already established Facebook, Twitter and Instagram profiles, because the content will be devised to speak to a newer audience, who have vastly different interests and engagement habits.

Florence’s Uffizi Gallery, is a great example of this shift in tone. On Instagram, you’ll find one of their artworks accompanied by a long descriptive caption providing context and insight into the work or its creator. Whereas on TikTok the gallery can be found publishing more playful compilations that show details of a specific work accompanied by fun background music that is in keeping with the mood of the piece. The captions here are also much shorter and are often more humorous in tone or stick to a meme-like format.

Whilst Instagram adopted the short clip format, in an almost identical way to TikTok, the content you should create for Reels may not be the same. This is because it is likely you already have an established audience on Instagram, who are familiar with a certain tone of content. Your Reels should therefore be in-keeping with these established traits.

Of course, the addition of music, snappy captions and entertaining twists should still be stressed for your Reel to perform well, but you should be mindful that it will be seen by a wider range of demographics, and can also be posted to your main feed for all of your followers to see.

Using Reels can be a really easy way to start out with this newer content format, and currently comes with some added benefits. Due to this being a new feature for Instagram, it appears that the algorithm for Reels is almost awarding users who try it out. With many reporting exponential growth in reach from Reels when they began actively using the feature.

However, with it being so new, the future of Reels is unknown, and Instagram frequently provides updates and changes to this format. Including the fact that content copied from TikTok may be shadow banned from being viewed – having been identified by the logo that would appear when transferring between apps. (A quick trick for this, if you want to crosspost from TikTok to Reels is to save your videos before posting, without the watermark and music, and reuploading to Instagram and adding sound again in the Reels creator).

Take a look at the National Trust’s Instagram Reels to see how sometimes, simplicity can be key.

Finally, you may have heard of YouTube’s new ‘Shorts’ feature which the potential of, is still yet to be seen. So far, many creators haven’t found much benefit from using these Shorts, but there are still tweaks to be worked out. If you already use YouTube, it may be something to keep an eye on, and will probably work well in the future as short trailers for larger videos you have on the site.

5 Short Video Ideas for Museums and Cultural Orgs

The best way to approach new formats like this, is to experiment and see what works best for your audience, or if starting out, what resonates best with your organisation. To get you started here are a few pieces of content you may already have on your website or other platforms that you can transform into short videos…

1. Tour Videos

If your organisation has a physical space you may have images or video clips of it, that you can compile into a mini tour.

2. Object in your collection

Whether you’re a science museum, an art collection or a local history museum you’ll have plenty of objects and artifacts that have stories, so tell them.

3. Expert Talk

Video one of your colleagues talking about an upcoming event, or your organisation.

4. Reuse a long-form blog post, or tutorial from your website

If you have any written out activities for families, children or schools to get involved with on your website, bring these pieces of content to life by filming a short tutorial version of them.

5. Behind the scenes content

Everyone loves to peek behind the curtain, show a part of your organisation that not many people may know about, through video or image compilations with voiceovers.

What does ‘museum’ actually mean? Unusual museums from around the globe

Rebecca Carlsson
Original paper on MuseumNext>

From strange artworks to severed heads, it’s safe to say that the word “museum” is a an umbrella term that can be interpreted in many unique and unorthodox ways.

Most people have an image that comes to mind when they hear the word “museum”, and chances are it’s an image of quiet halls, neatly hung artworks, and artefacts carefully displayed in glass cases.

And while many museums follow this basic blueprint, there are certainly those that choose a different path. In reality, the title of “museum” can refer to a whole host of different spaces and experiences.

With thousands of museums across the globe, each with their own subject matter, items and atmosphere, developing an overarching definition for cultural institutions is almost impossible. To celebrate the diversity of the museum space, we’re going to take a closer look at some of the weirdest and most wonderful museums from around the world.

The Plastinarium – Guben, Germany

Sometimes museums aim to teach us more about the world around us, and sometimes they ask us to look inwards in order to learn something about ourselves. In the case of the Plastinarium, the museum gets us to do this in quite a graphic way.

© MuseumNext

After nearly four decades of studying medicine and dissection, Gunther von Hagens perfected the controversial process of plastination, in which polymers are used to preserve human tissue. Visitors to the Plastinarium can see the results of this process, receiving a graphic lesson in anatomy by viewing humans and animals in creative poses.

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Natural History Museum Reaches Millions with TikTok

Jim Richardson
Original paper on MuseumNext>

When you think of the latest innovations that are allowing museums around the world to reach new audiences, perhaps snail jokes aren’t top of your list. But a museum in Pittsburgh has proved that a simple idea well executed can win over a new generation of fans.

Carnegie Museum of Natural History has attracted millions views of films of Tim Pearce, a curator at the museum telling snail jokes on the video-sharing social networking website TikTok.

The app is popular with 13-21 year old’s, with over 1 billion people downloading it. That makes it bigger than Instagram.

The content is mainly around dancing, singing and lip synching to music, movies or sound bites. Users create short looped videos, then have the option of adding music and Snapchat style stickers or filters. While hashtags make the content searchable.

The fun content makes it appeal to teenagers. And it would seem that teenagers like snails.

Carnegie Museum of Natural History have posted 12 films on TikTok, with the most viewed attracting over 1.5 million views. That’s more people than visited all four institutions in the Carnegie Museums Of Pittsburgh group last year.

6 of the weirdest (and most wonderful) museum marketing campaigns you’ll ever see

Manuel Charr
Original paper on MuseumNext>

Art is known for pushing the boundaries in a number of different ways. But what happens when museums carry this mindset over into their marketing campaigns?

© Tate Britain museum

One of the biggest challenges facing any museum is fighting against the preconceived notion that museums are “boring”. The cliched museum is a silent, intimidating space that doesn’t offer much in the way of fun, and while many museums successfully break this mould, the stereotype still exists for many people.

To cut through the stigma and entice new, diverse audiences, it is important for institutions to carefully consider how they develop and deliver bold, powerful marketing campaigns. And while not every campaign idea that involves “blue sky thinking” is worth implementing, there are certainly some quirky and off the wall ideas that retain a special place in our hearts.

I want to take a look at some of my favourite museum campaigns that fall firmly outside the box, in order to show just how impactful the right kind of marketing can be. Let’s take a look.

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Muses Ltd


Everything that we have done so far, what we are doing and what we will do for us is always emotively charged, because heritage without feeling is inconceivable. We are committed to delivering heritage messages to every visitor, because we deeply believe that heritage with its messages can make the world a better place to live for us and generations to come.

We work in the areas of heritage interpretation, (eco) museology and heritology, heritage management and sustainable cultural tourism, combining them with creativity, innovation and multidisciplinary teamwork.

Our greatest achievement is to develop successful, sustainable and outstanding cultural and natural heritage interpretation projects whose main focus is a participatory approach and stakeholder engagement in local communities and their well-being.

Receiving and sharing knowledge is our greatest passion. Collaborating with local communities that come together to celebrate their heritage is our calling. Innovation and social responsibility are our beacons.

Muses Ltd (Muze) was founded in 2005 and since then it has become one of the leading companies for consulting and management in culture and tourism in Croatia and surrounding countries.

Products and services:

  • Interpretation planning
  • Conceptual and construction planning of museum exhibitions
  • Content development and production
  • Museum planning and production
  • Strategic planning of cultural tourism destinations and attractions
  • Audience development planning
  • Fundraising planning and management
  • Blended learning trainings in heritage interpretation and heritage management

5 Strategies you need to know to keep your exhibit on budget

David Whitemyer
Original paper on MuseumNext>

Museum exhibits can be pricey. Whether it’s a permanent installation or a travelling exhibition, myriad influences can affect the cost. Image acquisition, AV hardware, shipping, materials, and more, can quickly throw a conservative project budget way off track, unless these aspects are carefully considered during the design process. 

Current estimates for the cost of museum exhibits are around $75 to more than $800 per square foot. This ridiculously wide range is due to a number of factors that differ from project to project, but which clearly make exhibit budget planning difficult, uncertain, and frightening. Whether your institution is flush with cash or on a shoestring budget, here are five proven methods for keeping your exhibition project costs in check:

Have a Contingency

A contingency is money set aside, to be used for increases in market costs or unforeseen items and services. For an exhibit project, it’s wise to have both a design contingency and a fabrication contingency. The design contingency can help fund great ideas that are born during the creative process, which might be financially more ambitious than the original program. A fabrication contingency will cover unpredictable costs related to things like travel, shipping and materials.

Reduce the Scope of Work

As the saying goes, “You can have anything, but you can’t have everything.” One of the fastest ways to get your exhibit costs in-line with your budget is to trim some of the fat. This could include implementing strategies such as reducing the project’s square footage or decreasing the number of trips or meetings.

Involve Fabricators Early

Whether you’ve hired a design-build firm or a sole exhibit design specialist, it helps to bring in a fabricator during the creative process. An exhibit fabricator can assess the physical design – from as early as the concept phase – to provide accurate cost estimates, material and finish suggestions, and coordinate ongoing museum architecture or general contracting work.

Communicate Honestly

This is a two-way street. Exhibit designers owe it to their museum clients to be frank if the project expectations and brainstorming ideas outweigh the project budget. Likewise, if during the creative process a designer is recommending solutions or technologies beyond your comfortable reach.  If this happens then you need to speakup, put on the brakes, and reevaluate what your budget can afford.

Avoid the Bandwagon

It’s easy to get caught up in high-tech trends, and to assume that your visitors expect theatrical immersion, multi user interactive tables, mobile apps, and AR or VR experiences. Although these things can enhance a museum exhibition and provide unique content delivery, they may not be realistic within a conservative project budget. Consider these costs at the beginning of the project and involve a media developer in the conversation so that s/he can share ideas and provide alternatives that fit within your budget.

It’s likely that following just one of these five strategies will help to keep your exhibit project on budget, but you may need to meld a few of them. Working with your partners, the project budget should be discussed and re-assessed from day one – from the kickoff meeting through to the project’s grand opening. Everyone must be aware of the budget, so that the entire team can be responsible for keeping it in check.

What makes a great museum label?

Anna Faherty
Original paper on MuseumNext>

The best museum labels do more than provide information. A great museum label takes its reader on a revelatory journey, reframing perceptions along the way and provoking a lasting reaction.

Swarupa Anila, Director of Interpretative Engagement at the Detroit Institute of Arts and juror for the American Alliance of Museums Excellence in Exhibition Label Writing Competition, sums up just how powerful a single label can be: ‘A brilliant label sweeps you into a bodily experience. Eyes widen. Breath stops. Skin rises to goose bumps. Heartbeat quickens. You look around and feel you’re seeing a world that never existed before that moment.’

Effective museum labels anticipate and answer visitors’ unspoken questions about the artwork or object they accompany. At the same time they forge emotional connections with those visitors. It’s obvious, then, that anyone writing gallery or exhibition labels needs detailed knowledge in two areas: the objects themselves and the visitors who will be looking at them. Plus, they need a clear goal that defines what they hope visitors might think, feel or do in response.

A well-worded label meets the visitor in familiar territory, using concepts and terminology that feel like second nature, before revealing a new, and relevant, perspective.

In just a sentence or two, a good object label equips visitors with the tools to look back at the object and draw their own new conclusions about it, conclusions that will be influenced as much by each visitor’s unique experiences as by the museum’s words.

How museum labels reveal other worlds

Consider this sentence, taken from a label stretched between two artefacts in the dinosaur gallery at London’s Natural History Museum:

When I first read this label, I found myself acting out the movements of these long-dead creatures, imagining my own hands equipped with spikes and claws. It made me look more closely at the remnants of the two dinosaurs and encouraged me to consider how each might have used its in-built tool.

These twenty-one words are effective because they combine three elements: familiarity, focus and visualisation. Aside from the names of the dinosaurs, the words are familiar ones I can relate to, which makes for a quick and easy read. The meaning is clear because the text focuses in on just one aspect of the fossils. My thoughts are therefore unencumbered by competing pieces of information. Finally, the use of active terms helps me visualise how these animals, which took their last breaths over 100,000 years ago, might have lived and interacted with one another.

The following paragraph also paints a picture of a very different world. It comes from a label at the Mary Rose Museum in Portsmouth, which houses a sixteenth-century warship:

The Medieval Machine Gun

Lightweight and portable, the English longbow was the super-weapon of its time. Accurate at distances over 200 metres, an archer could shoot over 12 arrows every minute. Shot in volleys, these arrows created an inescapable and deadly cloud.

The title and first line incorporate a modern analogy – another use of familiarity – to give new meaning to these 500-year-old weapons. A snippet of factual information then reveals how powerful a longbow could be. The final eight words, like the active terms in the dinosaur label, help us visualise what it might be like to be on the receiving end of their arrows. Try googling ‘longbow’ and you’d be hard pressed to find such deep insight, even after reading several hundred words online.

Both these labels reveal something to the visitor, and they do so by reinstating some of the context that is lost when objects are placed in a museum. Reinstating that context helps visitors understand the origin, purpose, use or impact of an object. Truly great interpretation goes even further: it provokes the visitor in some way.

How museum labels provoke reactions

In his classic book Interpreting our Heritage, first published in 1957, Freeman Tilden defines interpretation as ‘an educational activity which aims to reveal meanings and relationships’. Tilden emphasises that while interpretation includes information, it also reveals larger truths about the world, just like a well-written story.

Stories can, of course, be entertaining but, for Tilden, the chief aim of museum interpretation is to provoke. Interpretation, he suggests, should inspire a visitor to want to know more and encourage them to search out meanings for themselves, ‘join[ing] in the expedition like a fellow discoverer’. In particular, visitors often have the opportunity to question how they would react in a similar situation.

This questioning is explicit in the opening lines of this label from the Like Me: Our Bond with Brands exhibition at The Design Museum, London:

The label goes on to share the results of a research study, which found people would pay significantly less for Clooney’s sweater if they couldn’t tell anyone about it, even less if it had been washed.

Combining that information with our own answers, we realise a more general point, that people sometimes value the story behind an item, and the ability to share that story, more than the item itself. This realisation might, in turn, provoke us to consider what we personally value or why sharing stories is such a fundamental part of human nature.

Each of these three labels reframes our initial view of an object, but here the reframing is, again, explicit. If we don’t read the label, we see a plain old sweater, to which we wouldn’t usually give a second glance. If we read the label, we reframe our view of the sweater as something potentially valuable.

How museum labels reframe perspectives

When we frame information about an object we focus attention on certain aspects of that object or its history. It’s just like choosing a new frame for a painting, which then highlights different qualities of the artwork. Framing is less about the information we feature in a label and more about how we present that information.

Marketers are the masters of framing information for the greatest impact. For instance, describing a burger as ’90 per cent lean’ will prompt different thoughts and actions than saying it has ’10 per cent fat’, even though both statements derive from the same basic data.

In museums, reframing can be a result of choosing to display an item in the first place or of multiple interpretation decisions across an entire exhibition. Sometimes even a single word can reorient our thoughts. As MuseumNext speaker Seth Godin has written, ‘How should I judge this’, is something we ask ourselves all the time. When you make the effort to give us a hint, we’ll often take the hint’.

Take the black and white photograph, just 14 by 11 inches, displayed in a 2018 exhibition at Delaware Art Museum (DAM) in Wilmington. Some visitors will instantly recognise the scene and its significance. At my first glance, I saw what looked like a sink in the corner of an empty room. Yet choosing to place this photograph in a gallery is, in itself, an act of framing. It suggests there must be something special or important about this place or about the photograph that has been taken of it. It is more, I am led to think, than simply an architectural study.

The exhibition label for the image is a masterclass in how to reveal, reframe and provoke. It starts off with the title:

Segregated drinking fountains in the county courthouse in Albany, Georgia, 1962

In just ten words and a date, this reveals a lot. I realise that my perceived sink is in fact a water fountain. I realise there are even two water fountains in the scene, one far smaller and less accessible than the other. Most importantly, the very first word acts as a frame that changes my perception again, because I realise each fountain has been demarcated for use by a particular group. Looking back at the photograph, my eyes are now drawn to the signs placed above each fountain; one says ‘WHITE’, the other ‘COLORED’.

Those ten words give new meaning to the photograph, but the rest of the label reveals even more about the world it represents. Written in the first person, these 150 words tell the true story of a six-year-old girl and her encounter with a similar water fountain:

Mame was the strongest, smartest most beautiful woman in my six year old world. On Saturdays she took me with her to the hair dresser and afterwards on a short stroll to Atlanta’s municipal market. The market was alive with smells, and voices. Mame would treat me to a hot dog and a bag of warm roasted peanuts. Once while eating the peanuts, I needed water. Looking about, I spotted the fountain which had small wooded steps on one side so that children could climb up to fill tiny paper cups. Feeling pretty brave, I went to the fountain and started to climb the steps. Mame tackled me as I reached the top step and lifted me to a tiny bowl where she turned on the water spigot, and in a quivering voice announced that “this one is for us.” Her voice frightened me—it was barely audible, awakening something for which I had no name.

These are the words of African American writer Melva Ware. Ware was one of several people invited by DAM to share personal perspectives when the Museum hosted a travelling show of Danny Lyon’s photographs. As part of a wider programme marking the fiftieth anniversary of uprisings in Wilmington following the assassination of Martin Luther King, DAM wanted to include a plurality of voices in the show and, in particular, local voices.

While the title frames the photograph as a symbol of racial inequality at a specific time and place, Ware’s personal perspective shifts our thoughts to the impact of such inequality on the lives of ordinary people. For anyone who shares similar experiences, Ware’s words will resonate and reframe in myriad other ways.

Like any good story, this one helps us imagine ourselves right there. It even gets our senses buzzing. We hear the hustle and bustle of the market, smell the hot dog and warm peanuts and feel the comfort of being close to someone we trust. Finally, we appreciate the confusion, fear and loss of innocence experienced by Ware at the moment she is redirected to the smaller fountain – an experience likely to provoke a range of different emotions, depending on our own experiences and views.

Offering revelation, reframing and provocation, it’s no surprise this label was one of the winners of the 2019 Excellence in Exhibition Label Writing Competition. But did it work in practice? As any interpreter knows, many museum visitors don’t read labels at all, while others only check out the title. However, exit surveys at DAM showed that almost eight out of ten visitors read these ‘community contribution’ labels. A third stated that reading them changed how they saw the photographs in the exhibition.

Part of the success of these labels was, says Amelia Wiggins, Assistant Director of Learning & Engagement at DAM, down to involving the right people as contributors. Wiggins advises anyone wanting to follow DAM’s example to start off doing two things: 1. Be clear on your goals and the perspectives you want to incorporate, and 2. Listen.

Developing close ties with communities and community leaders, says Wiggins, enables you to bring in their perspectives at an early stage of exhibition development, while clarity of purpose will help you choose appropriate collaborators and brief them effectively.

For the Danny Lyons exhibit, Ware and her fellow contributors were brought together at the Museum to select the images they wished to respond to. They were then given a fairly open brief in terms of the label text: to write one or two paragraphs that shared a personal response, a memory, a reaction, a question or a call to action, all written in the first person or as if writing to a friend.

DAM are now integrating community-created content into all their interpretation for special exhibits. I can’t wait to see how their approach pays off in even more labels that reveal, reframe and provoke.

How technology is bringing museums back to life

Manuel Charr
Original paper on MuseumNext>

Over the past two decades, technology has cemented itself as one of the most important aspects of modern society. From where we stand today it’s almost impossible to imagine a life unaided by digital devices, the Internet or computing tools. From business and leisure to communication and information, our reliance on technology is all consuming in almost every aspect of daily life, changing the way we see and interact with the world.

Yet there are still those who think technology has no place in the museum.

This is perhaps understandable in certain circumstances where the museum environment represents a safe haven from the hustle and bustle of modern living; a place to reconnect with more human behaviours and experiences. However, in 2020 there are too many instances of technology serving to enrich the museum experience for us to ignore its potential.

We’re going to take a closer look at the relationship between technology and museums, exploring how some of the world’s leading cultural institutions are using innovative digital solutions in order to heighten the visitor experience.

Science Museum, London

Back in 2017, visitors to London’s famous Science Museum were able to immerse themselves in one of the greatest milestones in UK space travel. Through the use of VR, visitors could be part of a mission that re-enacted the European Space Agency’s first British astronaut Tim Peake’s 400km journey back to planet Earth.

The exhibition included a 12-minute video experience narrated by Peake himself, featuring a view inside the Soyuz space capsule. It’s hard to imagine how an exhibition that didn’t use technology could have brought the viewer as close to the experience as this VR mission offered.

Prado: technology and the museum experience

The likes of augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) are being used by institutions around the world to make history feel more present both inside and outside the museum space.

In 2019, the Prado Museum in Madrid introduced its first innovative 360-degree immersive experience. This project allowed users to get closer than ever before to the artworks and artefacts held in the institution.

This VR experience was made possible through collaboration between the museum and four leading digital platforms: Patron 2.0, Feeel, 3intech and Krill Audio. Speaking about the exhibition, Marta Tabernero from Patron 2.0 said:

“With this 360-degree experience, we can immerse ourselves in the Prado, discovering time and traveling in time. We are doing what has been done in cinema, using creativity and emotion […] It is a work of translating a cultural space into a contemporary language in order to bring it closer to new audiences.”

Far from acting as a distraction, technology can be used to bring people closer to the artefacts and history a museum exhibit is exploring.

Bringing people to the museum

But what about bringing people closer to the museum itself? In the US, gallery spaces receive 850 million visitors per year, which is more than most sports venues. According to the American Alliance of Museums, this represents around $21 billion in economic activity.

Technology can act as a useful conversation starter and marketing tool in the right hands. Sometimes, an attention-grabbing gimmick – not a word held in high regard, but useful nonetheless – is necessary to encourage people to experience the depths of what a museum has to offer.

When the National Museum of Singapore launched its “Story of the Forest” exhibition, it offered visitors a chance to step into another world with colourful projections and breath-taking displays. And with the help of a smartphone app, visitors could also access detailed information about the animated creatures leaping among the illuminated trees.

Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

Sometimes, the use of technology in a museum is less about being innovative and more about being accessible. A couple of years ago, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York made the decision to digitalise over 380,000 images from its collection. The aim? To make its art more accessible to the masses.

For people without the means or ability to visit the museum for themselves, this was invaluable. It’s now possible for people to explore many of the museum’s most famous pieces from the comfort of their own home. Not only does this create a sense of goodwill with the museum, but it also helps it reach a much wider audience.

Speaking about the decision at the time, the museum said:

“To make the Museum as accessible as possible, we need to ensure that the collection exists in those online locations where people already go for doses of creativity, knowledge, and ideas… This policy change to Open Access is an exciting milestone in the Met’s digital evolution, and a strong statement about increasing access to the collection and how best to fulfil the Museum’s mission in the digital age.”

The National Museum of Emerging Science and Innovation, Tokyo

Be it through Sony, Toyota or Seiko, we’re all familiar with Japan’s affinity with technology. So it should come as no surprise to discover that, when it comes to introducing technology into the museum space, Japan has largely embraced the movement with open arms.

This is certainly the case when it comes to the National Museum of Emerging Science and Innovation in Tokyo. One of the standout pieces in the museum is its famous LED globe, which shows a display of the Earth as visualised through geodata.

Elsewhere, visitors can interact with AI robots, models showing a visualisation of the internet itself, and much more. Many of the displays have a wider point to make about sustainability, human interaction and the environment.

The bottom line

Technology shouldn’t be seen as the enemy of culture. On the contrary, when used well, technology can help bring visitors closer than ever to a museum, and the history a museum is trying to convey.

Like any tool, technology is only as effective as its implementation. The examples we’ve explored today show how, by using technology smartly, museums can increase focus and interest on their collections.

Chief Information Officer at the Cleveland Museum of Art, Jane Alexander, said it best, commenting:

“The best use of digital is not to make you aware of the technology, but to make you aware of the art.”

What makes a good museum website?

Manuel Charr
Original paper on MuseumNext >

A website offers the chance to bring the essence of a museum to a virtual platform, but what can be done to ensure that nothing is lost in translation?

Museums are havens of knowledge, experience, and emotional resonance. Nothing quite beats the sensation of walking through a museum’s inspiring halls, but this can make projecting what makes that museum special onto a digital platform somewhat challenging.

When done well, a museum website can be hugely beneficial. Like museums themselves, these online presences should be a feast for the senses, a hub for user-generated content and an experience that showcases creativity.

It’s important for museums to ask themselves the right questions when it comes to creating a digital platform: does it reflect our identity as an organisation? Does it appeal to visitors? What does it need? What trends should we be considering and which should we ignore? What would make this site more appealing? And, of course, what mistakes should we try to avoid?

Factors like target audience, area of expertise and location can all have an impact on the way a museum website works. And while each institution’s web presence should undoubtedly feel fresh and unique, there are some things that every good museum site should do.

Let’s take a closer look.

Exhibition and collection promotions that are exciting, with direct CTAs

It’s important to think ahead when it comes to curating a museum’s website. For that’s essentially what a museum website is: an online curation; one that reflects exactly what it is that makes a particular establishment so special.

In order to do this successfully, exciting and interactive elements are necessary. Take the Yorkshire Sculpture Park in Wakefield, UK as an example. On their website, users are encouraged to take part in their interactive Sculpture Cam – allowing them to explore works from every angle and then create and share their own 3D animations.

Meanwhile, the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago website features an online gallery of tagged social media images from visitors. Website users can hover over an image and learn more about a particular exhibit, with a direct call to action (CTA) that promotes ticket sales.

CTAs are a vital end point for online content. Research by Grow & Convert suggests that powerful calls to action can increase website conversion rates by as much as 25%.

Prototyping New Travelling Exhibition Models

Sandro Debono
Original paper on MuseumNext >

What type of travelling exhibition models shall be sustainable in a post-COVID 19 scenario? We have come to think of the industry as being prevalently blockbuster oriented, concerned almost exclusively with moving valuable material culture across the globe for audiences to experience. Is there, and can there be more to what meets the eye?

At face value the blockbuster model has been a source of revenue for museums worldwide, and the ground base for an industry to flourish. Vastari’s latest blogpost does hint at a game of wait and see, where museums are postponing their shows amid a surprising sense of collegiality and collaboration. Costs and expenses are, nevertheless, on the table. It might be the case that prototyping new models is the way forward might address the need for an industry that requires much more elasticity. Business diversification is now a necessary requirement but there is also space and potential for new pedagogical experiences that are more focused, educational and enriching.

The blockbuster exhibition itself has been under scrutiny in recent years. American art historian James Beck had, way back in 2001, claimed that the rise of technology-driven experiences would make the movement of works of art relatively unnecessary. Beck also questions the pedagogical relevance of the blockbuster idea where relevance is much more pertinent to the scholar than to the public at large. Beck’s paper, published in Notes in the History of Art was aptly titled The End of the Blockbuster Exhibitions? and his concerns were also shared by others over time. In more recent times Colin Tweedy, chief executive of Arts & Business, argues that the blockbuster model was killing art, besides the funding and resources required for such endeavours. Tweedy’s concerns, shared by many others, stem from the need for exhibitions to empower better access, viewing and understanding of art, certainly beyond the constraints of the blockbuster crowds. That feeling is shared by many in the art world.

The COVID-19 pandemic has ignited the debate once again, and the doubts are stronger than ever before. One of the latest contributions on the subject to feature on Art Newspaper, penned by Director of Exhibitions and Strategic Initiatives at the Brooklyn Museum, Sharon Matt Atkins, advocates a major rethink of the travelling exhibition project idea. This, Atkins reiterates, is “an opportunity to reimagine different exhibition models, while still providing similar motivators that originally drove the blockbuster trend.” Andrew Dixon goes further. In his contribution aptly entitled Bye bye, blockbusters: can the art world adapt to Covid-19? Dixon quotes Frances Morris, Director of Tate Modern, and her frustration that the blockbuster exhibition has somehow and somewhat diverted museums from their core mission. Morris too concedes that the footfall-driving blockbuster exhibition with star loans shipped across the globe might have had their day. Kate Brown shares a similar opinion in her latest piece on Artnet. The title says it all – Is the age of the blockbuster exhibition over? A perfect storm of challenges suggests it may be a thing of the past.

At this point in time, as funding is fast becoming a major stumbling block and relevance much more concerned with breaking new grounds bridging digital and virtual, I feel strongly about a new travelling exhibition model, particularly for the art museum, that can be one of the potential alternatives addressing a wider and broader business diversification for the industry.

The low-cost airline industry

There is much that the industry can explore and benefit from when looking closely at the low-cost airline industry and which can inform new travelling exhibition prototypes. The industry’s early years date back to 1970s North America, best described as a sequence of innovations and proliferations. It has certainly evolved and developed since then. The business model is, in short, an amalgam of low pricing, point to point frequency routes, online ticketing systems, streamlined use of aircraft models, secondary airports usage and highly-productive staff. It is not the business model in its entirety that can suggest analogies with low-cost travelling exhibition models but key elements do hold potential to inform a leaner and more relevant travelling exhibition model.

By going for the medium to small size museum as the new main client base, by shedding travel costs in the choice of material culture mixes by having fewer objects but of higher cultural value or significance, by increasing the frequency and range of these lightweight travelling exhibitions and by streamlining and extending visitor time via online ticketing systems, the low-cost travelling exhibition can indeed become a sustainable model. This new proposal on the market would not exclude bigger and more articulate exhibition projects, perhaps leaner versions of the standard blockbuster exhibition. Indeed, this new breed of low-cost exhibitions would not exclude the bigger international museums from their potential client base either. This new model would help the industry diversify, invest in agility and become more relevant.

There is one overriding ambition that this new touring exhibition model can also address and that would be slow looking. The concept was first conceived by Project Zero, a research and development center at the Harvard Graduate School of Education founded by Philosopher Nelson Goodman in 1967 with the purpose of understanding and enhancing learning, thinking and creativity for individuals and groups in the arts and other disciplines. It has also been experimented by the Tate museum in London, particularly with regards to art and also became the topic of a book published in 2017 and written by Shari Tishman4, Senior Research Associate at Project Zero. Tishman defines slow looking as a mode of learning, a means of gaining knowledge through observation. The main goal would be to move beyond the first impression to engage with a more immersive experience fostering critical and creative thinking. By going for a smaller selection of works, also due to circumstances, travelling exhibitions can increase their potential as educational experiences and become visual literacy experiences through the slow looking experience.

The concept in wireframe format

The slow looking travelling exhibition model can also be described as a low-cost, lightweight variant of the blockbuster. It can expand and contract accordingly so long as the core values that shape this new model remain central to the thinking behind it. I propose a quick sketch of the model, certainly in need of more work and polish, particularly if it is taken up and stress tested in the appropriate wind tunnel – pun intended.

My wireframe is split in two sections to be broadly understood as a tentative supply – demand equation. On one hand, the experience is the proposal that is on offer. At the other end, the audience is the knowledge “consumer” base who will access the experience.

Experience Values

This component would combine a leaner repertoire of material culture including objects with high-end interpretation presented across multiple platforms of which the physical would still be the lynchpin experience.

Less objects, more cultural value

This is a crucial mix to consider and can vary between a greater number of artefacts with relatively lesser cultural value to a smaller, more contained selection, having much more relevance and significance. In any case, the selection needs to be contained in order to make possible a slow learning experience.

High storytelling content

Rather than focus on the once in a lifetime opportunity which is generally the case for the blockbuster exhibition, the interpretative contours would require high-end storytelling content that would support slow looking experiences in creative ways. This would also include an increase in digital content.

Transmedia experience

Transmedia storytelling is defined by Henry Jenkins as a process whereby integral elements of a fiction get dispersed systematically across multiple delivery channels for the purpose of creating a unified and coordinated entertainment experience. Ideally, each medium makes it own unique contribution to the unfolding of the story. Jenkins presented his ideas on transmedia way back in 2003, but the thinking can be traced all the way back to Walt Disney and his ambition to create a multi-platform narrative universe.

The experience which (i) and (ii) would jointly create would be presented on multiple platforms accessible before and after the direct physical experience of visiting the exhibition. In this way, the slow looking exhibition concept would be accessible for a longer stretch of time and accessible to new audiences that might be prevalently netizens but with the potential interest to visit.

The mix of viewing times, beyond the physical visit, and online ticketing systems covering access across platforms, would help bring the experience much more within reach of potential audiences.

Audience values

This is where accessibility would need to be understood in new ways, beyond the traditional visit to the physical experience. The mix of viewing times, beyond the physical visit, and online ticketing systems covering access across platforms, would help bring the experience much more within reach of potential audiences.

Extended mix of viewing times

The need to reach out to potential publics and audiences across a wider range of platforms would also require a varied mix of viewing time, including access levels for complementary albeit stand-alone digital and virtual experiences.

Online ticketing systems 

The low-cost airline industry can be a direct source of inspiration as far as online ticketing systems are concerned. Given the multi-platform experience which transmedia potentially holds for the industry to develop, services across platforms might require just one ticket to access.

Pay-per-use and access in tiers

The use of transmedia thinking would lead potential users to access the experience across time and physical space, as frequently as required also beyond the physical visit. Should the experience be presented in tiers, this could also help with monetisation.

A model worth testing?

I do think this is. Indeed, it is a mere sketch, a preliminary idea that would need to be tested further but, more than the need to reinvent itself in response to the dire economic circumstances that the industry might be facing, this is perhaps the right time for new models to have meaning and purpose.

This is an edited version of the original published on Teo Journal.