The Future of Museums

The Future of Museums

The topic of museums and technology is a timely one - as museums of all sizes and types rush to embrace technologies - and also a challenging one, as these institutions attempt to embrace a participatory culture facilitated by new digital technologies, while at the same time retain their expertise and authority as guardians of our culture and heritage.

Museums are using social media like Twitter and Facebook to connect with their visitors, they are using the Internet and mobile devices to disseminate their digitized collections; interactive kiosks, iPads and multimedia handsets are entering their traditional galleries, the public is being engaged with crowdsourced curating, and phenomena like the Google Art Project provide collaborative platforms to not only view super high resolution for virtual tours of galleries around the world. Museums have resolutely entered the digital age, but there are a number of critical issues that must be addressed as the scholarly community contributes a theoretical assessment of the practical applications.


One of these issues is the nature of museum authority in the digital age. Museums have begun allowing for dispersal of authority onto the visitor, encouraging individual interpretation, offering more channels for discourse, and actively seeking visitor participation such as uploading photos and videos, tagging, and curating. With blockbuster exhibitions and a wider range of popular programming such as yoga, fashion, concerts, health screenings, gourmet restaurants and more, museums are trying to appear less elitist and more welcoming to all.

So how can museums retain their authority and expertise, and do they still need to or even want to? How can digital successfully bridge the paradigm of access versus excellence? How do these questions differ in terms of museums outside the US?

Digital advances offer museums a critical chance to become more participatory, approachable, and relatable to the public. As museums adapt to embrace the digital world, how can we ensure that technology enhances and deepens visitor dialogue rather than acting as a superficial fix for museum marketing issues?

One last point has to do with the intersection of museums & academia. As museums are changing in the digital age, we see a proliferation of museum studies programs around the world accompanied by international museum associations, conferences, and publications. Traditionally, museum staff have advanced degrees in their academic disciplines. This remains the case with curatorial staff, but as museums expand programmatically and demographically they have also expanded the breadth of their staff expertise to include academic and professional backgrounds in business, education, marketing, and now digital technology. What are the needs of museums in the digital age regarding human resources? Are museum studies programs preparing students for the changing needs of museums?


Sample projects of interest:

Google Art Project:

The Art Project is a collaboration between Google and 151 acclaimed art partners from across 40 countries. Using a combination of various Google technologies and expert information provided by our museum partners, we have created a unique online art experience. Users can explore a wide range of artworks at brushstroke level detail, take a virtual tour of a museum and even build their own collections to share... Few people will ever be lucky enough to be able to visit every museum or see every work of art they’re interested in but now many more can enjoy over 30 000 works of art from sculpture to architecture and drawings and explore over 150 collections from 40 countries, all in one place.

The Brilliant Line: Following the Early Modern Engraver 1480-1650

An innovative and beautiful digital project which demonstrates the process of engraving. This is a good example of how museums can diversify their offering to include not just the "final product" of the art piece, but the technologies and techniques behind them, and the cultural context from which they emerge.

Documents of 20th-century Latin American and Latino Art: A Digital Archive and Publications Project -- at the International Center for the Arts of the Americas at the Museum of Fine Arts, in Houston, Texas. Launched this month! NYTimes article from May 14, 2012: "Rescuing the Stories Behind Latino Art:

"The ICAA Documents of 20th-century Latin American and Latino Art digital archive provides access to primary sources and critical documents tracing the development of twentieth-century art in Latin America and among Latino populations in the United States. Recovered texts provide a much-needed intellectual foundation for the exhibition, collection, and interpretation of art produced along this cultural axis."

American Enterprse at the Smithsonian:

"With this website, the Museum hopes to expand the online presence of the American Enterprise exhibition and discover new ways to collaborate with the public. In the months ahead, the team working on the exhibition will share research and collecting stories, test exhibit ideas, and provide educational content before the physical exhibition opens. Website visitors will be able to engage with the exhibition team and help shape the project’s development."

AMSTERDAM DNA at the Amsterdam Museum

After a multimedia presentation, the MuseumApp will reveal which primary characteristic of the city would interest you. It then suggests a specific city walk to encompass the art and locations tailored to your own preferences. A mobile app will guide you through the city on one of these walks.

QRator at the Grant Museum of Zoology

"QRator is a collaborative project which is new kinds of content, co-curated by the public, museum curators, and academic researchers, to enhance museum interpretation, community engagement and establish new connections to museum exhibit content. QRator enables members of the public to type in their thoughts and interpretation of museum objects and click ‘send’. Their interpretation become part of the objects history and ultimately the display itself via the interactive label system to allow the display of comments and information directly next to the artefacts."

MoMA has developed digital learning courses

"In exploring new ways to enhance these experiences, we were surprised to find that video has a remarkable ability to help us focus our gaze in a way that is often very difficult to do in the galleries...In exploring new ways to enhance these experiences, we were surprised to find that video has a remarkable ability to help us focus our gaze in a way that is often very difficult to do in the galleries."

Brooklyn Art Museum

  • Working Guidelines for the Copyright Project -- dealing with the complex issues of putting a museum's collection online 
  • They allow comments on the objects - see this comment by the son of the artist!
  • Policy change - instead of painstakingly vetting each piece of information on every piece of art, the staff made a policy change and decided to "release records online first, then vet information later." They also added a "record completeness meter" to collection records: "One of the most important changes is the visual meter that indicates the completeness of the record.  We want to give our users a very visual way to understand where a record may stand in terms of the overall picture of our data."
  • Cross-posting the Collection to Wikimedia Commons and the Internet Archive: "I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again:  it’s simply not enough to publish assets on our own website—we cannot expect people to come to and we need to be reaching out to communities on the web to engage interest in our collections.   With that, I’m happy to announce that we are now cross-posting our collections to Wikimedia Commons and the Internet Archive."

We will be joined by the following Invited Guests:

  • Anne Balsamo, University of Southern California
  • Steven Lubar, Public Humanities at Brown University
  • Miriam Posner, UCLA Digital Humanities Program Coordinator
  • Phyllis Hecht, John Hopkins University Director, Museum Studies Masters Program
  • Colleen Brogan, Digital Learning Project Coordinator, Museum of Modern Art (MoMA)

The forum is hosted by HASTAC Scholars:

Please join us below. Everyone is invited to share their thoughts, questions, and projects! 


I completely agree that institutions should be “linked” together more in the digital environment.  I understand that we may see the task for online interconnectivity between museums as overwhelming but the future of the museum rests on the crosspollination and digital webbing with others.  At the same time the museum of the future rests on the ability to address multiple degrees of objects, digital and analog, equally in the same space.  Take for example a museum like the MoMA three hundred years from now.  That future collection will house a variety of platforms that have supported artworks, including future objects we may not currently think of as relating to the classical representations of art objects.  I am still wondering why museums are not “curating” and linking to digital objects like Wikipedia, just think of what this one site has done for us.  In a hundred years it might be important that we are able to look back and see what people think of the Mona Lisa Wiki compared to Orville Redenbacher’s wiki.  While this online community encyclopedia had its own problems, which mostly revolves around ownership and expert authorship, the shared knowledge that builds within a wiki is a representation of a larger changing and growing community that relies on communication.   (Wikipedia is just one example out of many that museums should include in curated collections.  The question is how.)  Just the document of the links between pages is amazing.  It is profound how one site covers the entire world by linking and updating not to mention the countless digital pages of history that depict how information changes over time. 

Finding ways to link between objects, information, and online identities should be at the top of the list for the future museum but that involves a complex set of questions that are starting to appear in the threads above.  This is why I must argue that all of the topics covered above are very much important to the future of the museum.  Without recognizing the issues that have come about due to the creation and implementation of digital artifacts and the Internet I am afraid the museum will become a tomb of sorts.  The issues in this thread ask many questions and take the conversations in many directions but the tentacles are what the museum must deal with all at the same time.  The digital object is not going to go away and the way we view, curate, and documents/save these objects should all be important discussion for the museum.  Furthermore, how the community approaches the collection or museum is becoming more and more digital.  I wish museums would start to build a digital “copy” of their collections so patrons can “visit” the collection in a virtual way along with walking through the front doors. 

Museums would be in better position to handle what the future holds if they were to discover ways in which their own presence becomes more important online and interactive to a visitor that enters into the space armed to the teeth with technology.  Why do museums not use every tool in order to reach their visitors?  When more and more people who enter into through the exhibition door carry interactive digital technology why hasn’t museums jumped in and found ways of imprinting their presence on these devices?  As visitors exit the building they should be trying to find ways to integrate what they just saw into the technology they carry with them.  By addressing online and offline worlds patrons are able to take their experience home with them and re-visit the museum’s artifacts over and over.   Also, by building an online digital presence museums have a better chance to link with the outside community.  They may even be better equipped to share knowledge between the visitor and other institutions.  Also, the online presence builds up the local community as much as it does for the institution.  Take for example the new exhibition Virtual / Monumental at the Bronx River Art Center (   In this exhibition the museum seeks artists that can assist in building a virtual presence of the art center online as well as within the West Farms community of the Bronx. 

Museums should be growing as fast as the technology grows and cover as many of the ways patrons interact with the collection.  Presently, it is strange that patrons still have to look at the dull webpage of exhibition and collection institutions that does not give much more than a schedule, directions, and business hours.  Museum and galleries ought to address all of the issues listed in the threads above as important tasks for future collection and exhibition spaces.   The person who walks through the front door is more and more someone who can juggle between many different places and realities all at the same time, the future museum should act the same way. 


Greetings, fellow museum enthusiasts! I'd like to start off with a bit of an introduction. I'm a third-year Ph.D candidate in the Graduate Institute of the Liberal Arts at Emory University. My dissertation, tentatively titled "Touring Rights: Public Culture, Authority, and Audiences in Museums of Human Rights in the U.S. and South Africa," looks at 3 case studies--the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute, the Apartheid Museum, and the District Six Museum--that take up local and global struggles of human rights as their subjects. I'm interested in how these histories of human rights are constructed (and how these sites understand their own exhibitionary authority), and how audiences reinterpret these histories. All three of these sites are part of what I consider to be a new-ish turn in museums--the shift away from museums as "just" repositories towards thematic and "issue-based" sites, exemplified by consortia like the International Sites of Conscience. Moreover, all three are enmeshed in global networks of tourism--the Apartheid Museum, for example, is named the #1 thing to visit in South Africa on the Lonely Planet site.

Given my interests in audiences and tourism, one of the questions I'm interested in is how we can conceptualize "audience" as the very definitions and conventions of museums are changing. How might audiences be redefining and themselves through online fora and communities like TripAdvisor or Lonely Planet? How might these venues change the ways that museums think about audience or conduct audience research? Are these networks of museum publics fundamentally different from previous iterations?

Just a few ideas that have been running through my head recently. I'm looking forward to hearing from you all!

-Sarah M.


Excited to see this important topic receiving a forum on HASTAC! This set of questions is particularly intriguing: "how can museums retain their authority and expertise, and do they still need to or even want to? How can digital successfully bridge the paradigm of access versus excellence? How do these questions differ in terms of museums outside the US?"

It seems to me that the current trade-off between digital and "physical" museums is most deeply felt in terms of curators' abilities to evoke and construct experience. To also mention, visitors' spatial range for interpreting these experiences. Does this changed ability speak to a question of quality (as the term "excellence" implies) or to a different set of problems?

I am thinking about how museums' ability to craft and produce experiences is particularly important in the contexts of "trauma site museums" (Patrizia Violi 2012). In Violi's definition, these are places of historical violence (prisons, death camps) that have been converted into museums. An argument can also be made to add to this definition museums that have been built post-facto in places that have suffered catastrophic trauma, violence, and disaster. Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum, which I currently am researching, is an example of this. Arguably, then, the experience such museums are tasked with producing is a representation (or reenactment) of trauma--the museum authority and expertise, then, connects intimately with their physical and geographic proximity to this trauma. Moreover, the purpose of this representation is to instrumentalize trauma toward an ethical and/or pedagogical end. "Peace" and "awakened awareness" are two popular lessons coming out of these spaces. I am interested in this question of how something like "trauma" might get translated through the experience of a digital museum.

In looking at the changing experience of the digitized museum, perhaps we can meditate on how, in addition to centralizing information, "authority" stakes a claim over the ethical and sensory meanings associated with physical spaces. As museum websites display narratives that are arguably more limited and less experential is some consolidation of authority at work? Do tourists become less motivated to visit "far-flung" museum sites if they can already "see what's inside" on a website? How do these changes in visitation patterns change the ethical and interpretative potential of these sites? I'm interested to hear what you all think about this issue.


Vivian - thanks for starting us off with a great comment. I completely agree with you that museums have become about creating memorable experiences for their visitors, whether those experiences be about art, history, science, or memory. The digital age has consequently become the age of experience, where HOW we acquire content often becomes more important and lasting than the content itself. I propose that the experiential museum began with the emergence of the populist museum around the 1980s, which itself had roots in constructivist thought.

Today in the midst of the digital age, however, experience has been taken to a new level with the participatory culture of the day. And here we get to the crux of the issue about authority. This movement that began decades ago - museums acknowledging that meaning making is ultimately determined by visitors more than by museum professionals - has today become about museums downplaying their authority and expertise while simultaneously promoting mostly digitally-facilitated opportunities for visitors to interact, participate, and contribute. The two appear incompatible, but are actually symbiotic. For example, most art museum websites now show their collections with both scholarly curatorial text next to popular tags created by visitors. Also if we take the few examples of crowdsourced exhibitions - most visibly with the Walker's 50/50 exhibition where the gallery was literally split into two; curatorial selections on one side and the public's selections on the other side.

Experiences are critical to museum visitors today, both physical and virtual ones, but studies have shown that museum visitors also want to learn something. So while many museums see themselves competing with the entertainment industry, they must remember that the experiences they offer are unique, as is their knowledge and role in society. Authority provides the opportunity for memorable experiences, but ultimately the visitor determines HOW he/she consumes that experience as related to individual proclivities.


Just wanted to add my interest to this subject.  I actually just wrote my graduate thesis about museums and digital media.  If I can throw a question out there, what are some places for graduate-student-level publications, where I could send my thesis?  Thanks.


Blaire, here's a few suggestions, depending on how you are approaching museums and digital media:


1. Digital Humanities Quarterly

2. Technology & Culture (The International Quarterly for the Society of the History of Technology)

3. The Journal of Media & Communication Studies

4. Museums & Social Issues

5. International Journal of Learning & Media

6. Curator: The Museum Journal

7. Museum & Society

8. Public Culture

9. Museum Education

10. Museum Management & Curatorship


Thanks to all of you for introducing this timely topic. I agree that the greatest value of a museum in the digital age may be less as a storehouse of precious objects, and more as a mechanism for crowdsourcing knowledge. I also appreciate Susana's observation that, more than pre-digested interpretation, audiences now want to experience culture.

So here's a naive question. Wouldn't these functions be better served for a site of trauma such as Ellis Island or Dachau by letting visitors wander the grounds in their original, uncurated state, accompanied by an Augmented Reality app that lets visitors share their personal histories with and reactions to specific artifacts (via image recognition) or locations (via GPS)?

Such a "museum" would require only a smartphone--no wall panels, no labels, no giftshop, maybe a few "experts" hired to add their perspectives. It could be deployed anywhere there is cell coverage--on the train to the site, in the surrounding woods--truly a museum without walls.

Would that still be a museum according to your definition. If not, why not?


In the late 90s Virtual Reality Modeling Language was the hot thing. (SGI's fortunes waned; their support ended, and so did that whole area of activity.) No projects showed that promise more than the work done with virtual models of museums. I wonder: has SecondLife stepped in?


On a tangent: I spent one summer working at the Alexander Graham Bell Museum (Baddeck, NS) and, as an "intrepretive guide", had a great time telling stories of that man's life while more or less letting the exhibits speak for themselves. I had similar experiences, though as a visitor, at the museum of science and technology in Vancouver, BC.

It seems to me that the riches that have been so carefully presented and so well curated really come to life when their stories are told. They as though become a set of living metaphors!

see James Burke's series on the history of technology



Just found out that a THATCamp Museums NYC is happening this weekend (May 18-20, 2012). I'm going to invite those folks over here to join the conversation too, but the site will be a great resource of concurrent conversations!


Jon, I like your virtual experience idea as an alternative "experience," especially for lost sites, or efforts to recreate experience of sites that are now museum-ified. I do not have your background in this, but for me it is sometimes useful to think about the current physical nature of digital objects and what our experience with them looks like and allows us to do. The sense of the "sublime" and some amount of "aura" might be lost in translation between the physical and the digital, and there is definitely invested social and cultural value in places, presence, and the senses (smell, touch, and otherwise), that screens and current digital technologies can't quite replicate. However, there are many things that digital representations, visualizations and communication platforms allow us to do, and the idea of involving commentary from specialists not-present in something other than text-form, or encouraging the experience of elements lost (like social aspects) is particularly interesting (in addition to providing kinds of access that users can't currently have). Virtual experiences can already allow users to page through rare, or damaged books or view objects from multiple dimensions and with greater proximity than an unaided eye. A virtual experience like you suggest could allow multiple layers of experience (archaeological, geological, historical, etc.) all in a compact handheld device.

The ability to combine, use, search and build from data and metadata kept in museum and special collections repositories is also of interest to me. What kind of information can we hold about museum objects in the future and how can this information be "harvested" or recombined by users remotely for research that previously was only available to museum scholars perusing curatorial archives. What new kinds of information might be stored and how might this be combined with data sets used by people in other disciplines for research? As a museum possibility, we might imagine museum education rooms in the future where visitors can construct their own virtual environments using visual and other information stored in museum digital repositories.



I believe that you have hit upon one of the critical questions regarding museums today - how do you define a museum? Yes the American Association of Museums and the International Council of Museums both have their definitions, which have changed slightly over the years. And we know that museums are primarily charged with collecting, preserving, and studying real objects (let's put aside the discussion of net/digital art for the moment). But when we get past the old debate over physical vs. virtual, we begin to see endless possibilities for museums and museum experiences.

Museums do what they do "in the service of society" (ICOM), which means that these "real" objects can no longer be relegated to storage viewable only by scholars with appointments, or even kept within vitrines inside physical buildings. Digital technology has been critical for museums to increase access to their collections and scholarly work via the Internet and mobile technology. But museums also are realizing that serving society means providing deeper experiences, more interactive and participatory, more entry points to creating meaningful and personal experiences. Which brings us to my answer, that museums are about experiences, which includes both physical and virtual experiences. Physical museum spaces are critical, whether they be sites of trauma, historical buildings, architectural masterpieces, or community spaces. I believe that visitors seek the physical component of a museum experience, which has greatly expanded in the 21st century to include not just the exhibitions, but also ancillary services such as shops, restaurants, classes, and programming. Nevertheless, there is the subject of virtual museums that must also be addressed, and hopefully Susan Hazan can also bring her expertise to this discussion, as I believe that even with virtual museums there is a physical component included somehow (note the MUVA). Second Life, however, has not been as sucessful for museums.

Just one more comment on this point, and that is that I don't believe museums need to be called a museum to function as a museum (note the Walker Art Center). There are many museums without permanent collections, for example. So maybe we expand the category to include cultural institutions and other nonprofit organizations that excel in serving society and providing important cultural- and social-based experiences. This wouldn't really work for the AAM and their accreditation process, but it might be an important way to start defining a museum in the future.


Hi Susana (also partly in response to Amy),

I appreciate that the digital and physical can complement each other in today's museums. I think I was getting at something a bit more radical.

We think of digital overlays or representations as mediation of real experience, and rightly so. But what about wall labels, pedestals, mannikins, special lighting? These are compulsory intrusions into the physical neighborhood of an artifact--and more often than not replacements for the artifact's native neighborhood.

When we look through the glass screen of a smartphone pointed at a physical object, is that so different from looking through a silkscreened vitrine at one? With Augmented Reality, I might view museological data overlaid on a Maori dugout moored in New Zealand, or a cannonball embedded in a house facade in Stockholm. Would this experience be more mediated than viewing these objects in a glass case in New York? And wouldn't the option not to add a museological layer to the experience--to turn off the screen and view the object in its uncurated state--make AR more respectful of the physical ambience that gives these objects meaning?

In the forthcoming book Re-Collection: New Media and Social Memory, Richard Rinehart and I look at examples of museums that have chosen to strip away conventional layers of mediation, whether virtual or vitreous. In place of a gallery with didactic panels, archeologists chose to plant a twelve-acre grove on the original site of ancient Greek garden of Kolymbetra. Naturalists like Vanessa Vobis at the Los Angeles Museum of Natural History are forgoing dioramas of taxidermied animals for real critters living in an urban wildlife habitat.

Do visitors need a museum cafe, if they can pick oranges grown in ancient groves and bring them home? Do visitors need a class on indigenous culture, if they can step into a dugout canoe and paddle out with the Maori?



I have been following this discussion with great interest – especially Jon’s bid to do away with the museum altogether; proposing the deployment of absent “experts’ piped in over smartphones or the joy of the authentic celebrated in orange groves (all excellent points I hasten to add).  Something inside me is screaming out …. no, no, no.  So I would like to play the role of the devil’s advocate here on behalf of the museum object.  I have spent most  of my professional life creating electronic surrogates of our collections (The Israel Museum, Jerusalem), we have even set up shop in the physical gallery, right next the objects (study centers), and entice our visitors into the Museum over all sorts of electronic pathways; social networks and apps, Second Life (still can’t quite work out why it never really took off), uploaded five of our most precious Dead Sea Scrolls in amazing resolution online, and even partnered with the Google Art Project in this recent round (with enthusiasm).  I suppose you could say that I have, indeed signed (and sealed) my pact with the devil. My only problem with all of this digital festivity is that - at the end of the day - if someone turns off the electricity – it all simply vanishes into thin air!

Clearly, e-curation is not the Museum’s core business. What IS the Museum’s core business is the physical object – and here Susanna refers us back to the ICOM definition which actually prioritizes the physical object over the digital; and quite rightly so inspite of the Barcelona amendment which includes digital creative activity.  I am a real fan of all this business of being custodians of the past (and the quickly catching up present) for the future.  I would argue, however, (in spite of the fact that I actually do this for a living) the digital object sits in direct antithesis to the physical object and actually sets up a diametrically opposing tensions about what the Museum is all about.

Amy’s insightful comment of course, hits the nail on the head when she points out, that what is lost is the sense of the "sublime" and some amount of "aura"  […  The sublime and the aura IS the core business of the Museum!   Where else would you be able to go to see a real Rembrandt up close, or be able experience Vivian’s sites of catastrophic trauma, violence, and disaster.  Without all of these public locations dedicated to all this physical stuff where we could we go to and wander around on our free days? All this would all simply slip off our radar. (Unless perhaps you read books, surf or watch TV a lot).

So … before you all Tweet back your barbs with what about participation culture, crowdsourcing visitor knowledge, and injecting social synergies into our workflows (and of course I am not belittling any of these) I would like to argue for the Museum (note the capital letter) as, first and foremost, a site devoted to expertise and authority - as guardians of our culture and heritage.  I would actually throw in connoisseurship for good measure.(Stop groaning and please listen). The way I see is that Museums are not TV sitcoms; neither are they theatrical locations of performance art, unless of course it is an artist participating and not a visitor.  They are about unique objects, exemplary experiences, and auratic moments.   Surrogates are great to point to, reflect on and augment for the original – but here the authentic is King (or Queen); especially in a highly mediated world where we already spend far too many hours peering into some sort of screen or another. 

Our sensation of dislocated presence becomes disturbingly familiar from our daily dose of television or tablet/PC/smartphone browsing.   Our identities are already so distributed we have to go to Google to find out who we are today.  Marc Augé(1995: 32) reminds us of ‘the false familiarity the small screen establishes between the viewers and the actors of big-scale history, whose profiles become as well known to us as those of soap-opera heroes and international artistic or sporting stars’.  Sometimes the balance is tipped even further when it seems that we are more at home with our favourite soap opera characters than we are with our own lives.  After more than six decades of television viewing, and almost a century of telematic communications, we have become so comfortable with life in a media-saturated society that we feel we can chart these waters with confidence.  Or can we?  Are ten Rembrandt coming to us straight into the palm of our hands through GAP in glorious-gigapixel-technicolor, technicolour enough?

I would gently suggest that we do need Museums. The Museum must be set aside for all the good reasons that ICOM designates; that is an actual place to go to find those extraordinary objects and ideas - the buck stops here! 

Of course nothing is that simple. This clearly comes with its own challenges. Foucault draws attention to the mausoleum-like nature of the modern museum when he describes museums [and libraries] connected to these temporal discontinuities as heterochronias – 'in which time never ceases to pile up and perch on its own summit' (Foucault 1994:182).  What curators of New Media are doing, are trying to inject the contemporary experience into what is often perceived as an anachronistic heterochronia (lets give the museum lower case here). 

This is the goal, I would argue for e-curation.  Finding new windows into this material world, and new ways of interpreting collections for visitors who need to be able to digest, recall and retell our messages in their own reality; in less than 140 characters (with no spaces).

Getting back to the Museum, I posit that it is the collection that not only defines the museum, but also determines its mission in society. I also argue that it is the collection/exhibition/narrative that represents the raison d'être of the Museum, and, instilled in this institutional mission is an ethos of authenticity and integrity that is bound up with the tangible object.  I also believe in connoisseurship, as I already dared to mention, as something that is so often lost in our information society; but not a very pretty word when we are all trying to get away from the dusty, 'elitists-only label' the Museum has hang for so long.   So where does all this take us?

I argue we first need to recognize the physical Museum in order to create its meaningful digital footprint which will resonate with the same authenticity and integrity in its mediated iteration. If the digital Museum is to act as successfully as the ephemeral extension of the Museum, rather than thinking about e-curation as “new lamps for old”, it should open up new iterations of the Museum’s traditional strategies of display and interpretation, albeit electronically.  In this case, the digital Museum will then imbued with the same qualities of authenticity and integrity, which will distinguish it from other mediated experiences, such as cinema, television, and will open up opportunities to measure ourselves against the past, the unique and the authentic in the ongoing search for our distributed selves.

And yes I vote for authority!


I wasn't aware you could vote for a King.


Hello Everyone,

Fascinating topic! Susan, you raise some valid points. In an era of mediated experiences, museums seem all the more crucial as bastions of the real. But what if the difference between "real" and "unreal" is not parallel to the difference between "physical" and "digital"? What happens when authentic culture is born digital?

I'm speaking here not of a digitized picture of the Mona Lisa, but rather something like Mark Napier's Shredder; an artwork that takes the form of a website with interactive software. Born digital culture is not limited to art either. Historians are now challenged with archiving US Presidential campaign materials that originate online and never see print, in fact, printing them would result in an "unreal" fascimile of the original digital object.

Born-digital culture is an increasingly large portion of our shared cultural trust and this culture is surely no less important as part of humankind's shared cultural heritage and no less deserving of preservation and exhibition in Museums. I propose that as we start to see digital media not only coming out of Museums' education departments, but also entering the permanent collection, we must conclude that the digital is not the antithesis of the Museum, and, in some cases, may constitute it's core.

If we agree that the Museum is about collecting, preserving, presenting, and educating about authentic original culture - be that a physical or digital original (as the 2007 ICOM definition states) - then perhaps the Museum of the future is format-agnostic with regards to collection objects or educational material and it's all about finding the best way to present the original and contextualize it.

Just sayin'!


Sarah, I too am working on my Ph.D. dissertation and am very much interested in this topic.  Thank you for posting these questions and links to further art projects. 

I come from the studio arts but have been working within the museum/gallery/public art circle for over ten years.  During this time I have seen artistic practices and presentations/exhibitions change drastically as digital technology grows.  My dissertation is currently titled "Place, Participation, and the Digital Collective; Online Community Art as a Critique of New Media."  Through my own research I hope to address the role of online collaborative creativity and the ways artists choose to participate and exhibit online.  I think that the most technologically advanced ways for artistic exhibition and creativity is yet to come.  In place of the traditional museum or gallery exhibition space new media artists are beginning to employ the collaborative nature of the internet in order to create new things and transform them in real time through digital interfaces.  Not only are these new media and multi-media artworks diverse in content, design, and form they may appear in numerous digital locations all at the same time.  Some project may, in fact, be created in the same manner but may have different outcomes due to the project’s location online.

I hope to see the Internet become a place where people not only add online content in order to exhibit and generate a "web" presence but approach the Internet with the possibility of instigating the creative practice for new creative works.  It is my understanding that the Internet as a platform for creative practice and collaborative exhibition installations is just beginning to appear.  I hope we can see more of this type of work, making way for a very exciting future for the Internet.  

Check out this Internet curatorial project that I recently came across.   "JstChillin" ( 


Vaughn Whitney Garland



Having just completed my Ph.D. in Communication (despite my background as an art historian, curator, and critic), I am fascinated by how the subject of mediation is being threaded through these terrific comments. Jon talks about museums that "strip away conventional layers of mediation," Susan talks about the mediation of connoisseurs/experts in museums, Vaughn brings up the unmediated space of the Internet for collaborative creations "in place of the traditional museum or gallery exhibition space," and then Richard calls ours an "era of mediated experience."

Art is a form of communication, and as such, there is both direct and indirect (mediated) communication. Examples of direct artistic communication are rare, but can be found in public art as well as in artists' studios. Most people experience art as mediated, whether that be forms of human, institutional, or computer mediation. In the early days, art museums were for the educated, the scholars. But over time, museums have opened their doors to everyone, at the same time realizing that they needed to help the general public to understand their collections and exhibitions; hence the birth of museum education. This is what I'm assuming Jon means as "conventional" (or by your chapter titled "Death by Institution"?). With the aid of digital technology, mediation has increased dramatically at museums as they discover new platforms and new ways to engage other voices. Even their crowdsourced exhibitions are carefully mediated by curators and educators.

So is mediation a bad thing? What about Vaughn's collaborative creating and curating on the Internet - is that completely democratic, or are these projects being mediated by some person, group, or institution? Like Susan, I believe museums can provide valuable expertise, and that mediation is NOT a bad thing, however it may be disguised. But the digital age has taught us to be more critical of sources, to delve deeper into identities and motivtions. Let's not be naive as to the utopian possibilities of the Internet, or even the autocratic workings of the institutional museum. The museum of the future is about mediating in a more strategic and smart manner, harnessing the possibilities of the Internet, but also about securing expertise.



Your point is well taken: museums need to be smarter mediators to adapt to a changing society. My point is that "conventional" museums remain stuck like amber in a form of mediation that derives from papal collections of the 15th century: untouchable relics ensconced in pedestals and vitrines, described in wall texts written from an omniscient perspective.

Technology is not a panacea for this anachronistic autocracy. Five-figure climate-control systems, video surveillance, infrared detectors that buzz when a visitor steps too close--those all reinforce a work's aura at the expense of genuine human connection. (Try running the Metropolitan after turning the electricity off. Ironically, your smartphone will keep working.) Even efforts to squeeze collections onto Web sites or into interactive kiosks usually end up reproducing the one-to-many, broadcast paradigm of a museum's physical galleries.

The problem is greatly compounded when, as Richard notes, the stuff of culture is born digital. The contemporary equivalent of those Vatican reliquaries that stored saint's knuckles for 1000 years are the boxes in which we now entomb inert assemblages of metal and plastic, as curators put videodecks and computers into crates and are surprised to find they're unusable when they pull them out 20 years later.

I don't think our society is ready to eliminate museums or mediation. In fact, together with colleagues from the worlds of archives and libraries, I just launched a Digital Curation graduate program. I'm very excited about our first course coming online this September.

In fact, our curriculum is designed to help curators see the deeper effects of their choices of mediation, hopefully informed by more than knee-jerk reactions to new forms of presentation and preservation. For privileging wall texts over augmented reality may unintentionally dissociate viewers further from first-hand experience. And investing in crates over emulators will almost certainly consign new media culture and its aura to the trash can of history.


Good afternoon, I have to say that I am enjoying all of these entries.  The topics here are so not only interesting and important to art and art exhibition but to the way we understand digital culture in general.  I was fortunate to undergo two years of PhD study ranging in content from authorship/ authority, exhibition education, copyright laws, and creative digital practice, to name only a few.  All of these topics are playing through the threads and posts. 

One of the most important arguments, as many of us know, rests with the relationship between the digital “object” and the experience one has with that object.  In many ways authority becomes a factor as to determine the proper way to interact with the digital object.  I have to confess that I managed the now-defunct Virginia Commonwealth University Arts and Slide library for 7 years.  In that time our institution endured several experiments in how to save the content that had admasses in our own physical collection.  During a time when the growing collection of images online, mostly housed in large pay your way digital collections like Artstor were easier to use for classroom instruction and research the physical collection we had started to see less and less use. 

VCU’s School of the Arts tried other digital scanning and databank resources in order to keep the collection going but our faculty and students were going online instead of coming through our doors.  Most professors started to pull images from Google.   One of the reasons we held on for so long was that our collection seemed unique to us.  Not only did we have the standard collection of art historical imagery covered we had many rows of personal art slides from works by faculty members, students, and on campus exhibitions.  The problem that presented itself when we started to scan this collection centered on copyright issues.  In almost all cases the library had not kept a record of the image’s addition into the collection so reproducing them for online use was not going to work.  The problem of authorship, authority and use proved to be the end to our library in that physical format. 

I see this same situation happening with the MoMA Google Art Project where online users are welcome to enter into the collection but a large percentage of the main collection has been erased.  In this digital format the art works are removed from the online experience of the museum because, from what I know, is the nuance of copyright.  Yet, I find these pixelated gray blocks on the wall to be as beautiful as a digital copy of a Picasso or a Van Gogh.  I apologize to the Art Historians.     

This brings me to my main statement and to some of the points in this thread.  Can we experience work in the digital platform in the same way we do in the physical world?  I think we can.  In many ways looking at a “good” digital photograph or scan can reveal so much more, in my mind, of a Caravaggio painting than if we were to see it installed in a dimly lit chapel.  In fact if I had to decide how to see a Caravaggio I must say I would choose to zoom into the digital images in order to see the tiny brush marks than have to pay a coin to turn on the church lights for a few seconds.  Once again, I know this is art historical blasphemy and I know that being in a chapel that houses a Caravaggio is an experience all on its own but if I want to really see the work I would choose the digital image.  I want to study the pain or ecstasy on portraits up close.  That means being able to see the image through magnification.  Please don’t hurt me for being so anti Modernists but the aura does not bother me for some works.  Now, I would have to really think about that same experience with a Rothko. 

Some art works that are created for the online platform may have as much, or maybe even more, aura than a work hanging on a wall in a museum.  I want to use an example of such a work and one that I hope to explore in my own dissertation.  This work is collaboration between artists Peter Baldes and Mark Horowitz.  Pete lives in Richmond and is a professor at VCU, Mark lives in Los Angeles.   While sitting at their home computers and across the country from one another Pete and Mark created an online art experience that lasted 9 days by driving from LA to Richmond using the Google Maps Street View.  They titled this Google Maps Road Trip. (  Each day Pete and Marc would get up and drive Google’s street map by pushing the arrow keys on their keyboard.  The set up real time online video broadcast and installed a chat room so anyone who came across them on their site could sit in the “car” with them.  Pete and Marc would “stop the car” and look at the sites around them by looking through Youtube videos.  At one point we viewed a wedding video from the Cadillac Ranch.  It was strange but I have to say I was obsessed.  I have driven across the country many times and this experience was as real as it was when being in a physical car.  At one point the trip started to take its toll on all of us.  You could see Pete’s level of annoyance with Marc rise.  You could feel the air in the car get thick with exhaustion and all of this was happening from my own office.  I was seeing all of this on my own computer in my own life.  I found myself not wanting to leave the experience or get out of the car as Pete or Marc clicked down the road.  The experience was real.   It was exhausting and invigorating all at the same time.  For a moment during those 9 days I shared an experience with others that will never happen again.  In much the same way each of my others trips across country were unique this trip cannot be forgotten. 

It may be naïve but I do think we have the ability to experience the digital object in much the same ways we experience the auras around tradition objects.


Vaughn Whitney Garland


Compelling stories, Vaughn! I guess sitting in a car and sitting at a computer for 9 days can both be exhausting.

And VCU's run-in with copyright is telling. (Re-collection has a chapter called "Death By Law.")

For me, a digital facsimile cannot reproduce the relationship to the viewing body so critical to most oil paintings--their scale, position, and painterly "skin." Curiously, a digital overlay based on augmented reality still depends on scale and distance from the object. But whether high-res JPEG or AR, I find it hard to believe a digital Rothko would envelop me in color--or show (not tell) me that he feathered his edges with the flick of a housepainter's brush.

That said, I think it's hypocritical for art historians to disparage digital media for de-contextualizing and disembodying paintings. They've committed the same "crime" for decades by referring to slides and book illustrations, instead of squinting at Caravaggios in dimly lit chapels. This is why I ultimately came to appreciate Albert Barnes' decision not to permit reproductions of his collection--and why his Cezannes knocked my socks off when I visited them in person.

Sadly, the aura of an artwork, whether reproduced or in the flesh, can kill it. The Mona Lisa and Pieta are largely dead to me now, entombed behind bulletproof glass and overreproduced on a glut of postcards. The painting with the highest "financial" aura to date, Van Gogh's Dr. Gachet, escaped destruction by Hermann Goering only to end up invisible except in reproduction. It disappeared into a the private collection of a Japanese businessman who pledged to take it to his grave--quite literally, by cremating it.



The different threads of this discussion are pulling us into several fascinating directions; Susanna’s keeps reminding us of the power of mediation, while Vaughn tempts us to think about online collaborative creativity; while in yet another thread Richard asks - But what if the difference between "real" and "unreal" is not parallel to the difference between "physical" and "digital"? What happens when authentic culture is born digital?  Of course there is no division whatsoever here.  An artwork that is present in its material form (traditional painting and sculpture) or an artwork that is dematerialised, in a non-physical state, or performed come to us in exactly the same way for our enchantment.  We have long gotten past this point since Hans Arp, Tristian Tzara and Hans Richter from the Dadaist’s Cabaret Voltaire in the early 1900s drew exactly on these qualities in their performances.  Their art forms in turn had a profound influence on the avant-garde movements that followed. Dada influences are evident in the telecommunications and multimedia performances of the Fluxus Group in the 1960s, as well as in performance art, and the 'happenings', and video art of the 1970s and 1980s. And so the seasons turn and artists come and go and sometimes they might even make it into the canon.   

Meecham and Sheldon describe the ‘canon’ in their glossary as ‘a collective noun used by art historians to identify works and artists considered to be of major significance to the development of particular forms.  For an artist to be given canonical status was once seen as an issue of quality, but is now seen as the result of a combination of factors – the art market, institutional validation rather than any intrinsic worth.  The canon is not fixed and may be revised in the light of critical ratification’ (2000: 216-7).

There have been reams of verbiage written on ‘digital arts’ (see the 1,250,000,000 Google results for digital arts while at the same time there are some meager 812,000,000 results for the term ‘museum’).  As this is a discussion on the Future of Museums perhaps we should focus on what happens to art born digital once it makes it through the doors of the Museum.    This, I believe is where the Museum has a critical role to play in the curatorship of art born digital.  Even if the art form is remote or networked over several locations/platforms, as long as one of its nodes is associated with the Museum it essentially becomes either a museological guest or even full member of the permanent collection.  And if the exhibit/exhibition is well received and rigorously tweeted – it stands a very good idea of actually making it into the (digital) art cannon. A Net Art Idea Line – for example.

And of course I completely agree with Vaughn who suggests that we experience the digital object in much the same ways we experience the auras around tradition objects - as ontologically, the visitor experience of a digital artwork is just the same as with Napier’s online Shredder as are works located in the painterly horizon.  And Richard is totally correct when he suggests the museums should be format-agnostic with regards to collection objects or educational material. Right on!

In my previous comments I referred to the problematic of what happens once the electricity goes off.  This is just as true for digital art as with performance and other time-based art forms and it remains up to specialists like Jon who are prepared to share their knowledge on long term preservation on courses such as their Digital Curation graduate program.

Still – I have to take offense at Jon’s biting comment on the conventional museum which he laments  remain stuck like amber in a form of mediation that derives from papal collections of the 15th century: untouchable relics ensconced in pedestals and vitrines, described in wall texts written from an omniscient perspective. (Ouch! ) Perhaps this is what this discussion could actually strive towards.  What could the elements be that we can draw from Web 2.0 world to mold the museum into a more contemporary experience?  Nina Simon has done some remarkable work at the Museum of Art & History in Santa Cruz where she is currently the Director - a location which offers her the ideal opportunities to put her theory to practice.

Perhaps first we have to decide what needs to be done to absorb more digital art into the Museum agenda – as well as to delineate what it means for an artist to act online but still be associated with the Museum.  Its not so much about if Jenny Holzer tweets and there is no one to follow her – does she in fact tweet, rather, if anyone in the art market, or from the institutional validation artist cycle recognizes her Tweet, and deems it a candidate for the digital art cannon.


Fascinating thread and super post. I'm curious, though, why we are certain that we experience the digital object the same as the authentic. It seems to me that power of museums, as a broad category, is to force a differnt kind of perception.  Museums recontextualize both subject and object, proposing new meanings. The challenge of the digital is that even with blurring of boundaries and 2.0, its agency is undermined by that absence of context. And I'm not really concerned about original and reproduction; I'm more interested in the larger environment in which subject perceives object is reframed by "museum."


What a terrific conversation! I'm learning so much. Having done a stint as a curator myself, I appreciate the importance (and difficulty) of a coherent, well-designed visitor experience.

As a visitor, however, I find myself drawn to museums that offer the visitor the opportunity to make her own meaning out of disparate objects. For example, I enjoy the unforthcoming Museum of Jurassic Technology, here in L.A., as well as the  "visible storage" at the New-York Historical Society. I think what I appreciate about these experiences is the chance to use all my faculties to piece together my own story. (Oliver Sacks describes this phenomenon wonderfully in his discussion of the Natural History Museum in London in Uncle Tungsten.)

I wonder how technology might help us replicate this sense of piecing together our own stories from objects — similar to the way in which some libraries are using visual "shelf browsing" software to replicate the experience of serendipity one has in the stacks.


Hi all,

Hello from rainy New York! I am so excited to be part of this forum, I have been learning so much by reading your comments. There have been a lot of big picture talk, about how technology can be infused into the core mission or strategy of a museum, and save the museum from it's pre-historic roots. I agree there's a lot to be shaken up in terms of strategy, but in the words of former COO of GE Lawrence Bossidy: "I am convinced that nothing we do is more important than hiring and developing people. At the end of the day you bet on people, not on strategies." 

For this post, I wanted to turn back to the question listed above: "What are the needs of museums in the digital age regarding human resources? Are museum studies programs preparing students for the changing needs of museums?" Such a good question. I was talking with some colleagues over lunch yesterday about the recent controversial news that the Getty laid off 19 of their education department staff to have more money for acquisitions. With hard budget cuts and tough decisions being made from institutions tightening their belts, and the already difficult job market for recent grads, it reminded me of the questions posed here of what skills museum's need from their staff members, and are programs preparing students for that need?

I think the most effective museum staff need to have a combination of institutional mission-driven creativity, business savvy, and incredible communication and presentation skills. No matter what department you're in, whether digital media, education, development, marketing, etc, you need to be prepared to convince other staff why your programs are relevant and providing value to the institution. That's especially relevant to digital: some institutions are more convinced than others, but in a museum tech field where many outcomes are still undetermined, you need to be able to quantitatively and qualitatively argue for why digital initiatives are going to bring core mission value and potentially revenue to the institution. This is a great thing to integrate into a museum studies thesis, project, or paper: don't just talk about the art historical or educational criticism. Try to do some of your own surveys and user testing, no matter how small, to analyze some hard data about museum visitor experience, and learn how to bring value.

I think the best way to gain these skills is through experience, not a classroom: either by interning in a museum, which unfortunately has become a pre-requisite for full time employment, or by pursuing creative or non-profit related projects on your own steam. As an intern, you will not get the experience of crafting a full project and practicing the business and communication skills to inspire people about an idea. But with platforms like Kickstarter or Good Make, anyone can start a creative project no matter how small, earn a little money, and turn a good idea into a tangible project. Initiative and creativity are real marketable skills.

I also want to let you know that we are currently accepting application for a new 12-month intern in Digital Learning at MoMA, the position will start in September. It's paid, and it's an incredible experience. That position is how I got my start here, and I'd be so pleased to have anyone interested be in touch to find out more. We offer 12-month internships in a variety of other departments too. Please be in touch if you're interested:

Also! Don't forget to check out the conference MuseumNext happening right now in Barcelona: the tweets with #MuseumNext have been all about digital strategy and core mission value. It's worth checking out!







Thank you to the organizers and contributors for such a stimulating thread.

In reading the posts and reflecting on the future of museums, I find myself returning to the question of the audience. I’ll use the term audience, but I mean to be inclusive of visitor, end user, or whatever term you prefer.

I think we should start by acknowledging that audiences choose to go to museums for a variety of reasons. Frequently, the art (or whatever that’s on display) is of secondary importance to some other social factor. During the years I lived in Los Angeles, for instance, I must have made a dozen trips to the Getty Center and six visits to LACMA. Probably two visits to each institution were motivated specifically to see the art exhibits. The other visits (the majority, in fact) were motivated by a friend or family member visiting town. The Museums allowed me to show my guest an interesting part of LA, get out of my cramped apartment, and have an enjoyable social experience.

I fully agree with Susana that “that visitors seek the physical component of a museum experience, which has greatly expanded in the 21st century to include not just the exhibitions, but also ancillary services such as shops, restaurants, classes, and programming.” I don’t think the purely web-based museum experience that Vaughan describes can satisfy the diverse audience needs that are met by museums as physical spaces. You may find some audience, but you miss out on the chance to make an impact on the audience who walked into the museum for a social, physically-oriented reason but is still open to being moved or provoked by a great work of art or thoughtfully curated exhibit.

I also think that web-based museums—and, I’ll add, web-based Digital Humanities projects—require even more of the artists and scholars who produce the work. The audience’s barriers to entry of a web-based museum are very low, but the barriers to exit are even lower. In other words, you don’t have a captive audience who has paid eight bucks for parking and were counting on spending the afternoon out of the house. You need to immediately engage the audience and give them reasons to stay on your site.

In the end, I’m all for exploring the ways digital technology can enhance the museum experience. But let’s make sure we place the audience front and center in these explorations—not simply constructing experiences for model participatory visitors, but designing for the diverse range of needs and desires that we have as social beings and that lead us through those museum doors.


Colleen - thanks so much for bringing us back to that very critical question of museum staffing that is often overlooked.

In my doctoral study of museums, one crazy thing that I've been looking at is how departments and titles are changing. I'm asking people, where is change happening within your museum? This usually gives you an idea of the direction museums are taking, individually and as a whole. The Getty Museum, for example, gives us a clear insight into Cuno's direction towards acquisition and away from education. Thankfully not one shared by other museums, as he alludes to. In fact, education is where you find the most change as museums are realizing that education needs to be spread throughout the entire institution. Look at SFMOMA, since the 1990s their educators have been full curators, and at the Walker Art Center, the director of education and commuity programs was just changed to the director of education and curator of public practice.

The same is starting to happen with digital technology departments in museums, which is most interesting. We go from the more traditional IT (information technology) departments to Technology & Digital Media (LACMA), New Media Initiatives (Smithsonian American Art Museum), Digital & Emerging Media (Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum), Digital Media (the Met), the Web (Philadelphia Museum of Art), or Media & Technology (Minneapolis Institute of the Arts). The Walters Art Museum has a Chief Technology Officer (CTO), the Art Institute of Chicago has a Chief Information Officer (CIO), the Indianapolis Museum of Art has a Deputy Director for Research, Technology and Engagement, and many museums have general directors of technology. These departments reflect more expanded responsibilities that respond to emerging technologies such as social media, collections management, information systems, web design, video production, and mobile and interactive technologies. The departments are also experiencing cross-over with other museum departments such as communications, public affairs, marketing, public relations, external affairs, government affairs, and press (not to mention their fairly regular integration with the education and curatorial departments). This all demonstrates a growing awareness that technology is not just an isolated department to deal with computer malfunctions or the website, but rather is an integral part of the entire institution, much in the same way that education is now understood.

But as to the other part of our question; are museum studies programs preparing students to enter this new environment? I'm not so sure. Not so much because of the importance of experience over classroom learning, but because emerging museum professionals are not multidisciplinary enough. And this is where Colleen's relevance comes in. Curators need to know not just about their specific academic fields, but also about marketing, digital media, education, etc. And the same with museum educators, fundraisers, and so on. Business skills are important, but also design skills, community skills, social skills, etc. To be competitive, one needs to bring in additional skills to the job. And museum leaders are recognizing not only the interconnectedness of their institutional departments, but the value of staff that can understand and cross over these slowly disappearing lines.


As a public school superintendent, I am deeply engaged in study and action that moves schools from being teaching places to learning spaces. Museums offer a model for understanding the nature of lifelong learning as seen through the eyes of those who research, curate, design, and share the possibilities of relationship between the school and museum as space for learning, whether within the small, one room museums that exist in almost every small town in the United States or our major museums that curate the past, present, and near future of the United States and the world. John Maeda refers to the small nature lab at RISD as "cabinets of curiosity" and that in many ways defines the potential of all museums to open cabinets filled with treasures of learning to all young people. 

I've observed and studied museums - great and small- and find that the best today are making the same shifts that our public schools attempt to make. They are not just virtual or face to face spaces for learning, but both. The MOMA's recent "Talk to Me" exhibition exemplified new ways of thinking about curation, design, and, most importantly, interactive accessibility to today's collections beyond the museum's walls. I was able to experience its exhibits onsite and also connect them to educators in my Virginia district for their use. This shift in musuem experience allows everyone with technology capability to access museums in ways that were only a dream just a decade ago. The Newseum in Washington also has provided amazing connectivity to the general public and learners, building relationships with educators all over the world.  And, in recent trip to Ireland, I saw the power of engagement of an entire nation in its great works of art in the recent promotional activity to have its citizens electronically choose a favorite piece of art in the National Gallery of Ireland.

Museums don't just represent the bandwidth of a nation's "cultural space" as President Higgins in ireland labels it, but also the 21st century shift from a Gutenberg-driven and event-place determined curation of objects, print, stories, and timelines, but, most importantly, a post-Gutenberg-driven curation of the processes associated with "search, connect, communicate, make." Museums are the original hacker and maker spaces, design yards, and exhibition places. Museums offer educators a model for change in response to new learning technologies, use of space to create areas of caves for private reflection, campfires for gathering in small groups to learn from our storytellers, and watering holes for exchange of ideas and artifacts that inform and advance civilizations.  

As we look at the future of museums, I see so much potential for museums to metaphorically serve as models for learning spaces in all ways. I ask educators routinely "how do we make learning in our schools as exciting, interesting, and rich as the best museums make learning experiences in their spaces?"  So, as the topic of the "Future of Museums" is explored, as a public school educator I see the bigger question as being why and how we see museums as integral to the "Future of Learning for All People." This dialogue offers an opportunity to make key linkages with the greater edu-ecosystem so that museums become not just a class field trip or patron's visit to a river's edge, but an integral current in the flow of learning rivers everywhere.

Pam Moran




In her Harvard Business video, "Collaboration by Difference", Cathy Davidson nails the key point of my life-long project:

"It's often the non-expert, the outlier or the odd-ball, the person who isn't in charge who has the most innovative or important thing to say. You have to structure ways to hear that person or you will always drown him or her out." [NB: italic fails to display]

What I noticed (1976; public consultations on GATT, foreign aid, and social justice) was that effective engagement resulted in floods of information, something like what we experience as "fire hose" on the web.

I suggest that this thread is a case in point. So much good information, so much fine discussion! Who, in the course of a day, can explore this thread as it deserves?


how do people go about reading threads like this (do you do keyword searches, scope out people or subject lines, mainly follow your own thread, or often read thoroughly?) i imagine there is some mixture but could use tips if there are any. 


The unacknowledged gorilla in the room is the fact that the vast majority of curating now goes on outside of museums. And it sounds like that's what you all need on this Web page :)

Some uses of the term are too diluted to retain their original meaning. (Do you really "curate" a food stand, or your Facebook timeline?) Yet if curating means making sense of cultural creations via selection, organization, and presentation, then there are now scores, if not hundreds, of digital platforms devoted to this: Pinterest, Tumblr,, Instagram, Flickr, and on and on.

As noted in examples above, some museums are beginning to supplement their gallery curating with this vernacular curation. UMaine's Digital Curation program teaches both.

The vernacular apps are designed for people who want to swim in the gush of images and words spewing from the Web 2.0 firehose but are having trouble keeping their heads above water. Some of the older sites, like Slashdot, use a global rating system to help readers find the signal in the noise--which still works great for me. The more recent platforms, on the other hand, use point-to-point recommendations to connect you to content that specific friends were interested in.

HASTAC's Web site appears to employ the second strategy, by adapting a Drupal module to let you add friends and join groups. Presumably this is so you can keep up with posts that interest you. I haven't tried these options yet, but you can see them if you create a user profile.


Great point, Jon. The concept of "curating" has certainly be adopted by many startups and tech companies as the latest, greatest service a platform can offer. If they can't win the user volume battle (aka the battle Facebook won), then the content they are going to have is going to be branded as selective. Niche. Tailored or curated for your tastes. For me, I'm more interested in platforms that embed a certain pedagogy or ethos in their tools, not just the opportunity for anyone to follow their interests and not discover anything new or conflicting. I want to point to an article that was just published today by Dr. Beth Harris and Dr. Steven Zucker of Khan Academy, who produced videos and the Education page for the latest Google Art Project installment. The article covers many interesting points about what the impact of the Google Art Project could be. One particular section has resonance for me, about the Google Art Project not just being a curatorial tool, but a conversation tool between institutions:

" The question of conversation is key and it’s been central to’s pedagogy. In many ways, scholarship at its best is conversation. But up until now, museums have conversed very little with one another—either on or offline.
Here are two examples of how the Google Art Project opens the conversation. In 1889, Vincent van Gogh painted three canvases depicting his bedroom in Arles; these now reside in three different museums. Only the van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam illustrates another version on its website and remarkably, none of the three museums link to the paintings at the other institutions." Full article here. 
It seems so simple, just a link from one website to another. Conversations between related works of art at separate institutions should have a linkage, whether a museum or institution, because it only makes the conversation stronger and enriches everyone's understanding. One could apply that same idea to universities, and that's what makes HASTAC effective. It's not HASTAC as a curatorial agent, where we could follow the greatest academic's comments or the latest Rhodes scholars blog posts, but as a conversation platform.  It's a simple conversational ethos embedded in the way this site is set up, and it's rare. I'm glad for a bit of the disorganization -- I've been enjoying everyone's posts!

I love to see HASTAC members discussing how you use the site. Even though I can't make everything as usable as I'd like, there are always incremental changes I can make when we are in between major develoment work. This conversation inspired me to write up this blog post about keeping up with content on the site in general:

But I also wanted to point out a resoure in response to the original question. There are a set of links at the bottom of each post on the site (above where the comments start) that allow members to subscribe to the post, the author, or the content type. You can choose the frequency and can opt to receive these notifications by e-mail or as notices in your inbox.


I’ve really appreciated reading everyone’s thoughts! There is so much great stuff to respond to here, but I think for the time being I’d love to explore further this dichotomy between the digital vs. the real object. Indeed, many of the conversations in the digital humanities have centered on what’s gained and lost through the processes of “translating” physical collections to the digital sphere, focusing on the critical questions of access, participation, and authenticity. In this discussion, the value of digital technologies are seen as increasing the “reach” the institution, an extension of the museum’s presence into a newly important realm of the contemporary human experience: digital life. While I believe these conversations are crucial if museums are to remain dynamic and relevant public institutions, I’m also interested in thinking about how digital technologies may be used not just to access audiences or present a kind of virtual correlate to the physical experience, but offer radically new ways of organizing, visualizing, and producing museological knowledge.

Personally, I think that anxieties about the digital threatening the sanctity of “real” life will fade as the digital is increasingly integrated into our everyday experience of what it means to be “real” and “human.” The idea of “translation” might one day be unthinkable when the physical and virtual are seamlessly interwoven in a cyborg kind of way (look only at the nascent “internet of things” for a glimpse of what’s coming). So what I find most interesting about the future of museums is how the new ways of thinking made possible by these technological shifts can fundamentally change the way we interpret objects and what they mean. Specifically, I think digital technologies not only enable flexible and multiple interpretations of objects – i.e. so much more information can be conveyed online than through the limited space of an exhibit label – but they can also better reveal 1) how the meaning of an object changes over time and 2) the interconnected relationships between objects, people, and events.

In this I’ve been most inspired by the work being done in network visualization. As digital humanist Scott Weingart wrote in a blog post, “representing information as a network implicitly suggests not only that connections matter, but that they are required to understand whatever’s going on.” Using the model of the network, we can gain new understandings of the museum object beyond its original ethnographic use or artist’s intent; we get a sense of the object’s changing contexts, its relationship to other things, ideas, actors, and events over time. We can begin to picture the “life world” of an object in which meaning is never static or fixed. For example, I’ve found this model particularly useful for reinterpreting objects in encyclopedic museums, in which visitors are traditionally encouraged to encounter a monolithic “foreign culture” through the viewing of authentic objects from other cultural locations. Envisioning the object in a network – in other words, as a thing embedded in complex webs of exchange between people, things, and ideas across porous cultural, economic, and political borders – works against the colonial function of the museum to reify cultural difference.

Another source of inspiration is Alan Liu’s project, “Research in the Technological, Social, and Cultural Practices of Online Reading” (RoSE). They describe the project as one where “documents, authors, editors, publishers, readers, annotators, and other documents will be interlinked in combined, dynamic orbits of knowledge. Such an online environment would reveal clustered, evolving relationships between people-and-documents, people-and-people, and documents-and-documents…that seems to have defined the current knowledge-scape on that topic.  So you go there—to that hive of knowledge relationships—to learn.  If you want, you can move the time slider back and forward to see how the relationships looked then and now. Then it comes clear: what you know and still do not know, and who or what next to research, to read.” What if “documents” were substituted for “objects” in this configuration? Although the project is still in beta testing and clearly geared towards research, I wonder how these could be applied to museum databases? Clearly, I’m not offering practical solutions here but offer up these examples as a way of imagining possibilities. I come at this not as a programmer or digital theorist or practioner but as someone with a traditional art history background whose interested in speculating on what these types of projects might mean for museums -- and I still have a lot to learn!




A group of six private and public museums in Japan have agreed to participate in Google's Art Project's recent expansion. By bringing in Japanese museums, Google has made available in its site a selection of important objects that span from Japan's prehistory through the modern period. 


The Google Art Project uses Museum View, a modified version of the corporation's proprietary Street View technology, to allow for the user's virtual "visit" of museums around the world. Since it originally launched, the Art Project has improved greatly both in terms of image quality and interface. In addition to moving through the galleries, users can also browse through collection highlights and access some interpretive material (although no didactics). Two of the Japanese museums now offer virtual visits to their galleries: the Tokyo National Museum, and the Adachi Museum of Art.


While many of the Japanese works have been previously available as collection highlights in the museums' institutional websites, Google aggregates this information and makes it available in one single site. The biggest advantage for participating Japanese museums is added visibility at a global scale. 





Most of the energies in the debates surrounding imaging and digitization of works in museum collections have centered on practical questions.  How much of a collection should be available online? Would making the whole galleries available have a negative impact on visitor levels? If the museum's space appears dour and conservative on Museum View, how will that impact its public image? In an era of enforced austerity, there is a renewed sense of urgency to these questions.


Other concerns are, perhaps, more philosophical in nature. What happens to the uniqueness of art spectatorship? Is it trivialized? And what about quality? How will objects reflect in Museum View? Meanwhile, the preferred mode of participation in the Art Project continues to be the "highlight" provided by the museum, as it ensures a controlled form of imaging. 


Indeed, the Tokyo National Museum looks its best in the beautifully staged "portrait" of an exquisite lacquer writing box by Ogata Kōrin (1658-1756),  whose dimensions make it impossible to capture appropriately in Museum View (where the Eight Bridges, among other lacquer works, appear woefully warped).





As an experimental application, Museum View's problem is such inevitable warp created by the use of wide-angle imaging and the glitches in its subsequent correction into panoramic views. Put otherwise, its task is to explore how to translate circles into (perspectival) squares.


The technology finds its ideal object in flat surfaces (e.g., paintings hanging on a wall). This is because the perspectival "windows" view that Leon Battista Alberti theorized in the Quattrocento and that is basic to the construction of Western European painting, continues to inform today the digital correction of images by Google software in Google Earth and Google Maps. 


But most objects in the Japanese collections are harder to fit in this way of seeing. Because of issues of form and scale, or due to displaying techniques, Museum View's inherent warp makes it very difficult to get a good sense of the objects' presence in the galleries.  Even in the case of painting, we can think of supports such as the folding screen, that are not quite as flat as desired. (Folding screens can indeed be flattened out for imaging; Google provides an image of Kanō Hideyori's sixteenth-century painting of maple viewers at a staggering six billion pixel-resolution.)


This, of course, is a problem much older than Google, that harks to the moment of invention of the history of Japanese art. How can these objects be portrayed as art?


The objects that have attained canonical status as Japanese art history were appreciated in spectatorial contexts widely divergent from the "window" approach of today's museums. We can think, for example, about a highly sophisticated and codified form of spectatorship, such as the one present in Japanese tea culture (chanoyū). An  object such as the sixteenth-century shigaraki water jar named "Shiba no iori," formerly used in preparing tea for these ceremonies, would not be appreciated from afar, but rather within its use. As part of the ceremony, its provenance would be discussed, its stories shared, observations made and recorded for future debate. Across the window the object appears inert; but in the context of chanoyū, the three-dimensional "Shiba no iori" is very much a living being.


Google's translational procedure raises interesting questions regarding spectatorship. In its robotic meandering through the galleries, and its inability to engage the works other than through a fixed perspective, it reduces to the absurd the staging of spectatorship in the modernist museum. 












Hi, I'm a new HASTAC scholar working on a history of rhetoric dissertation investigating the arguments made by epitaphs and cenotaphs in 17th and 18th century graveyards and cemeteries.  Cemetery and museum spaces share much in common in their memorialization of past events, the collection of artifacts and the crystallization of aesthetic ideals.  My interest in the "future of museums" forum stems from a number of questions I have about the past of public display spaces.  Some of the questions I've been exploring are:

  • To whom are the makers of mueums and memorials responsible?  
  • How are decisions about who gets represented made?  
  • What are the "rules" (political, legal, theological) for public display?
  • What are the ethical paradigms for representing individuals?  For representing groups?
  • How do funding conventions affect aesthetics?
  • How do digital display spaces interact with physical display spaces?  
  • How does "authorship" (erectorship) of an artifact compare to that of a printed text?  How are editorship and curatorship related?
  • What is the role of the display space and the logic or principles of its arrangement in the final meaning of the artifact or text as interpreted by an audience, museum goer or visitor?
  • How do composition and revision work in public display spaces?

I'm enjoying reading everyone's posts and looking forward to an interesting conversation this fall.  







If you're up for expanding your purview, you might want to check out poet-scholar John Hollander on ekphrasis and Re-collection on digital tombstones.

Good luck with your project!




How very appropriate that you bring this topic to "The Future of Museums." German scholar Andreas Huyssen (2000) saw a shift in Western societies in the late 20th century from "present futures" to "present pasts." Referring to the proliferation of Holocaust museums, he states that, "No doubt the world is being musealized, and we all play our parts in it." All museums must concern themselves with "present pasts" and with facilitating memory discourses through various collections, artifacts, and places. Having said that, the difference between cemetery and museum spaces is that the latter brings the past into the present, into a contemporary context that is constantly shifting, and not crystalized.

But what makes this discussion even more interesting, is to talk about public memory in the digital age. Public memory is a "shared" memory, connecting individuals to a larger collective history. In this way, the individual is subjugated by the mass, only to reemerge through discourse and interaction, which are facilitated greatly by digital technology and social media. One good example of this is the Tenement Museum of New York. Which brings me to the matter of physical and virtual spaces (the Tenement Museum having a wonderful virtual tour).

The physicality of memorial spaces is critical for the (re)construction of memory, including the physical place and artifacts - think of the 9/11 Memorial. As an individual moves through the space, they are re-enacting a past event, place, or person. Digital technology can supplement this place-based experience (as with mobile tours throughout historic city districts such as Philadelphia), or they can try to replicate them as in online virtual tours.

Well I don't think that I touched on all of your questions, but I hope that I've given you some food for thought on your very interesting topic.




Thought y'all would be interested in this new set of grants for museums to design Learning Labs for youth. 

The Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) and the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation today announced the second round of winners of a national competition to design 21st century Learning Labs in museums and libraries around the country. The 12 winners—five museums and seven libraries—will receive a total of $1.2 million in grants to plan and design the labs. Inspired by YOUmedia, a teen space at the Chicago Public Library, and innovations in science and technology centers, these labs will help young people move beyond consuming content to making and creating it. 

Each Learning Lab will be designed to facilitate a research-based education model known as connected learning – one that promotes discovery, creativity, critical thinking and real-world learning through activities and experiences that bring together academics and young people’s interests, often facilitated by digital and traditional media. The labs will connect teens to mentors and peers, as well as anytime, anywhere access to information through online social networks, so they can pursue their interests more deeply and connect these new skills to academics, career, and  civic engagement.


MoMA just announced that it has added 14 video games to its collection, and plans to increase that number to 40 over the next few years.

A very long and thorough explanation of the criteria and selection process can be found here Video Games: 14 in the Collection, for Starters. Any thoughts from our museum studies and game studies about the criteria and language used in that article?

From the press release:

The games were selected as outstanding examples of interaction design—a field that MoMA has already explored and collected extensively, and one of the most important and oft-discussed expressions of contemporary design creativity. Criteria for the selections emphasize not only the visual quality and aesthetic experience of each game, but also the many other aspects—from the elegance of the code to the design of the player’s behavior—that pertain to interaction design. This acquisition allows the Museum to study, preserve, and exhibit video games as part of its Architecture and Design collection.

The first items in the museum’s new collection are:

  • Pac-Man (1980)
  • Tetris (1984)
  • Another World (1991)
  • Myst (1993)
  • SimCity 2000 (1994)
  • vib-ribbon (1999)
  • The Sims (2000)
  • Katamari Damacy (2004)
  • EVE Online (2003)
  • Dwarf Fortress (2006)
  • Portal (2007)
  • flOw (2006)
  • Passage (2008)
  • Canabalt (2009)

Apparently the museum's wish list includes the early Spacewar! (1962) and Minecraft (2011).

To be honest, I'm suprised it took this long for Pac-Man to be included in a museum that has much love for vacuums, brown paper bag, and other everyday pleasures.

My only question is... why no love for Crystal Quest? It's always left off these sorts of lists... poor neglected little crystals. 


I think museums are going to be more interactive.

Adding more multimedia that allows you to see background information. Will be screens at first, but later also integrate into mobile phones and Google glass.

So that if  you look at the skeleton of a Tyrannosaurus Rex  you will be able to see information about it, artist impression and video of what it probably would have looked like. Possibly even adding a 3D skin so when activated you will see the T-Rex with skin trough your mobile or glasses when you look at it trough this device.