In five years, a lot has changed: museums are more empowered and empowering than ever, more entrepreneurial and more socially-involved. They open up more and more and become real powers and counter powers in their communities and societies. This year, our speakers told us a lot about how a museum works when digital is integrated everywhere, and how it helps bring even more meaning to their everyday actions.
Here are our 10 takeaways from this fifth edition of We Are Museums that took place in the Baltics, in the capital city of Latvia: Riga.
1. Museums are change makers.
Museums and the arts are definitely not neutral. We have seen it in the very first months of 2017 in American museums, but even without big political trigger, museums take stands. For women’s history and gender equality, for accessibility and inclusivity, for emerging artists or to give a space to digital art. Even things that seem very natural in the way your museum works, they are actually political and can positively impact whole communities and start conversations. How amazing is that?
2. Build influence strategies like businesses do
It is something that Museums have always been good at building strong experiences and universes, but in the past years, brands seem to have been more daring in terms of content creation. Bloggers, YouTubers, instagrammers and pop artists can be turned into ambassadors that tell your story in a way that will speak to their audiences by finding a middle-ground between your universe and values and theirs… and will give you ideas for content that you can create yourself. Beyond blogger visits and instawalks, provide Youtubers and influencers with all the information they want or let music stars in to reach out to an audience that is often overlooked but needs to be addressed but high-value attractive content: non-visitors who may be more interested than they know in your museum.
3. Digital should be natural by now.
Actually, should we still be talking about digital? Digital should be integrated in every step of how your museum works: Hire people that are comfortable with digital tools and practices, train your teams (yes, even curators and experts) to use digital tools and adapt their research to new formats, give your digital team a real place in your organization chart and let everybody know what they are here for. Once digital transformation impacts part of your strategy and vision, it is naturally integrated to every project from its very beginning, making your whole strategy more coherent.
4. Everybody has a say in what museums will be in 15 years.
Actually, everybody should already have a say in what museums are right now. Museum should be filled with youth programmes like Tate Collectives, open discussions, spaces that actually let people discuss how they feel, not only about the museum but also about other social issues that are important to them. Be connected to your audiences and your community, empower them to tell you what they expect from you and take it as a starting point for your future experiences.
5. The gender equality conversation should start in museums.
After the very moving inspiring talk by Julie Rokkjær Birch from the Women’s Museum in Aarhus about telling women’s history and gender history, a bigger conversation started. While a vast majority of We Are Museums speakers and attendees where women, most museum directors are men. In the US, museums with female directors tend to be smaller. And most artists exhibited in museums are still men. It is essential for museums to evolve and be more diverse up to the executive level to bring a different perspective, be more aligned with society and speak a more universal language, addressing issues that may have been forgotten or considered as shameful or trivial.
6. More than ever, museums need to be open to the world.
As our very first edition in Vilnius, Martijn Pronk – now Head of digital communication at the Van Gogh Museum – introduced us to the idea that releasing high-definition digitized artworks through the Rijksstudio would turn them into ambassadors of the Rijksmuseum. This year, Merete Sanderhoff told us about how the Statens Museum for Kunst actually makes a difference in people’s live by freely sharing their collection online. Whether it is to decorate a construction site or to let drug addicts add classical art to their safe injection site, releasing your collection will both empower people and educate them to art.
7. Museums need to empower their local communities.
Museums are places where people meet, but until recently, the museum staff would decide how and when they meet. What if you followed the Wellcome collection and opened a space for your audience to create their own events? What if your museum was not centered exhibitions, but became a venue that blends into people’s social life, making them go from coffee to exhibitions? What it your visitors could decide what they want to talk about? Open up, empower your audiences, give them tools to make the museum their own.
8. Museums can be capital builders.
Your local community reaches far beyond visitors. Startups and local companies are part of it, too. Give them a place to meet (a coworking space if you have enough space, but you can also set up a series of meetups), exchange expertise, get inspired by each other and by your collection. And most importantly, foster exchanges between those startups and your staff. Both will get more creative, making the museum’s work more groundbreaking and turning the museum into a resource for a creative and innovative society.
9. Startups foster collaboration between museums.
Speaking about startups, more and more startups at Tech Loves Culture provide services that connect museums to one another, allow them to benefit from a common visibility or to exchange skills. If you are already working with a startup to create VR or 360-degree experiences (Overly, Vividly, Ocean...) , you can also do it to attract audiences from other museums (Useum, Culturaliv, Mymu.se…) or have an easier access to outside experts (Vastari).
10. Don’t be afraid to be more like a startup.
Design thinking, design sprints, agile methodologies, test and learn… All those new ways of working are incredibly popular in startups, why not make them your own? They will help you prototype ideas in a short amount of time and have quick proofs of what works and what should be improved (or even abandoned). Whether you are building a new website, creating a new area within your museum or offering new events, ideate, bring ideas into life and test them with your audience before investing too much in an idea that may not work. Moreover, consider your ideas as always in progress, test and release a project before it is fully perfected be open about it with your visitors: they will be understanding if you tell them that their feedback is needed for continuous improvement.
From that, we will work together on what will be the Museum of 2030, and until our next meeting in Paris in October, have a look to our Museum 2030 Manifesto!