After a few weeks of both articles wondering if the Met Museum was in decline and an article by Thomas P. Campbell reminding the importance of funding the arts, a big news shook up the museum world: Thomas P. Campbell, director of the largest museum in New York for 8 years, has resigned at the end of February. His resignation was announced after the stepping down of several senior staff members of the Met.
The main reason for this wave of departures and resignations seems to be financial: While the museum’s attendance has broken records during the last couple of years, Thomas P. Campbell leaves the museum with a multi-million deficit, partly caused by the opening of Met Breuer, a settlement around the admission charge, an expensive yet criticised change of logo and the decline of retail revenue.
But beyond the strictly financial management, some critics seem to believe a wider strategy issue is at stake. As the audience for arts is changing and needs museums to adapt to them, did the Met try hard enough? On a digital level, it did launch the successful Met MediaLab in 2013 and it used to be a space for museum staff, artists, students and other outside players to meet around tech and innovative project. The Met MediaLab is still considered a model experience in the museum field but closed at the end of September 2016. Then again, projects like the Met Museum app may not have been fully embraced by audiences (the app has 50,000 downloads on Android, which seems low compared to the more than 6 million annual visitors of the museum). Last month, the Met released its digitised artwork collection in a dedicated platform and make public domain artifacts free to use, but with no clear strategy or incentives for people to use and reuse the content.
Those projects are both obvious steps for a museum as big as the Met, but they still require guidance and direction to fit properly in the museum’s overall strategy and be presented to the audience as something bringing real added values to their on-site or online experience – which may not have been the case at the Met.
One reason for this may be the Met Museum decided to really invest in digital projects a bit late. Maybe even too late to stay on top of the trend and make digital and innovation into a real strong point of the museum’s strategy.