When was the last time you were allowed, let alone encouraged to use you phones at a museum?
Museums are recently creating new exhibitions and galleries, combining traditional arts with contemporary digital experiences.
Although these technologies have strong influences on the creative industries – the effectiveness of these technologies in traditional creative spaces continue to be questioned.
‘Whether museums and galleries should introduce digital technologies and in what ways are big questions in the arts community’ – Scarlett Evans
To capture a technologically-hungry younger generation, virtual experiences are being introduced in museums. However, although these technologies can increase audience reach; others see creative spaces as areas to escape digital activity.
NESTA’s Manifesto suggests that digital technologies are bringing in new audiences to arts and cultural organisations, creating new sources of cultural and economic value – how true is this regarding museums?
So how are digital technologies being used? Let’s examine some key areas:
The ‘Virtual Museum’
Some museums don’t exist in the real world, but are only available online – creating similar experiences, but from your personal devices!
The Natural History Museum recently introduced almost 4 million of its 80 million specimens to the internet, ranging from zoology, to a 3D exhibition of Charles Darwin’s fossils, hoping that people will have more access to these artefacts.
Artists using digital technology
Artists are now also using digital platforms to produce art, allowing artists to express themselves in ways previously impossible! But they’re also nudging museums down the same digital path.
The NESTA report claims the UK needs to ensure to offer an environment to spur innovation creative businesses undertake.
Museums are bringing in new software to provide personal guides and companions for exhibits, from smartphones to Virtual Reality (VR)! By introducing these software’s, visitors are able to interact with galleries in a whole new way.
For example, The Natural History Museum in London has introduced a VR experience featuring the legendary broadcaster Sir David Attenborough, guiding visitors through the museum’s central space – which should be a bit hit for all you Blue Planet fans!
But do they increase audience reach?
Although implementing online exhibitions are likely to see recruitment of visitors, rather than cannibalise audiences, attendance figures show otherwise.
Yet, museums who haven’t introduced these technologies seem to be doing better than ever!
Take The National Museum Cardiff for example, where no immersive technologies like VR have been introduced. However, visitor numbers have been on a steady rise; from 448,288 in 2014, to 494,518 in 2017.
The Victoria and Albert Museum also found a lack of interest towards their own interactive experiences – reflected in their low visitor numbers.
Granted, other reasons may have caused the fall in visitors in these exhibitions, but this does suggest a limited impact digital technologies have on these traditional creative spaces.
Yes, introducing VR and similar technologies could benefit museums to help educate and entertain, alongside to hopefully reach to modern audiences. However, I personally prefer the traditional physical museum experience – my smartphone in my pocket, chatting with fellow visitors and making my own perceptions of the exhibits.
There are many ways an immersive experience can be made without the need of VR and similar works!
Yet, if digital technologies entice younger generations, provide artists with a new platform for representation, and help deeper discussion of pieces – I welcome the changes to the museums’ structure.
But what are your views? Let us know about your perceptions of a ‘digital museum’ in the comment section below!
All images are my own unless stated in the captions.