Last week’s class met at The Metropolitan Museum of Art (we met at The Met)! We were given an in-depth tour with Neal Stimler, the Third Party Partnerships Producer at The Met, who took us through the museum and talked about how the Met organizes their collections and tries to reach a broader audience through digital means. Neal talked a lot about how museums are places that deal with constant change and that a person needs to be flexible and willing to adapt when working in the museum world. This goes for physical changes, like exhibits and architectural changes, and less tangible changes like digital media storage and social media outreach platforms. The Met is split between three locations. Because of this, Neal talked about how the museum has been working to re-prioritize their digital presence to attract visitors. The reason being that The Met is visited online by a much larger audience than ever step foot into the museum space. I thought this was an interesting point because they are creating an online presence for people to visit the museum through digital means, not using those digital means to draw people to their physical locations. The option to visit the museum online feels like a very modern and practical approach to the world we are living in which I thought was very neat. It also made sense to me because of another point that was mentioned which was that museums are now competing with one another with attention economy. They are competing for visitor’s time, money, support, and attention. This weird commodification of museums isn’t a new concept to me, but the idea that there is a competition between museums to attract museum-goers was really interesting. A little sad, but also interesting. Not that it isn’t true, because I fully believe that it is an accurate statement. I just think of the little guy, the local museum that has a fraction of the money, personnel, and expertise to create an online presence or advertise to draw in visitors. I mean, seriously, how does one compete with a museum like The Met? I’m not sure if they can in the grand scheme of things.
Another part of the tour that Neal talked about was the comparison he made between “art” and social media. We can use the term art here as a general one that can encompass any tangible piece of media. The connection he made was an interesting one that I appreciated. He said that the use of social media as a platform to showcase our lives mimics the role art has played in history. The action of sharing art, in museums, homes, national galleries, in churches, on the street, etc, is mirrored by social media as a way to achieve the same thing. While social media platforms have the opportunity to reach a broader audience than someone showing their art on the street, their end goal is the same. It was so crazy to me that sharing things on social media was an extension of what has always been done with art throughout history. Neal talked about how all art tells a narrative. It tells a narrative through time and history and how things have changed in the world around the artist. In many ways, that is exactly what social media allows people to do—to share experiences or views on what is happening in the world around them. I am so hard on social media a lot of the time because I don’t think it is healthy for people to be constantly connected, we learn how to function without that digital world. I am guilty of this so I am not pointing any fingers, I promise! I just thought it was such a refreshing and hopeful point of view that I had never considered before. That’s not to say that everything is worth attention. Much of what is out there is complete junk. But if we are continuing along the hopeful lines of this idea, there is a lot of art out in the world that is also complete junk. It is merely the platform that is changing. Simply put, most of the art of our time is born digital. Social media platforms are what our art is born out of or born from.
The idea of “digital” is a constantly evolving thing. The turnover for technologies in museums is roughly three to six months which means that complacency can never happen. Museums are living things. I think that if we consider the digital aspects of museums as a permanent part of the institution, the necessity of remaining relevant will continue to drive museums forward. I think the world being digitally dependent is a great start. It puts the need for technology at the forefront of connecting with visitors. Continuing the earlier optimism of technology as a means to achieve the same ends as history has always sought, who knows where digital can bring us? The possibilities are endless, and museums are poised to be at the forefront of that connection with the world on an increasingly personal level.