The Rijks has it digitally right

I joined a newly reformed Cultural Innovators Group meeting in Amsterdam this July, as an opportunity to meet a number of cultural professionals from the Netherlands and across Europe; share knowledge and consider common challenges and potential solutions which affect us all. 

Apart from introducing the group to one of our well-loved cultural exports, The Broons, via fudge; I spoke of a challenge I face of keeping connected to and feeding into cultural policy at local, national and European-wide levels. Whilst specific websites and social media are useful for keeping on top of things, I do think we could do a whole lot more digitally to enable better information exchange globally.

At the meeting, it was really interesting to hear that cultural organisations faced issues around audience engagement, scaling innovation, staying ahead of the game – technologically, and collaborating with people outside of the cultural sectors. If you work in the arts sector, you will know that these responses are fairly typical to what you might hear if you asked the same question in the UK, so if it’s so common, why no solution?

Well of course, it’s tough. Funding cuts and the pace of digital change means there are no easy quick fixes, but there are plenty of opportunities too. Better ways to share, learn and collaborate with individuals around the world, digitally, would really help. Working with and learning from people in other sectors, outside of the arts world would be a great start. I’d be keen to try and encourage more of this cross-sector sharing at home, so would love to hear if anyone else is interested in this.

As Amsterdam is well known for its leading city-wide digital initiatives, I was keen to check out its cultural organisations’ digital innovations. So with time for a quick look around the always-incredible Rijksmuseum, I was surprised that so many visitors were taking photos of the artworks. The Rijks made the headlines in April 2013 as it reopened after years of renovation, announcing that it was making its entire collection of 125,000 available to download as high resolution images. You are free to download, edit and even order your desired images on to an assortment of products (I’ll take A Concert of Birds if you are asking!). The only odd thing was that there was no publicity about this digital first when inside the museum, despite having many other beautifully useful guides (see below image), so people kept on snapping away. With some museums and galleries often accused of being very ‘closed’ with their IP this opening up of data is a great innovation to see and let’s hope other organisations follow suit.

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I also enjoyed the Stedelijk Museum massively, they had a cool booth where you can record your questions about their Object of the Month; then their curators, designers and experts then answer your questions and post them as videos online here. It’s a quirky but practical way of engaging with audiences and extending the post-visit experience in a fairly low-tech way, and for these reasons alone I liked it. I do think it would work better on Youtube/Vimeo though, instead of housed on the Museums website, to increase shareability. The kids lego room was also great to see how young folk were encouraged to create their own designs and add them to the wall of fame with a tag identifying their creation – a nice touch for introducing and encouraging design skills at a very early age.

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