Do you remember the first time you visited a museum? I bet it was at Primary school. Remember the ‘relics’ you saw? Old and rusted, right? Maybe not. Were you were frightened or enchanted by the collections? I guess you were thrilled seeing those ancient, long-forgotten but beautiful artefacts, and the memories are still there.
The traditional museums were considered storehouses of ancient and seemingly outdated knowledge, a place to see rare but archaic objects. A place people had only visited on school trips (just as you did) many years before, and thus, they assume nothing has changed. In Africa, the local museum has become an abandoned warehouse for historical relics. A room specifically meant for the display of primitive objects and maybe for the amusement of the curator.
People feel museums are still boring and static even though many have come up to date and are presenting a considerably more interactive experience. As a result, museums are also seen as places where long-forgotten objects or materials are deposited.
Religion also has its own fair share in contributing to this false notion of our perception of a museum. Some religion has condemned the museums as places where objects associated with idolatry and fetish rituals are kept.
Coupled with this, the early museums were elitist, uninspiring and aloof as they encouraged only the educated people to visit them, the general public was excluded. Thus, in earlier times, a vast majority of the masses weren’t too enthusiastic about visiting a museum.
A Museum, although a western invention is an arena for re-living and re-enacting the past; it is a historical institution for storing, refining and exhibiting cultural objects and civilizations; it is a socialization and research institution; it’s a centre for the re-interpretation of historical events -from settlement to building civilization. It is a place where beauty – history and culture- is appreciated, experienced and relived.
A majority of the people are online. In fact, the global Covid-19 pandemic has proven testament to the fact that businesses can be done online, people can work from home, learn online, transact online, and even worship together online. The message is overwhelming and clear: if you must reach your audience; you must be willing to go digital, in this case, having your collections online and accessible too.
What then could be the future of the museum? Can our museums become solely virtual? Museums have changed over the last generation. The continual growth in the digitization of information, combined with the increasing capacity of digital information storage, is causing the traditional model of museums, as static collectors of historical artefacts and cultural relics, to expand to virtual exhibits and high-resolution images of their collections for pleasure, perusal, study, and exploration from any place in the world.
Technology plays a major part in the contemporary museum, with considerable use of the internet, smartphones, digital displays, and other cutting-edge interactive technologies. Interactive technology like the social media has turned the museum experience from a being passive into something truly engaging and educational, even for Millennials who seems disconnected from history, and who otherwise remain glued to their smartphones.
The digital museum looks for a number of opportunities for visitors to engage with the collections- encourage contributions, initiate discussions, sustain a conversation, build relationships, respond to comments or question asked, and appreciate contributors- allowing them to use their smartphones to access recorded guides and other information by scanning the artwork.
The interactivity does not end when the visitor leaves the museum. The registered data can be used to encourage return visits and send personalized updates about their favourite collections. Thus, creating a highly engaging visitor experience that would act as a competitive unique selling point against other attractions in the area.
The increasing use and reach of the internet provide new ways for the national museums and art gallery to promote their cultures to those who are not able to travel and view exhibitions in person, for instance through the digitization of museum collections and archives, the proliferation of the Web in general, and the social media, the public are much more able to participate in the exchange of ideas, rather than simply being the receivers of a particular message. This may lead to cultural exchange’.
By cultural exchange, we mean the recognition and appreciation of another’s culture. An interactive museum will facilitate deliberate efforts to learn about other cultures.
Thus, the contemporary museum has shifted from being the authoritative content supplier to the ‘facilitator of cross-cultural experiences’, through connecting different cultural audiences to each other and to the rich and diverse cultural content of museums and art institutions generally.
They say a picture is worth a thousand words – and they’re right: well-placed visual content can work wonders. The success of Instagram in fostering branding creativity and grabbing users’ attention makes this point valid.
The digital museum/art gallery takes advantage of the advancement in information technology to combine collections without physically having to move any works of art, creating a virtual museum where visitors are able to view related artwork in other museums/gallery. For example, they may produce a particularly relevant strand of work entitled ‘Discover African Art’, aiming to allow people to experience the wealth of art originating from Africa, an endeavour that is near impossible in ‘real-life’ because of how far and wide the continent and culture are.
This will allow different regions and time periods to be easily accessed and related to, thus, the contemporary museums- digital museums/art galleries- fosters cross-cultural learning and meaningful exchange a task too daring for most government and educational institutions.
Museums and Art Galleries of the future will host Facebook live events; host interviews with the artist themselves on YouTube; host art exhibition on the web; send personalized updates to visitors about upcoming events and promotions via email.
The digital museum gives the museum unlimited space to curate, create and educate without constraints; it allows visitors to view collections and build their own virtual gallery (personalized artefacts), a system that will enable visitors to include their most favourite artworks from the various collections in one place; and interact with the museum attendants/curators in real-time while viewing various collections, asking questions and receiving an instant response.