Feverish discussions

In recent weeks, the amount of content published in the virtual space has reached its maximum temperature. More and more virtual visits, podcasts, guides, reports, online broadcasts and presentations are published… the world of culture is possessed by a true digital fever.

Digital resources, such as scanned objects, 360-degree museum rooms, audio recordings and apps were already abundant in the digital world before the pandemic. But it has been the lockdown imposed by the coronavirus, and the closure of museums, that has urged them to explore the opportunities offered by digital technologies.

It is interesting to observe the current situation based on the live transmissions that began to be carried out in bulk a few weeks ago. Countless directors and managers from the museum sector, as well as from the area of ​​tourism and culture participated. Analyzing the events of the last two months, the experts talked about how important digitization processes are and the need to develop digital strategies . They compared the advantages offered by the real space with respect to the virtual one, and exchanged opinions on how they will coexist when the confinement is lifted.

It seems clear that not all museums were prepared to offer virtual experiences. Small, local museums encountered difficulties, as many lacked strategies and experience in the field of digital technologies. Meanwhile, it seems that medium and large museums, according to these conversations and debates, did not have their digital efficiency at an optimal level either.

In any case, large museums have had a large online presence and have developed strategies that have attracted new audiences. When evaluating the results of its online activity during the confinement, the Prado Museum has released the following data : the change from traditional exhibitions to online exhibitions has allowed the number of exhibits to increase from 1,100 to 16,000, as well as increasing the number of visitors. Compared to the million users who accessed the Prado through its virtual channels between mid-March and mid-May 2019, this year on those same dates, more than three million people visited it in virtual mode (3,220,000).

Now, as new live streams are constantly being made and articles are being published in bulk, a lot of informational noise has been generated. Much time is being spent discussing what the future will be like, and yet it is unclear how the sector will develop, which technologies will be the priority and which will be the stories of interest. To shed light on the situation, opinions are needed from professionals working with social media, with the online public and with technologies. At the moment, these opinions are scarce and it is precisely these professionals who can explain the new rules of the game to us, and illustrate the measures to be adopted and the methods to be used.

Physical exhibition vs. virtual exhibition

The Coronavirus outbreak has set new technological priorities. If at the beginning of 2019 many experts talked about the rapid development of virtual and augmented reality, during the pandemic virtual exhibitions have become the main focus of attention.

Virtual exhibitions have recently generated much debate . In general, I am not surprised by the skepticism of the specialists because, in reality, the 360º views of the rooms and the 3D scanned objects have never constituted an exhibition in and of themselves. They are just digitized documents or catalogs, which were created for preservation and study purposes and, not surprisingly, the public is not very interested. Without any creative edge, without storytelling that unites them and arouses minimal interest, tons of megabytes of digitized heritage have accumulated dust on websites and SketchFab-like platforms.

During confinement, when museums were forced to close their doors to the public, virtual exhibitions became popular. During the first weeks they spread massively in the media, and at that time, they were perceived by many as an alternative and provisional solution to face-to-face visits.

However, the virus has its own plans. It has decided to stay on our planet, and we do not know how long. It is now clear that it will be impossible to return to pre-coronavirus cultural experiences. Post-Covid face-to-face experiences, under new regulations, will have many limitations. The virtual visit turns out to have gone from an initially provisional solution to a permanent status.

Does this mean that we need to choose between face-to-face and virtual experience? Does it make sense to oppose, and above all, to cross-out the virtual experience as inferior or unusable? Of course not! When emerging from confinement, instead of using the expressions ” or … or “, we have to start using ” and … and “.

The most logical solution is the development of two parallel strategies, both of equal value: the face-to-face experience and the virtual experience. The first must be complemented and enriched as much as possible with virtual formats, and the virtual must find its own language, taking advantage of the thousands of digital data that museums have accumulated and that practically no one has valued.

Digital ABC

An important starting point to achieving an understanding the technologies is to distinguish the existing digital tools based on the features they have in common. In this sense, two graphics that I will talk about in this post can be useful. I have been using these slides for six years in the lectures of digital technology classes. Regardless of the changes that may occur in the technology sector together with changes in trends, these schemes continue to function and remain current because they present the information on technologies in a clear and structured way.

To differentiate the different types of existing technologies we need a structure. I like simple schemes that help identify the main concept and separate it from the secondary. I present, for example, the scheme of the classification of technologies according to the place of use, which is especially relevant today due to the imposed restrictions on mobility and visits.

According to this function of the place, I distinguish three types of technologies: those that are used on site (in interior exhibition halls or in outdoor venues), mobile technologies (which, as the name implies, are used through mobile devices) and online technologies (which are used through the Internet).

Graph 1. Three types of digital tools according to place of use: on-site, mobile and online. Source: Irina Grevtsova

The technologies that are used in the exhibition halls and that the visitor “cannot take away” when leaving the museum, exhibition, installation or event, belong to the first typology. They can be both static (touch screens, projectors) and portable (audio guides, sign guides or touch tablets, which are distributed in the rooms).

The technologies that can be used by means of a smartphone or a tablet, we classify as mobile. Most of them are mobile applications. There are also applications available in the browser, such as social networks or specialized applications: applications with tours, audio guides, augmented reality, images and 360º videos. Mobile technologies have two main advantages. They can be used both in the interior exhibition areas and in any other place: on the street, at home or at the workplace. In addition, they are equipped with the geolocation function. That is, they link the contents to certain places (their geographical coordinates).

The third group of tools we classify as online technologies. They are the ones that are now experiencing exponential growth. These include social networks, with which we are all very familiar, podcasts, virtual tours, YouTube, etc. These technologies are available through the browser, so their use requires constant access to the Internet.

Now many countries have adopted a series of measures to open museums in the context conditioned by the coronavirus. Everyone must completely rethink the process of attending to visitors, guaranteeing social distancing and avoiding the shared use of electronic devices. The new regulation also includes restrictions in relation to museum technologies and resources. The use of interactive and tactile tools is prohibited and the maximum number of visitors per day has been calculated depending on the area of the venues.

In this context, two types of technologies could be the most convenient. One is digital exhibitions through video projections, and another is mobile applications. These digital exhibits, which were already popular before the pandemic, usually take place in large open rooms. The movements in this type of exhibit can be regulated in a special way. On the other hand, mobile applications are the most optimal option, since they can serve both to transmit information about the health and safety of users, to greet visitors, or to provide audio and multimedia information. It can be assumed that the number of mobile guides will increase and that free storytelling platforms such as izi.TRAVEL, will be developed very actively.

Another classification that is useful for understanding technologies is based on the purpose of the tools. It is necessary to distinguish the technologies used for the management of the heritage elements (Big data), the documentation and cataloging of the heritage (they are carried out using digitization techniques), the conservation and protection of the heritage (digital monitoring), the marketing tools and sales (product sales) and the technologies used to interpret cultural heritage for educational purposes. (There are a wide variety of tools at our disposal: online resources, audio guides, YouTube interviews, theatrical performances in podcasts, representations of popular stories in game format, etc.)

Graph 2. Information and communication technology for the cultural sector. Source: Irina Grevtsova

In the case of interpretation tools, the most important thing is not the characteristics of the technologies (precision, resolution, number of pixels and megabytes), but the creative approach, the ideas, the ability to interest and surprise the user and to produce emotions. The minimum skills and knowledge necessary to use the technologies are acquired quite quickly. Instead, it takes a lot more time to craft rigorous, humorous content that conveys an interesting story.

Interpretation in the virtual space requires that the content be organized in micro formats. For example, a 10-minute audio story on a podcast, a 10-minute video interview on YouTube or a 30-minute video tour with a group of people on Zoom, and it must of course be positioned on social networks.

An example of digital packaging

A few days ago I received on WhatsApp a PDF file in which an intriguing story was told about the image on the poster for the movie “The Silence of the Lambs”. Carefully studying the poster, it can be seen that there is a skull painted on the body of the butterfly that is on the lips of actress Jodie Foster. It turns out that this skull is nothing more than a photo of an artistic installation, made up of the bodies of seven naked women, whose author was Salvador Dalí himself. If we refine the plot a little, come up with interesting questions and find more data, we can create a truly interesting and fun story. We could present it as a micro format of an Instagram story, a Twitter contest or it could be the headline of a story.

Recipes for enchanting the public

The term “interpreting” could be defined as the art of conquering the heart of the public. How? Interacting with them, sparking their interest, intriguing and inspiring them.

I want to end this post by introducing a new one. I want to contribute my grain of sand, in the exciting post-coronavirus digital future, by starting to talk about recipes to make the public fall in love with the use of digital technologies. And I’ll start with the easiest. For today’s post I have selected three delicious recipes that include the simplest and most common ingredients: hashtags.

1.  #gettymuseumchallenge has over 40,000 Instagram posts.

This hashtag has truly made the international public fall in love. The proof of this, the 40,000 posts on Instagram. And not only did it receive many likes and was retweeted . The digital public accepted the challenge of participating in the initiative, launched by the Getty Museum, which consisted of recreating the scene of a painting at home. In the creative process, people literally used everything they had on hand: toilet paper, blankets, socks, garbage bags, plants, household utensils, and even their beloved pets. Users created images that were virtually identical to those of the chosen frames.

The original idea was proposed by the Dutch account of Tussen Kunst & Quarantaine, whose name means ” between art and confinement “.

Foto: twitter.com/DerrecheFatiha


2. #CovidArtMuseum more than 100,000 followers on Instagram

This hashtag devised by 3 publicists from Barcelona has managed to create an authentic virtual museum on Instagram. To this day, more than 450 works have been published in this museum. Anyone can become an artist. To do so, you only have to send a photo related to the coronavirus and confinement. The museum collects the most original works made with certain doses of humor.

3. #MuseumMomentofZen more than 8000 Instagram posts

This hashtag is used by museums to create a more relaxed and positive environment during confinement. It is put to artistic works that show landscapes, photos and videos of blossoming flowers, spring landscapes, all kinds of pictures, images of plants, organic forms, religious and spiritual motifs. The hashtag was released on Twitter and Instagram by the Museum of the City of New York and was later used by various museums around the world.

Although this hashtag was not as popular as the others, the idea itself is original and extremely appropriate for confinement times. Perhaps all this will arouse more interest among the public and lead people to put hashtags on their favorite landscape paintings and photos with plants and garden views.