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Museums explore the digital future on International Museum Day

art and culture Updated: May 14, 2012 19:02 IST
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Museums are embracing the latest technology in an attempt to reignite visitors’ passion for the past.

While some people still picture museums as aging monoliths crammed full of history, many institutions are reinventing themselves using forward-thinking technology.

The theme of this year’s International Museum Day (IMD), “Museums in a Changing World: New Challenges, New Inspirations” aims to highlight the digital challenges currently facing museums and to showcase the ways in which they are adapting the new technology to their needs.

Julien Anfruns, Director General at the International Council of Museums (ICOM), told Relaxnews that museums exist to collect, interpret, and safeguard humanity’s natural and cultural heritage but they also reflect the world and its transformations, allowing visitors to discover themselves through the exploration of objects.

He explained, “museums must compete to have an audible voice against a noisy background of new information, accelerating technology and an unstable climate, communicated by burgeoning social media. The IMD theme is a base from which to explore responses to change, an opportunity for museums of all kinds to showcase their best achievements and latest innovations.”

During the past year museums have found new ways to integrate technology into their collections, both online and off.

“In 2011, museums were highly active in the development of new technologies, with tools such as the iPhone applications, augmented reality, digital tablets and more,” explained Julien Anfruns. “For instance, the High Museum in Atlanta offered visual recognition and online chat facilities for the exhibition From Picasso to Warhol.”

Museums are also widening their reach by starting online discussions about art and history on on the internet.

“Museums are now present on social networks like Facebook and Twitter, using them to attract people and share information,” said Anfruns, adding that “the Museum of Memory and Human Rights in Santiago de Chile is highly active on Facebook with more than 40,000 “likes” and the MALI (Museum of Art of Lima) in Peru counts some 60,000 'likes'.”

International visitors who may never have the chance to visit a museum in the flesh can now take a virtual tour or explore a work of art down to the finest brushstroke thanks to innovative collaborations between art institutions, museums and internet giants like Google.

“Access to digitized collections is another issue that museums are facing, and many of them are implementing digitization programs for their collections,” said Anfruns.

In 2011 Google teamed up with art institutions all over the world to bring ultra high-resolution images of famous artworks online. The initiative, called Google Art Project, now features more than 30,000 artworks from over 40 museums including the Tate Gallery, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City, the White house, the Australian Rock Art Gallery and the Uffizi in Florence.

“To strengthen the adaptation of museum in terms of digital skills and develop ideas and technologies about digital possibilities in museums, Amit Sood, Head of the Google Art Project, will be a keynote speaker at the next International Museum Meeting in Paris in June at the UNESCO House,” revealed Anfruns. “His lecture at the International Museum Meeting 2012 will address the concept of the Art Project, the way it aims to involve museums and the strategic vision of the project in the long term.”

While technology is playing a big part in the renaissance of museums, Anfruns cautions that “the use of technologies and digital tools is not an end in itself and should remain a means for the public to better understand museums and their collection. Digital opportunities are being explored, providing customized visits and new contents, but they still need to be conceived in a long term perspective.”

Museums and art institutions in more than 120 countries around the world will be showing off vibrant new exhibitions during International Museum Day on May 18.