The challenge for museums in the 21st century?

Nick Serota, Director of the Tate, writes about modern museums in ‘Why Tate Modern needs to expand‘. I’m not sure he convinces me that the expansion needs to be physical, but it’s a brilliant case for expanding Tate’s online presence:

The world also sees museums differently. Wide international access, directly or through digital media and at all levels of understanding offers the opportunity for new kinds of collaboration with individuals and institutions.

The traditional function of the museum has been that of instruction, with the curator setting the terms of engagement between the visitor and the work of art. But in the past 20 years the development of the internet, the rise of the blog and social networking sites, as well as the more direct intervention in museum spaces by artists themselves, has begun to change the expectations of visitors, and their relationship with the curator as authoritative specialist. The challenge for museums in the 21st century is to find new ways of engaging with much more demanding, sophisticated and better informed viewers. Our museums have to respond to and become places where ideas, opinions and experiences are exchanged, and not simply learned.

The museum of the 21st century should be based on encounters with the unfamiliar and on exchange and debate rather than only on an idea of the perfect muse—private reflection and withdrawal from the “real” world. Of course, the museum continues to provide a place of contemplation and of protection from the direct pressures of the commercial and the market. It has to have some anchors or fixed points for orientation and stability, but it also has to be a dynamic space for ideas, conversations and debate about new and historic art within a global context.

The Tate’s Head of Online, John Stack, has put the Tate Online Strategy 2010–12, including their ‘Ten principles for Tate Online’.  Go read it – with any luck UK parliament will have managed to form a government by the time you’re done.

So, do you agree with Serota? What are the challenges you face in your museum in the 21st century?

Thumbs up to Migratr (and free and open goodness)

[Update: Migratr downloads all your files to the desktop, with your metadata in an XML file, so it’s a great way to backup your content if you’re feeling a bit nervous about the sustainability of the online services you use. If it’s saved your bacon, consider making a donation.]

This is just a quick post to recommend a nice piece of software: “Migratr is a desktop application which moves photos between popular photo sharing services. Migratr will also migrate your metadata, including the titles, tags, descriptions and album organization.”

I was using it to migrate stuff from random Flickr accounts people had created at work in bursts of enthusiasm to our main Museum of London Flickr account, but it also works for 23HQ, Picasa, SmugMug and several other photo sites.

The only hassles were that it concatenated the tags (e.g. “Museum of London” became “museumoflondon”) and didn’t get the set descriptions, but overall it’s a nifty utility – and it’s free (though you can make a donation). [Update: Alex, the developer, has pointed out that the API sends the tags space delimited, so his app can’t tell the different.]

And as the developer says, the availability of free libraries (and the joys of APIs) cut down development time and made the whole thing much more possible. He quotes Newton’s, “If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants” and I think that’s beautifully apt.