Lens on arts & culture

Designing for human resilience in a digital-first world

A pivotal moment for cultural institutions

Museums and cultural institutions around the world are in crisis. Stay-at-home orders, social distancing, and the halting of global transportation and tourism as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic have caused a complete cessation of in-person attendance and visitation — a primary source of funding for many. In the US, the American Alliance of Museums estimated in March 2020 that museums are losing up to $33 million per day in revenue, with Network of European Museum Organisations in Europe reporting revenue losses of around 75% to 80%; and the sad reality is that some of our beloved institutions may not survive until things settle and the world is ready to reopen. As culturally engaged citizens and as an organization committed to this sector and the value its members bring to humanity, this is devastating.

Establish your identity

Historically, museums have defined themselves by their physicality. Celebrity architects creating landmark buildings helped define both a specific institution as well as their city’s skyline. A museum or cultural center became part of the fabric of a community, with identities intertwining more and more over time. This codependent relationship bore out financially as well, as cultural institutions contributed to a city’s tourism industry: it is estimated that the MET alone contributed nearly $1 billion to New York City’s annual revenue from hotels, meals, and nightlife, thanks to the visitors it attracted. And so it was natural that the museum’s digital properties would primarily be focused on attracting visitors to the museum — the physical architecture was the museum, and the value of that institution was embedded within the physical environment itself.

Getty’s site uses the square as a motif, just as the Getty Center’s architecture and logo are based around the square.

Position your offerings for local and global audiences

Traditionally, institutions have used their websites primarily as tools for attracting and serving in-person visitors. Regardless of whether these visitors lived down the block or 5,000 miles away, they could only truly experience what the museum had to offer if they were visiting in-person. Now, however, with the lack of international and even domestic travel, museums must adopt different strategies for local and global audiences.

Diversify your fundraising

It is difficult to measure the intrinsic value museums bring to society. Nonetheless, a society without them would be less than. For most institutions, however, half of the annual income comes from donations, grants, and memberships. Museums have undoubtedly put these investments into advancing our society, and we are better for it.

Centralize all technology on the web

The need to be nimble has become ever-more important for institutions, and for many, this is not traditionally a strong point. As COVID-19 has forced us to step away from the physical structures we’ve long been accustomed to, inefficiencies in our status-quo become increasingly clear. This is not only apparent in the “real” world — we are now more than ever experiencing it digitally as well, with any amount of friction getting exaggerated and exacerbated. Many are learning the hard way that having multiple technologies doesn’t necessarily make you more efficient. It actually requires more maintenance internally and has an inherent risk of becoming out of sync. The answer is to base all technologies on the web, as this allows for one source to securely and efficiently hold and distribute information.



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A brand and digital product agency in Paris and New York. We solve problems to serve people with work designed to simplify and engineered to endure.