September 16, 2018; ArtNews
NPQ has often reported on how museums are redefining audience engagement and visitor experiences by using new technologies. But many arts institutions—even the largest ones—often struggle to prioritize raising funds for such technology. In Philadelphia, two leading cultural organizations, the Philadelphia Museum of Art (PMA) and the Barnes Foundation, just got a major boost in this area of their operations. A newly announced Knight Foundation Art and Technology Fund has granted $5 million to be shared equally by the two nonprofits.
As reported in ArtNews, the Knight Foundation’s vice president for arts, Victoria Rogers, explained the thinking behind the new fund: “The blending of art and technology will play a large role in the future success of museums. The Barnes and Philadelphia Museum of Art have been pioneers in this field, exploring the power of technology to better connect people with the arts. This new investment will bolster their existing digital engagement efforts, open doors for new experiments and generate lessons learned for other cultural institutions looking to innovate.”
Philadelphia is one of the 26 cities that benefits from the Miami-based Knight Foundation’s support. In fact, the new fund was announced at a meeting of the foundation’s board held at the PMA. The $5-million grant was part of a $29-million evening for the City of Brotherly Love, with both Knight and the Lenfest Institute for Journalism joining forces to invest an additional $20 million in local journalism through the Institute; and an additional $4 million from Knight supporting a major park project already underway along the Delaware River.
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A news release on the Knight Foundation website explains more about how the Art and Technology Fund will be applied at the Barnes and the PMA. Since both institutions already see technology as essential to their missions, the new funding “will help propel their innovation efforts.”
The Barnes will create a digital engagement center that will work collaboratively across its museum departments—curatorial, education, web, public programs—to engage visitors in high-quality art. Examples of projects already under way include: a collections database searchable by visual criteria; a custom mobile-ticketing system that includes an audience survey; and a GPS-enabled gallery touring tool. It will further create new partnerships with community-based organizations to connect with audiences outside of museum walls. Tech tools developed at the center will be open-source and the museum will work to share learning with the field.
Philadelphia Museum of Art will use technology to enhance how visitors experience its physical space, as well as its collection—in the galleries and online. It will advance its digital roadmap and develop new online, mobile, in-gallery and personalized experiences. Support will allow the institution to create new audience-centered digital resources such as its award-winning A is for Art Museum app for kids, to transform its website to provide richer and deeper content, and to develop groundbreaking digital-born publications.
In addition to the impact on these two leading cultural institutions, the “special sauce” in this new fund includes the freedom to experiment and the commitment to sharing the lessons learned—as well as those open-source tools—with other nonprofit arts groups in Philadelphia and other places. The fact that both groups have already been experimenting and innovating in this area gives them a running start. But with significant funds dedicated to technology enhancements for visitors, this initiative could, over time, yield additional benefits for the museum sector.—Eileen Cunniffe