Get online, Smithsonian expert urges museums

GOING online offers museums and art galleries great opportunities to reach and teach a wider audience, an international expert says.

Michael Edson, director of web and new strategies at the renowned Smithsonian Institution in the United States, said galleries and museums were essential tools in creating a civil and sustainable society.

Mr Edson yesterday told the 2014 Victorian Museums and Galleries Conference in Warrnambool that such institutions were key avenues for nurturing learning among people and encouraging them to explore other cultures.

However, he warned that museums and art galleries were struggling for resources while the burgeoning online network was taking over their roles.

They were now being asked to prove their worth in the battle for funding, he said.

Going online provided great opportunities for traditional bricks-and-mortar institutions to improve their scope, scale and speed, Mr Edson said.

Most museums and art galleries operated according to “dreams that had been forged in simpler times” when having big artefact collections and large numbers of visitors through the door were the goals, he said. 

Bigger dreams were now needed to match the opportunities available. Mr Edson said the more than two billion edits of information on the free online encyclopedia Wikipedia since it began in 2001 indicated how information was now being shared.

Many community projects were also being financed using online “crowd funding” sites that did not involve institutional support.

“The people who are supposed to doing universal access of information are not getting the job done. Others are doing it.”

He said online access not only provided opportunities to increase the potential audiences of museums and art galleries, it could also increase their impact.

Mr Edson said “cultural impoverishment” existed everywhere, not just in Third World countries, and online access to the resources of art galleries and museums could reach new audiences, such as those in jails.

About 160 Australian and international representatives are at the conference, which concludes today.

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