Leading Museums, Museum Leaders

DCMS ‘Culture is digital’ report released

VR is already being used by museums, theatres and orchestras.

Hannah Furness, Art galleries ‘must embrace digital technology’ as the battle against phones is lost, The Telegraph, 7 March 2018

For some, there is little more maddening than visiting an art gallery only to find hordes of visitors staring intently, not at the paintings but at their mobile phones.

From today, that sight is not to be sniffed at but encouraged, as the government urges museums and galleries to embrace all things digital to cater to the expectations of a new generation.

The Department for Digital, Media, Culture and Sport (DCMS) has issued guidelines to teach UK institutions how to “harness the potential of digital technology” to maintain the interest of visitors who are “no longer simply passive receivers” of art and culture.

The “Culture is Digital” report, released by Secretary of State Matt Hancock, urged the sector to make the most of the 78 per cent of adults who own a smartphone, utilising technology to “transform” the relationship between art and the public.

The near future could see the expansion of plans to digitise museum collections throughout Britain, share exhibitions via virtual reality headsets, and upgrade mobile phone offerings to allow people to listen to podcasts about paintings as they stand directly in front of them.

The National Gallery, which hosted an event to launch the DCMS report, is exploring plans for an airline-style ticketing system which could see prices for different times of day vary by demand, and boosting the information on its labels with extra details on smartphone apps.

Gabriele Finaldi, director of National Gallery, said he was “very sympathetic” to those visitors who still wish to come to the gallery to absorb the paintings quietly, but added that visitor demands are “evolving” with the generations.

For regular visitors to the gallery, the “ambitious five-year programme of digital change” will be a significant transformation in a few short years.

In 2014, the gallery finally gave the public its official approval to take photographs of its main collection after introducing wifi.

A year later, its former director, Sir Nicholas Penny, lamented the trend for benches in the gallery being “excessively occupied by young people, who are reading their bloody devices”.

Dr Finaldi said yesterday: “We have remarkable possibilities now to extend [visitors’] experience, the significant proportion of which come through your hand-held device. So let’s look at ways in which the experience of seeing real works of art can be enriched and extended.

“I think it’s a fantastic challenge that we have to take on in museums. We’ve got the real objects, that’s our great strength. How can we engage the visitor, whether physical visitor or virtual visitor, to experience our content and enjoy, interact and learn?”

Mr Hancock said smaller museums and galleries would be offered a “how to guide” to help them use digital technology most effectively, as he argued it could boost revenue and visitor numbers.

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