Digitorial introduced by Max Hollein at Städel
Photo: Städel Museum

Bridging art and technology – why modern museum managers need digital skills

Last week the Metropolitan Museum of Art announced its new Director: Max Hollein, from Vienna. The headline of the The New York Times described him as “a leader who bridges art and technology”. Max Hollein is known for introducing several successful technological projects at the museums he was previously managing (e.g. Städel Museum in Frankfurt, Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco), as well as for fruitful cooperations with private companies (see some examples in my previous posts “How can small museums be found” and “Instant shopping”).
Max Hollein
Photo: Gaby Gerster
I met Max Hollein almost three years ago when he was giving a presentation at Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna. He talked about his work at Städel and the most recent technological inventions in the museum world. The way he presented these issues differed significantly from presentations of other museum managers I have seen so far. He saw the implementation of new media tools as an important and integral process in his museums, not as add-ons.
Museums often do not clearly determine objectives and outcomes before the launch of their digital projects and thus some of their new media initiatives fail. This often can be explained by a lack of digital experts working on a strategic level in museums. The fact that the Met – one of the biggest museums in the world with 7 million annual visitors – has picked an advocate of digital technologies for museums is a sign of ground-breaking changes that are coming to the world of museums.
To comply with the digital transformation, not only the museum leadership, but the whole museum structure needs to adapt accordingly. The transformation of an organisation does not mean a change of roles, but a change of responsibilities. These new responsibilities shall include also an interaction with digital tools, allowing the staff to learn new things in the new media field.
A great case-study of such a learning process is described in the paper “How to be a digital leader and advocate: The changing role of the digital department”, published in MW2015: Museums and the Web 2015. It shares experiences of the digital team at the National Museum Wales and includes best practices for social media policies and development of museum professionals.
Any modern art museum must nowadays strive to “bridge art and technology”. Not many art experts excel in technological know-how (and vice versa). The few who understand both will be the museum managers of the future.
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