Opening Keynote: Building the Networked Museum

A museum is an institution that cares for a collection of artifacts and other objects of scientific, artistic, cultural, or historical importance and makes them available for public viewing through exhibits that may be permanent or temporary.
– Wikipedia


What if our profession created a museum in which visitors could comfortably search for answers to their own questions regardless of the importance placed on such questions by others?
– Elaine Gurian, 2008


What if we already have created a museum, as Elaine Gurian suggested, in which visitors can seek answers to the questions they care about most?  One does not generally think of a museum as a network but what if it is, de facto?  What if the rapid expansion of networked culture, digital media, digitized collections, of ‘always on’ mobile access and, more importantly, of online participation has already created a museum in which visitors, both ‘real’ and virtual, decide what is important and even what the ‘collection’ is?

If this is the case – as Rich Cherry will argue that it is – then the war on the traditional model of museums as static “collections of collections” (of three-dimensional specimens and artifacts) is over, and talk about reexamining and reengineering current business models is missing the point. Instead of arguing against the museum as dusty repository or an ivory tower, we can now think of the museum as a node on a network that connects us to 2.7 billion Internet users, tens of thousands of museums, and millions of other ‘nodes’ around the world filled with information. Those of us who work in museums, let alone those of us who are still building museums, might feel a little threatened by this idea.

In a network, a node is either a connection point, a redistribution point or a communication endpoint. As one can imagine, the value of the node to the network varies based on the type and quality of the node.  A large museum with a storied history can be valuable simply as an endpoint, while a new museum with limited resources might want to focus on being a connection point. The question of whether the node is more important than the network is a fundamental one, but with a network the size of the Internet there are very few nodes so important that a large percentage of the 2.7 billion users would notice they are missing were they to vanish.

Rich will discuss this metaphor further as he discusses his experiences in building cultural as well as technical networks, and the building and planning of The Broad, a new museum of contemporary art opening in 2014 in downtown Los Angeles.  His insights are based on his experience providing cutting edge technology solutions for cultural institutions, overseeing the construction of museums and creating multidisciplinary teams to support their operations.