Digitisation has been a growing trend in museums as early as a decade ago, and the global pandemic has amplified the international interest in it
Most museums embraced digitisation to continue engagement with their audience
Seeing digitized art online can persuade and encourage people to visit the museum in person
The pandemic cast dark clouds over the museum sector. Museums in the US are estimated to have lost $33 million per day during lockdowns. 30% of museums and art institutions may not be able to reopen without substantial government relief.
Museums and art institutions around the world have been negatively impacted due to the COVID-19 global pandemic, causing some museums to even consider closing down permanently. To counteract the loss caused by the pandemic, most museums around the world have turned to digitisations of their museums to continue engagement with the audience.
The need for digitisation has been amplified due to the pandemic dragging on and disrupting lifestyles.
Museums, being a major tourist destination, contributes heavily to the GDP of nations. In the USA alone, the museums contribute $50 billion a year to the US economy. However, due to COVID related closures, museums in the US are estimated to be losing $33 million per day. Most events that are aimed to generate funding for the museums, such as The MET gala 2020 which was a valuable source of funding, had to be cancelled due to the pandemic. It is projected that without substantial government funding, 30% of institutions may not be able to reopen (The American Alliance of Museums, 2020).
Globally, some museums have reopened with restrictions while others have to remain closed for safety measures. Museums that have reopened, such as Galleria Borghese in Italy, are taking safety measures such as limiting the number of visitors in a certain time slot and minimizing human contact using e-tickets and eliminating cash payments. Most museums, open or closed, have a need to keep an active engagement with the audience and this is where Digitisation comes into play.
Digitisation is a process of digitizing an art collection by means of scanning and capturing the essence of the art pieces to preserve them indefinitely. Digitisation is a time-consuming process until a few years ago when technologies such as “conveyer belt scanners” were introduced and put into use by the leading museums in the digitization field as The Smithsonian Institution.
Digitisation has been a growing trend in museums as early as a decade ago, and the global pandemic has amplified the international interest in it.
During the pandemic, many museums have turned to social media to host webinars, art talks, and even offer virtual tours. Google Arts and Culture now offers virtual tours of over 2,000 museums around the world.
However, offering virtual tours for the audience at home is not the sole benefit of digitization. Digitisation of art collections using high-resolution imaging technologies allows for recolouration and magnification of the artwork that is not possible with the naked eye. This contributes tremendously to the education and the study of cultures.
Digitisation means better accessibility to many artefacts around the world and this has proven useful for research purposes.
The first long-distance reconstruction of a cultural architect was made possible due to digitisation in 2018 when two museums held different sides to a historical tablet and researchers were able to digitally combine them and translate the text due to virtual renditions of the two sides tablet (Shelmon, 2018). Accessibility to the museums’ artefacts also means that people who cannot necessarily afford to travel can now experience the artworks at the comfort of their own home, increasing cultural awareness and learning opportunities for the people.
It is estimated that the largest museums in the world only display about 5% of their collection while the rest is housed in archives. With the help of digitisation using flatbed scanners, laser scanners and 3-D rendering of sculptures, all of the artworks can now be accessed by the public online for both educational and recreational purposes.
By putting these artworks online and having discussions via webinars and art talks, it increases public engagement and starts a conversation with the audience, not a monologue, said G. Wayne Clough, the Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution (Stromberg, 2013). This is the approach that most museums are taking in this pandemic to stay connected to the public.
One remarkable use of digitisation is to enhance the experience of an artwork using animation and augmented reality. This can be seen as statues that has been scanned, digitized and animated into a moving figure, or it can be an interactive experience with the audience where famous paintings have been digitized and turned into virtual reality setting in which the audience can go and explore (Stromberg, 2013).
These innovative actions open so many doors to new creations and new ways we can experience artworks. Of course, true historic art loves might feel differently about digitising art. They might feel through digitisation we sacrifice the integrity of the original piece of art. Some are concerned that the art work is not being seen and experienced the way the artist originally intended.
Another concern people have with the digitisation of museums is that it might mean few people visiting to the actual museum because everything is accessible online.
In any case, digital content has become essential to the audience at home during the COVID-19 global pandemic and just taking a virtual tour of a museum through the small screens of our phones or laptops have given us a sense of escape. We have a duty to help support our beloved museums and art institutions who are negatively affected by the pandemic. As Kimia Kline, a painter and art curator of Brooklyn’s Wythe hotel said, “If museums are going under because they’re not funded and no one is stepping up to fill that gap, it is reflective of our society’s priorities”.
In conclusion, the future of museums and the way we experience art and culture looks very exciting due to digitisation of museums. As we all know, technology is growing rapidly and we can only guess where technology will take us in a few years. The one thing we can tell for sure is that Digitisation is here to stay, and 360 degrees Virtual Reality experiences are going to become more of a norm when it comes to enjoying art, whether it be a 360◦ VR art installation at the Van Gogh museum in Amsterdam, or a virtual tour of The MET from the comfort of your home using Virtual Reality equipment.
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