What does sustainability mean for cultural organizations in this moment of radical transformation? The word touches upon vital issues facing global institutions from environmental responsibility and social consciousness to financial stability and technological readiness. Encouraging new thinking on these vital questions is the impetus behind Museum Computer Network’s (MCN) week-long conference “Sustainability: Preserve/Progress”, Nov 10 to 17.
Founded by early proponents of technology in museums, MCN’s four decade mission to expand the horizons of cultural professionals has never felt more pertinent. As cultural institutions around the world work to implement new technologies and strategies, MCN brings together museum technology officers, social media pros, non-profit executives, marketing experts, and academics for a series of panel discussions and workshops.
Ahead of the conference, Jing Culture & Commerce spoke with MCN’s Executive Director Eric Longo to understand what sustainability means in the context of a global pandemic and what MCN’s Virtual conference hopes to achieve.
Each year MCN chooses a theme — why sustainability in 2020?
Sustainability is about long-term survival. The recent rise of the experience economy forced museums to create museum experiences designed for consumption. In this sense, the arts and culture have become a commodity. Museums need to deliver new experiences for future generations of museum visitors. In the age of COVID-19, sustainability takes on a whole new meaning for museums. Sustainability invites us to explore the tension between transformation and longevity.
How have you seen technology impact the practices of cultural organizers?
Over the past 20 years, the word has become digital: technology revolutionized information and created a vast global network that altered how business was done and soon, technology became personal and mobile transforming how we engage with the world and those around us. Like any other industry, the cultural sector and museums have leveraged digital technologies to better respond to the needs of their audiences in a variety of ways: from mobile experiences, to in-gallery interactive displays, to online resources.
How has the pandemic changed museums?
In the short to mid-term, most museums will be focused on surviving. When they eventually reopen, leisure travel will come back slowly keeping tourists away from major museum destinations for a little while longer. So museums will need to continue to explore how to make the most of digital, including virtual environments, and adapt to create experiences that live both virtually and in physical spaces.
Will virtual events for museums replace physical events in the future?
The fear that technology will dissuade people from actually visiting museums in person has been debunked many times over ever since museums first introduced multimedia tours by handing out screen-based devices to visitors. Virtual doesn’t need to replace an analogue experience: it can complement it, even enhance it.
How will MCN 2020 Virtual benefit a wider group of audiences?
Virtual events offer far greater accessibility benefits for all. Free of the constraints of geography, a physical location where an event takes place, a virtual program can be designed more freely and digitally natively, that is to say as content that can be consumed on-demand, 24/7 at one’s leisure. Sessions in virtual events are recorded, providing captions and significantly reducing the prohibitive costs of producing onsite events. So, the entire conference experience and its contents become much more accessible.
Online events are much cheaper to produce than in-person ones giving organizers the opportunity to offer significantly reduced registration fees. As online events are cheaper to attend, they are also more inclusive and more accessible to many, especially for small institutions that may not have the budget or staff size to send team members off-site. With online events, museum associations now have the opportunity to increase their reach beyond their former limited audience giving people near and far the opportunity to attend events that they could never afford to attend in the past.
How do you hope this virtual conference helps museums?
MCN is a space for a vibrant community of museum professionals to connect, share effective practices, and advance the thinking around emerging technologies in museums. MCN 2020 VIRTUAL gathers over 140 speakers from around the world to talk about the latest digital technology trends in museums. If you work in or around digital technology in museums and the cultural heritage sector, this is a conference you don’t want to miss.