Monday 25 October 2021

Let’s get digital: Museum Week goes online with 400 star objects

Museum Week includes a digital focus on 400 key objects

Some 400 museums in the Netherlands will be showcasing their collections online at this year’s Museum Week, an annual event to promote Dutch museums big and small, which starts on Sunday.

This year’s overarching theme is once again that of freedom, referring both to regret at the lack of freedom to come and go among the Rembrandts and the Appels, while at the same time celebrating the efforts museums are making to secure public online access to ‘the true gold’ in their collections. 

‘There are few countries which have the right to cultural expression enshrined in the constitution, but the Netherlands has and that is very special,’ Chris Janssen, spokesman for the Dutch museum association, told ‘There is a lot of talk about bars and restaurants but people are pining for theatre, music, art. Now it’s not here we realise how badly we miss it.’

Many museums had started building online content long before corona ever struck and a number are offering paid ‘premium content’ to virtual visitors.

The Mauritshuis in The Hague, for instance, has converted its paid Second Canvas-app for the technological wonders of the gigapixel museum to a free one because of coronavirus. But the museum is also busy planning further digital content which it will charge for.

‘There will be a number of ‘walks’ in the SC app focusing on museum highlights, animals and a ‘relaxing’ tour,’ Mauritshuis spokesman Boris de Munnick said. Relaxing? ‘Yes, one that will make you feel relaxed when you’re done. It’s in development. We don’t know how much they will cost yet or when they will be launched but it is something we are working on.’

The museum’s free gigapixel app has now been downloaded 43,000 times in the Netherlands and 31,000 times in English by an international audience.

Paid content pilot

Other museums too would like to include paid content on their sites and have their chance this year in a completely new element to Museum Week  ‘We  are conducting a pilot whereby museums can use our platform to offer paid premium content ,’ Janssen explained. ‘Premium content is something out of the ordinary, about the things that go on behind the scenes, a tour, a lecture, or a chat with a curator.’

One such example is the Philips Museum, which is offering a live guided tour of the highlights in the history of the iconic Dutch company, complete with an interactive function for questions and comments. The digital entry ticket will set you back €5.

‘The asking prices are modest, this is a pilot after all. But digital content is here to stay, even when the coronavirus has gone,’ said Janssen, whose personal favourite of the Week’s online offerings is the Kröller-Müller museum’s Blind date with a work of art.

Blending the tangible – the viewer is sent an envelope with tasks related to the work of art – and the virtual it’s a very clever way of experiencing the collection, Janssen said. ‘It’s an adventure which makes you want to see the real thing even more once all this is over.’

The week also includes an Escape Room game for children and a focus on 400 star items from the participating museum’s collections.

Physical visits

Some lucky art lovers will be able to see the real thing before coronavirus is over, however, because some 17 museums across the country will be participating in the Fieldlab experiments during the week.

Designed to find out if access with a fast test can be a viable way of allowing people to enjoy cultural and sporting events in numbers again, they nevertheless provoke mixed feelings among museum directors.

‘They don’t feel that the protocol that we have in place already needs improving,’ Janssen said. ‘When the museums were allowed to briefly open last year there was not a single case of coronavirus that could be traced back to a visit to a museum. We think museums could already open in a safe way using the protocol.’

There are still some tickets to be had for a physical visit at the time of writing but art lovers will have to be quick. Digital revolution or not, the need to be in the same room with The Goldfinch, the Night Watch or Without Title III will not go away any time soon.

Museum Week runs from April 19 to April 25. 

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