The Museum of the Future : a vision for the next decade (2030)




2020 : two decades into the new millennium. Three decades into ‘digital revolution’. In this time, we survived Y2K, moved on from Minesweeper & Solitaire, and museums moved from the big task of having websites to social media accounts & their own apps. If the millennium had started with the promise of communicating faster with emails, the last decade showed us what blazing fast & “instant” could mean & the possibilities it could have for museums. So much changed in the past two decades – especially for visitors, who now “Google Map” their way to a museum, leave reviews on TripAdvisor, document their visit on Instagram / Snapchat and sometimes end up reading more about an object / artwork online. Even the best of museum-minds wouldn’t have been able to predict that it wasn’t just the experience of the museum that was going to undergo a change; the entire role of museums was to transform completely.

As we step into another decade, it’s time to look ahead – plan bigger and better. The world around continues to change, and more rapidly so. What are the ways in which the next 10 years will change museums? What can museums do to keep up? 

digital museum
Cultivating digital mediation

3 ways the museum landscape is changing

From the age of disruption, we’re slowly moving into an age of consolidation. It is a time, when museums must strive to build on a culture of building alliances and co-operations. The relevance of any museum will depend on it’s ability to connect with it’s visitors and retain them; it will depend on how the museum merges it’s identity & goals with the needs of the community. Also, how museums will harness the power of digital to co-operate with each other across the world will be something interesting to see.

Digital is going to be dominant

In the next decade, a large chunk of museum visitors will be digital natives. This group has never waited for subscription newspaper / magazine; have definitely never used a landline to dial up inquiries and are likely to not have experienced waiting a week for a TV show episode. Digital is how they consume any content. Digital is also how they create any content. How will museums tell the story of the digital age? Will there be digital collecting?

Data will be key

Data driven marketing has already taken shape, and in the next decade, there will probably be more tools and ways to collect and use data. Will museums use data to inform their next exhibition?

The ‘museum visit’ is changing

Digital visitors is going to be one of those metrics museums will need to start taking more seriously as the world shrinks. It is imperative that museums create enough offerings for their digital visitors too! Amidst these offerings, it’s perhaps best to keep in mind different languages as well.

If you’re a museum professional reading this, you have probably already covered “the changing landscape” at different conferences. The big question is:

So what can museums do to keep up?

Over the past two decades, museums have undertaken research, workshops, social experiments and more to be able to respond to the changes around them. The last decade however, has been much more fast-paced; the next one too is undoubtedly going to be faster in terms of change. Responding to these changes will have to be more than just hiring more people or more tech. Rather, museums will need to change how they work, who they work with, and what constitutes their own idea of a “museum”. 

Moving on into 2020 and beyond, what will the Museum of the future look like?

Probably like the Kalpavriksha / Tree of Life : adaptable to it’s environment; offering rich and valuable resources to everyone; abundant social impact potential; and well, who doesn’t acknowledge those wish fulfilling community vibes!

1. Develop internal capacity

Museums have grown slowly to work with agencies and external partners. But as stated earlier, this is going to be the age of consolidation. Museums will need to work with better co-operation, treating external agencies more as “in-house” teams. Now the stumbling block we usually hit at this point is : “budgets”. Most museums find themselves pressed for hiring more resources, let alone agencies. That said, a more mainstream, management focused approach is necessary for cultural institutions – invest in the right talent, develop existing employees’ skills, set clear performance-indicators and you’d be surprised how revenues can soar!

2. Be the Network

Are museums going to simply waiting for visitors to come discover them? Are they happy with being “an unforgettable experience?” Museums want audiences flocking in, but what is the value offered?

Moving beyond 2020, museums must become the ideal partners – not just for educational institutions or tour providers but explore meaningful partnerships to convert their audiences into “communities”. This could mean stronger / deeper engagement with media partners, creators, scholars, brands, other venues, governmental institutions, activists or even Netflix! Museums need to now become “advocates” and not “keepers / owners” of cultural heritage. Museums must foster civic engagement & a culture of dialogue (including with other museums) with the times they function in – and strive to build networks!

3. Inclusivity, Relevance & being Open.

Inclusivity has been a hot word, but moving into 2020, this would mean that diversity must be reflected in the works that museums display, collect & in the people they work with and reach. Museums when aiming to engage with communities must also think about the “trust” factor being the core of any relationship building. Being transparent and open will become the need of the hour – give access to collections / reserve collections (online atleast!); to behind-the-scenes; to opportunities for work or volunteering in the museum!

4. Creative Economy

In the next decade, generation of knowledge through creative innovation will be foremost – and that’s a huge opportunity for museums. Whether it is the EU or US / UK – institutions around the world are acknowledging the importance of the culture and creative sector as employers & wealth generators. Can museums enable creative innovation? Yes, absolutely! A project like CodingDaVinci can do wonders : but that would need opening up museum collections, supporting technology and developing a mindset that requires museums to rethink revenue models, budgets and basically just embrace their environment.

The Museum in 2030

Photo : SmART Wall at the Museum Barberini, Potsdam Germany

Three days into 2020, it is difficult to see what a museum in 2030 might look like. What we can be certain about is that technology will have a bigger role to play, the rules of audience engagement will undergo a change and museums will need to bare their souls open and thrive on what they’re best at : providing knowledge.

But as Mahatma Gandhi once said, “the future depends on what you do today” – so here’s hoping that museums take that first step: develop internal capacity. Look around – your partners might be right in front of you!

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Medhavi Gandhi
Medhavi Gandhi
Passionate about public access and engagement with cultural heritage. Always looking to learn and collaborate; firm believer in the power of the internet. Digging stories rooted in culture.

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