The Walker Art Center’s new web site has been attracting a fair bit of well-deserved attention. (See: Fresh and New(er)‘s interview with Walker staff, Museum Nerd, The Atlantic, Modern Art Notes, and Cabinet of Curiosities.)
I’m thrilled to see a museum taking this approach, namely, using its website as a hub for information about its subject, rather than just itself. Coming from the publishing world, I’m a little bit surprised that it’s so revolutionary. The potential for museums to be extraordinarily effective media entities is part of the reason I want to enter the field.
Perhaps contradictorily, I’m also surprised the Walker pulled it off. Not in the technical sense, but in the cultural one. I’m all too familiar with organizations that demand that all actions be justified by their direct impact on bottom-line figures. Sharing news from elsewhere doesn’t do so, at least not in a way that’s easy to quantify.
In the longer term, though, I think it will directly benefit the museum. Increasing a person’s knowledge about a subject tends to increase their passion for it. By providing a hub for art knowledge, the Walker may well be laying the groundwork for an army of supporters and advocates. A museum’s marketing and education efforts perhaps ought to have some degree of overlap.
Museum Nerd notes that the new website targets even people who, due to geography, will likely never visit the museum, and suggests that they may start donating to the museum as a result. Perhaps and hopefully; I don’t have enough of a sense of what drives donation decisions to have an informed opinion about that statement. But even if not, the Walker could also benefit if other museums follow its lead, as Minnesota residents see other museum’s sites and are inspired to visit their local institution. The rising tide lifting all boats, as it were.
An idle thought to conclude this post: Does that make the future of this concept collective action by similar museums that are geographically separated? That’s an idea with plenty of intrigue and plenty of potential pitfalls, and I think I’ll ponder it for a while before arguing one way or another.