Money, money, money
Is it a rich GLAM's world?
Money Money Money - Is it a rich GLAM’s world?1
We work all night, we work all-day
To find the funds we need to find
- Ain't it sad?
And still, there never seems to be
a long-term plan or strategy.
- That's too bad!
In my nightmares, they talk about digital success
without including open access
- Ain’t that sad?
When we should focus on real change
alive longer than the deadlines’ range
Money, money, money
Must be funny
In a rich GLAM's world
Money, money, money
In a rich GLAM's world
All the things we could do
If we had a little money
It's a rich GLAM's world
It's a rich GLAM's world
*We’re still GLAM people and no professionals in rhyming. Sorry (as well for the catchy tune).
Is success in digital based on the sum of all funding a GLAM can acquire? No, it’s not. It’s much more about how GLAMs and their management prioritize the use of available funding and what goals they attribute to a project. Still, what kind of funding opportunities are available and especially which requirements come with an application are deeply shaping the GLAM sector in all its facets, from working conditions of GLAM workers to a lack of long-term planning and maintenance of digital projects. Let’s dig into funding in the digital GLAM sector and take a critical look at how money shapes GLAM’s activities.
In this issue, we will discuss the balance between open access and paid digital content, if NFT millions will save us all and how collaboration could be the key to some of the more pressing financial issues in the GLAM sector.
Let’s talk about… funding digital in GLAMs!
Larissa: As I was randomly listening to that ABBA song on the radio a couple of days ago, it inspired some thoughts about ongoing discussions in the GLAM sector. Listening to two women singing about the need for a wealthy man to save them out of a life of financial struggle inspired me to think about the structures of our (patriarchal, capitalist) societies that make women more likely to end up in dire financial situations - and what those same structures do to the NGO and GLAM sector.
Right now, institutions across the globe are facing difficult decisions because of the pandemic’s effects on their finances. From redundancies to selling parts of the collections, everything seems to be on the table for discussions. There are some that are coping better than others; some have the support of their communities, others are state-funded and comparably well-off.
Medhavi: In India, GLAMs aren’t so much of a ‘funding priority’ for many grant-making organizations. In this situation, many institutions rely on a traditional revenue stream - ticket sales, memberships, workshops, catalogs, museum-shop sales, etc. In the last couple of years, while the expenditure on staff for digital roles (notably social media) has increased, there is still no clear model to admire when it comes to digital revenue.
I am not a fan of paywall content or membership-based revenue models because I believe in India, we have a sizable population that still needs to be encouraged to visit museums in the first place. So what I really want to think about deeper is, how does digital broaden GLAMs’ scope for fundraising? How does it enable GLAMs to get creative with this aspect? Are GLAMs using digital channels and media to build invested communities who would support them in an online funding campaign, sign up for paid workshops or buy their merchandise?
For example, with Instagram Live-Donations becoming increasingly popular, and the platform’s feature of collecting funds; Twitter x Live Shopping, social media, could be an interesting space to explore.
Larissa: You’re making a great point there - who do we actually scare away with hiding digital content behind paywalls? There are existing audiences that are more than happy to pay for digital activities run by GLAMs, and that’s often those we already reach out to with existing programs. But might we be scaring away those who we are already struggling to meet?
Right now, one aspect in the global GLAM discussion strikes me: While some organizations seem to try and increase crowdfunding opportunities and community engagement (one amazing example is the Hunt Museum in Limerick, Ireland), others seem to embrace capitalist principles even more. One of those principles is creating or imposing scarcity on an actually unrestricted good to generate income, prominently seen in the NFT campaigns of some institutions (see more about NFTs in “The Written Word”). One observation here is that this is an opportunity that might only be open to those organizations that can capitalize on either their institutional brand or the reputation of artists in their collections.
Medhavi: When you say “imposing scarcity on an unrestricted good”, I cannot help but think of ‘The Little Prince’ and his encounter with the businessman. Allow me to share a picture of this exchange!
How we think of “ownership” might now be a bit more complicated (and maybe always has been) but I also wonder if this messed-up notion gives museums an opportunity to reimagine their ways of nurturing collaboration with creators (in raising funds, for example).
Larissa: Speaking of reimaging: I would also like to see grant-making and funding programs paying more attention to the requirements they define for the projects they fund. It should be obligatory for funding-receiving institutions (especially when those funds are paid for with taxpayers’ money) to publish works in the Public Domain as such after their digitization. Project applications should also have to include plans for long-term data management and the maintenance of the project’s results should be secured. Funding organizations have a responsibility as a lot of work within digital work in GLAMs is still organized as projects. This is still an incredibly crucial part to work on in the GLAM sector, to make digital activities less project-based. Allocating digitization and digital outreach in projects tends to make the horizon of strategic planning in these fields quite short - and as project members leave after a certain time, they take all skills developed with them. And as skilled staff is such a limited resource, that’s nothing most GLAMs can afford.
What do you think? How does your institution fund its digital activities and do you think that should change? How can we become more independent of project funding?
The Written Word
Amanda Mull: Celebrities and NFTs Are a Match Made in Hell. The Atlantic, 4 February 2022.
Larissa: Read this article and exchange “celebrities” with “GLAM” - it expresses precisely my feeling of discomfort when I read about cultural heritage and arts institutions announcing NFT campaigns.
Medhavi: For a moment, I want to look at Web3 and the world outside GLAMs. There is a rising interest from commercial brands and businesses (even towards raising funds for causes). Disney is hiring NFT experts for its Metaverse strategy, meanwhile, in India, the newspaper Hindustan Times has its own collection and the country’s latest budget even makes a provision for digital goods exchanges - all signs indicating that NFTs and Crypto are here to stay, but we don't know for how long just yet. How long will a majority of GLAMs resist?2 And what would that mean, to resist a trend that is relevant to your audience when it’s potentially contradicting the institution’s values and vision? My fear is that if this is the road audiences eventually choose to go down, GLAMs might miss an opportunity to craft a standard approach, ethic, or regulations - or even redefine it for the sector!
To avoid any confusion to readers, I want to clarify that I do not imagine GLAMs as “sellers” of NFTs. The NFT market too, I personally feel (based on my limited investigations) is more likely to favour individual artists instead of institutions. I am hopeful that emerging and new creators (including GIF makers) will be able to find support from GLAMs in promoting their art, or that GLAMs will find a new way to market their exhibitions by collaborating with their community.
Larissa: When we’re looking at the choices GLAMs make right now, we’re looking at the heart of the issue in my view: Do cultural heritage and arts institutions internally actually have the digital competence and skills to distinguish between a short-term trend (that might turn out to be a scam) and a long-term iteration of its digital activities?
As Amanda Mull in The Atlantic rightly explains, GLAMs with a certain brand value, quite similar to celebrities, do have a sum of cultural capital that they can use and transfer to economic value. That’s why they still can sell prints and postcards of the Van Gogh, Monet, and da Vinci works in their collections although those are in the Public Domain: Because the value of having it produced or branded by the institution equals the added value in the cultural capital of the visitor/buyer. It’s not per se problematic that GLAMs make money - it becomes problematic when they use their cultural capital to attribute value and significance of a trend that is or could turn out to be a scam. It indicates to their audience that a trend, in this case, NFTs, is trustworthy. And I actually doubt that most GLAMs with NFT campaigns actually can back this development wholeheartedly and with a profound knowledge of how those work and in which context they are being sold.
As with so many other things, Douglas McCarthy put the latest announcement of the Belvedere brilliantly into (an Open GLAM) perspective. We can as well recommend his piece in Apollo magazine on “Should museums be dabbling in NFTs?” from November 2021.
“Bias” is an exhibition by the Dublin Science Gallery and runs until February 28, 2022 (which is also when the gallery permanently shuts its doors). The exhibition is described as ‘an interactive, thought-provoking exploration of preferences, prejudices and digital equity’ and interrogates how human biases infiltrate AI-based technologies.
Medhavi: Every exhibit is mindblowing and I especially love the SKU Market. Today, we are increasingly invested in apps and algorithms that collect our data and monetize it. Yet, we don’t manage to find time to understand the nuances or repercussions. This is why galleries and museums hosting these ‘urgent conversations’ is crucial.
Larissa: In whatever way your institution wants to use its digitized items, the quality of the image is key for re-use, internally and externally. The question of technical requirements and standards came up in my day job at Sörmlands museum recently and I discussed different guidelines on Twitter and other social media channels during the last week. And as sharing is caring, here’s a list of the standards I found most useful. (Shout-out at this point to libraries and archives who are so much ahead of the museum sector when it comes to sharing their guidelines and standards.)
David Haskiya put it quite right in a comment to my search: “In the end, it’s a question of what you want to digitize and to what end? Generally speaking, the answer is always: Digitize in the best possible quality you can and need for the purpose in question. Furthermore, many organizations do not systematically manage images that were quickly produced for posting on social media or sent to an interested user. That's a mistake. There are so many documents or objects that have no image at all in the institution’s collection search, and it should be published there. It’s always better to have an image taken with a smartphone under simple conditions than none at all.”
(freely translated from Swedish)
So here’s my top 5:
This is an incredibly useful guide for smaller institutions, maybe working with volunteer-led digitization or organizations embarking on their first digitization project. It takes you from project planning to the selection of technical equipment and data management in a concise and focused way.
A similar resource, published more recently and hence a bit more adapted to technologies that have become more wide-spread and relevant in the past five years:
Culture24 & Arts Council England: How do I digitise? In: Digital Pathway – What does digitising collections include? (on the Internet Archive)
A well-designed guideline for digitizing collections of different types. To the point and adapted to a non-tech-savvy audience.
📝 These three guidelines are a great starting point if you actually want to dig deeper into the technical details of aspects like resolution, colour-depth and long-term archiving of digitized items. They were published by institutions that have a long record of research and experience in this field.
Federal Agencies Digital Guidelines Initiative (FADGI) (2016): Technical Guidelines for Digitizing Cultural Heritage Materials (on the Internet Archive).
This one is especially helpful as it provides simple tables for digitizing different collections or materials.
A great introduction to the topic as it comes with a longer introduction on the overall context of digitization and clearly defines different terms often used.
Thank you, dear readers, for spending your time with us. Our greatest hope for Dig It! is to spark some conversations and create connections within this field. So feel free to recommend this newsletter
or share your thoughts with us!
All the best,
🗓 10 February: Public Domain Day (Flemish Institute for Archives, Ghent University Library, the Royal Library of Belgium & Wikimedia Belgium)
An event on how organizations have made their collections openly available during 2021. Lots of inspiring examples included! Find the programme here.
🗓 14-24 March 2022: Wikidata Data Reuse Days 2022
Wikidata is a knowledge database for structured data, which means it is readable to machines (and humans). It is, among many other ways of using it, the central storage for all structured data in Wikipedia and Wikimedia Commons. During the Data Reuse Days, users and editors gather to discuss and work on the data and related projects.
🗓 20 February: Deadline for the Call for applications for the “Care in a World We Share with Others/Caring in a Precarious World” Residency 2022 at the Museo delle Civiltà
This residency is co-founded by the Creative Europe program and is addressing “activists, artists, researchers, or cultural actors and creatives similarly engaged in contemporary efforts and interested in museum collections as sources of inspiration”. The goal is to “explor[e] the connections between [the Museo delle Civiltà’s] ethnographic collections and questions regarding the climate crisis, the Anthropocene and issues related to the afterlives of colonialism”. Find out more here.
🗓 Until June: Creative Commons’ Open Culture Voices Series
Last week, Medhavi got to kick off Creative Commons’ new series “Open Culture VOICES”, a series of short interviews with experts from around the world. Check out the first two videos and stay tuned; they’ll publish two videos a week until June 2022. You’ll find some familiar faces in that list and get to know new colleagues.
Medhavi: If you want to dive deeper into the issue of GLAM’s dependency on audience trends: https://www.pepsico.com/news/press-release/pepsi-announces-first-ever-brand-nft-with-pepsi-mic-drop-collection12092021