Preserving culture in the digital era

  • Opening up cultural heritage items for public use is an important first step
  • Digitising cultural items will inspire people and increase traffic to the physical sites

Preserving culture in the digital era


DIGITAL transformation is not only forcing businesses to adapt and change their old-fashioned practices, it is also forcing cultural institutions all over the world to reinvent themselves, and the role they are playing in preserving culture.

The idea is simple: bringing art, literature, and cultural experiences straight to the audiences’ hand, through their tablets, personal computers, and even smartphones.

Speaking at the World Culture Forum (WCF) 2016 in Bali, on Oct 12, Europeana executive director, Jill Cousins said that promoting our cultural heritage in the digital world is both a moral obligation and an economic necessity.

Europeana is a digital platform for the digitised cultural heritage of the European Union (EU). It aggregates heritage content and makes it available to the public.

“The opportunity that the digital world gives us to share and understand our cultural heritage is enormous, but if we can share that culture in an open way then the possibilities becomes infinite.

“If you look at it from an economic perspective, opening up a culture can give people a chance to build new innovations and applications on top of it,” she said.

Cousins highlighted that digitalising culture needs to start from making it available in the digital format and attributing a license to every digital piece of art and literature that can be used by the public.

Europeana has more than 50 million digital items available for free from 36 countries and 3,500 contributing cultural institutions.

All the digital items on Europeana’s platform are not stored on Europeana’s back end system or a central storage facility, but remain with the cultural institutions and is hosted on their network.

“We want to ensure that students, researchers, and the general public have access to the material and can use it for a good purpose. These people will help spread the culture even wider, and hopefully inspire others to visit and experience it for themselves,” Cousins added.

Google Cultural Institute’s head of operations Luisella Mazza affirmed that the use of technology will not eliminate the physical role of museums and other cultural institutes, but enhance their ability to reach a wider audience.

She added that technology should break physical barriers and deliver the experience to whole new audiences. This will hopefully further encourage them to visit the physical site.

“The rule is simple; ask yourself these questions: How do you break the physical barriers and bring the museum or arts experience to people all around the world without them being in the same place.

“Now when that question is answered, the next thing you should ask is, how to make the virtual experience immersive and engaging so it creates stickiness and will have an impact on the audience?” she said.

Set up back in 2012 as part of the Google Arts and Culture project, Google Cultural Institute now has 1,200 cultural institution partners in 70 countries. They have more than six million images, 1,000 museum view tours, 2,000 digital exhibitions and attract 50 million users per year.

Participation is essential
People today have great control over the type of content they want to consume and even culture has to compete with other content from all over the world.

The key to winning the digital generation's attention is to get them to participate, explained Shinta Dhanuwardoyo, WCF steering committee, and chief executive officer of digital agency

“The quest is to make cultural heritage relevant in the digital era. When we talk about getting the content on the internet, we talk about how the content should be appealing and engaging. We also need to make sure we invite participation,” she told Digital News Asia (DNA).

Shinta added that the key is to always pay attention to trends as promotions via advertising will not work anymore. Brands are moving towards key influencers and people with tonnes of social network followers, to give voice to products or services.

“Cultural heritage is perceived as old and not cool. If you want to win now, think about it as a brand. Get people, especially youngsters, to participate. Converge culture with current trends,” she added.

Europeana’s Cousins echoes Shinta’s view, saying that public participation is not only needed for the purpose of promotion, but also to contribute towards preserving our cultural heritage.

She gave an example of Europeana’s 1914-1918 project on World War I, where the team asked people all over the Europe to bring memorabilia, letters, and photos to the Europeana Collection Day.

Europeana then digitised all the items on the spot, and showcased them on a platform, combined with items from cultural institutions.

“Participation and engagement is the key to push the digital culture agenda to work. It is powerful and brings life to the culture through stories and sharing,” Cousins concluded.

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Retaining millennials: It is about tech and culture, not money
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