Taking Advantage Of Emerging Technologies To Reap The Economic Benefits Of Digitisation And Gain Real-Time Insight Into Museum Audiences

Lead Research Organisation: University College London
Department Name: Information Studies

Abstract

It is estimated that Britain's culture and heritage attracts £4.5 billion worth of spending by visitors every year, supporting more than 100,000 jobs across Britain. However, in recent years museums and cultural heritage institutions in the UK have been facing increasing financial challenges due to budget cuts. This project investigates ways emerging technologies can be utilised to enable British museums and galleries generate revenue from their digitised collections, whilst gaining a better understanding of their audiences in real-time. Efforts to generate revenue from digitised collections has so far been limited to image licensing operations, an approach that is increasingly being challenged for its effectiveness and profitability. Additionally, although the importance of understanding museum visitor behaviour is undisputable with researchers and museum professionals studying museum visitor behaviour for more than a century, little has been done to take advantage of recent technological advancements to provide museums with a real-time insight into the visitor behaviour of their audiences.

Building upon our previous research and work (i.e. "Reaping the Benefits of Digitisation: Exploring Revenue Generation from Digitised Collections through Technological Innovation" by Valeonti et al. 2018) in this project we collaborate with a major British museum, i.e. the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge, to develop and evaluate in a three controlled experiments two software applications: IMS 2.0 and the Museum Dashboard. The first application enables museum visitors to design and purchase highly customisable merchandise with their favourite artworks. The latter application utilises the data gathered by IMS 2.0 to enable museum staff and exhibition designers to produce custom reports on visitor behaviour in their museum in real-time.

The project is aimed at serving museums and galleries with digitised collections. It will engage key figures in digital humanities and Britain's cultural sector, as well as professionals from museums and galleries of all sizes. Its emphasis on sustainability (cost-consciousness of technological solutions and low maintenance costs) aims at maximising the project's impact, supporting and helping museums of smaller sizes to reap the benefits of digitisation. To disseminate the project's research and work, a series of journal articles and conference papers will be produced, and a full-day event will be organised at UCL in London to share key findings and demonstrate the applications developed to museum delegates. Britain is one of the three leading countries in culture globally and this project has the potential to provide a vital and timely intervention for the international community as they face similar challenges. The project will contribute not only towards the financial independence of museums and galleries with digitised collections and towards a better understanding of museum audiences, but more importantly to international debates on the future of museums in the digital age.

Planned Impact

The primary impact of this project is the economic impact for the British culture and heritage sector. It is estimated that Britain's culture and heritage attracts £4.5 billion worth of spending by visitors every year, supporting more than 100,000 jobs across Britain. The project's main beneficiaries are museums and galleries with digitised collections, as the project makes a sizeable contribution towards their financial independence. In addition it contributes towards a better understanding of their audiences, enabling them to make more informed decisions regarding exhibition design.

With regards to museum funding, this project introduces a novel solution for museums to generate revenue from their digitised collections. Through the mobile application IMS 2.0, the project allows museum visitors to design and purchase highly customisable merchandise featuring their favourite exhibits providing museums with an additional stream of revenue. More importantly, IMS 2.0 has been designed in a sustainable manner, as it does not require any investment in hardware such as multi-touch screens and custom mobile devices for visitors, or upfront purchase of stock products. As a result, IMS 2.0 has been designed for maximum impact in a way to assists museums of all sizes to benefit from their digitised collections.

The Museum Dashboard, i.e. the application that enables museum staff to generate custom real-time reports on museum visitor behaviour, is also of great benefit for museums and galleries, as it allows them to gain real-time insight into their audiences. An improved understanding of visitor audiences helps museums take more informed decisions with regards to exhibition design. Similar to IMS 2.0, the Museum Dashboard has been designed with an emphasis on sustainability. As a result, exhibition designers and curators will be able to view historic reports and assess how various formats of exhibition design performed with their visitors over time.
 
Description CONTEXT:

The emergence of NFTs in 2021 vastly disrupted the award's field of research (monetisation of museum images with bleeding-edge technology to address the ever-increasing financial challenges of the cultural heritage sector). As early as April 2021 museums had started raising substantial amounts of money, in the scale of hundreds of thousands of US dollars, by selling NFTs featuring their images.

In agreement with the AHRC, given my background in Computer Science (BSc), I shifted the focus of my research towards studying NFTs as a new medium for fundraising for museums and galleries.

KEY FINDINGS:

The award's key findings are part of the 12,000-word-long journal article "Crypto Collectibles, Museum Funding and OpenGLAM: Challenges, Opportunities and the Potential of Non-Fungible Tokens (NFTs)" (Valeonti et al. 2021). A selection of the journal article's findings:
1) That NFTs provide a promising, new medium for the monetisation of museum images, which was previously limited only to image licensing and merchandising. However, as a nascent technology they are plagued by risks and unknowns that museums should consider before leveraging this new technology.
2) Scoping how art copyright is dealt in relation to NFTs; ways it is protected by current legislations and the lack of clarity in current practices and leading NFT platforms (e.g. the Terms and Conditions of leading NFT marketplaces).
3) Covering potential future business models of NFTs (i.e. future revenue streams museums may be giving up by selling their NFTs) such as loaning NFTs for exhibitions in metaverse worlds.
4) How the decentralised and transparent NFT market, mirrors the top-heavy ("winner takes all") traditional and opaque art-world, where the top 1% of artists and accounts for 50% of total sales.
Exploitation Route With more than 6,000 downloads in 4 months (link provided in the URL field), the journal article is considered the seminal paper on NFTs and museums and (to the best of my knowledge) the first systematic, cross-disciplinary study on NFTs, examining this new medium under various different prisms including environmental considerations, art copyright, technical challenges and limitations, the artworld perspective and future business models.

This journal article serves as a guide for museums and cultural institutions seeking to embrace NFTs, understanding the technology, the benefits, as well as the risks and the limitations.
Sectors Creative Economy,Digital/Communication/Information Technologies (including Software),Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections

URL https://www.mdpi.com/2076-3417/11/21/9931
 
Description The project led to the establishment of USEUM Collectibles (https://collectibles.useum.org) -Part of USEUM LTD which was first founded in 2012 for my PhD project- where we advise museums and other cultural institutions to understand, navigate and leverage blockchain technology NFTs in their daily practice. Although no Policy impacts have been made yet (The report is due to be published later in 2022) my contribution as the lead author of the section "NFTs, Culture, and Cultural Heritage" to the report commissioned by the Scottish Government (detailed in Policy outputs) is expected to make Policy interventions in the field of monetisation of museum images with emerging technologies, to address the sector's ever-increasing financial challenges.
Sector Digital/Communication/Information Technologies (including Software),Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections
Impact Types Economic,Policy & public services

 
Description Contributed the section "NFTs, Culture, and Cultural Heritage" as an external contributor to a report on Digital Ethics commissioned by the Scottish Government
Geographic Reach National 
Policy Influence Type Participation in a national consultation
 
Description Knowledge Exchange and Innovation Fund
Amount £30,000 (GBP)
Funding ID 156780 
Organisation Higher Education Innovation Funding (HEIF) 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 02/2021 
End 01/2022
 
Description The Fitzwilliam Museum 
Organisation University of Cambridge
Department The Fitzwilliam Museum
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution Our contributions to the partnership with the Fitzwilliam Museum, i.e the Project Partner of the award, are numerous. Firstly, I have presented and made the museum aware of the breadth of possibilities emerging technologies can present for revenue generation. Secondly, I designed and implemented the digital outputs of the project, so that they best meet the Fitzwilliam Museum's needs, providing its staff with insights relating to museum visitor behaviour. Finally, the award contributes to the museum's research outputs, promoting its presence in the academic community, exploring key subjects of museum studies, such as revenue generation and museum visitor behaviour.
Collaborator Contribution As the project partner in this award, the Fitzwilliam Museum is making a series of contributions. Firstly, they provided insight and continuous feedback to the product design of the digital outputs, so that the research project best meets the needs of museums and galleries. More importantly, they are the host of all of the project's experiments, which have been deferred to June due to the pandemic, allowing for the evaluation of the digital outputs in a real-world environment.
Impact 1) Developed my leadership skills by leading a research project that involves a well-established museum, working with all stakeholders, managing their demands and expectations. 2) Gained experience in Knowledge Exchange projects, where the industry partner informs the research and us, the academics, inform their practice. 3) Widened my network by working with museum professionals from the museum sector. 4) Gained valuable insight on how museums of that scale operate internally.
Start Year 2019
 
Title Infinite Museum Store: A Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) Platform for Museums to Generate Revenue from their Digitised Collections 
Description The Infinite Museum Store (IMS) is a SaaS platform enabling museums to generate an additional source of revenue from their digitised collections. It builds upon and significantly improves prior research and work of the PI. The platform is comprised by the following: 1) On the front-end: Progressive Web App (PWA) with Image Recognition enabling the visitors of a museum to capture, recognise and create personalised products with the museum's artworks. Products include prints, framed prints and merchandise items. 2) On the back-end: Series of services that perform all necessary activities for the front-end app to perform optimally, including artwork recognition and product design on-runtime. 3) Database: Database of artwork images and meta-data including also image features (i.e. information that is used for image recognition). 
Type Of Technology e-Business Platform 
Year Produced 2020 
Impact With the fellowship project due for completion in September and the experiments moved to June, IMS is still under development. The main impact IMS is seeking to make is to help museums and galleries in the UK address one of their greatest challenges, i.e. to sustain funding. IMS utilises emerging technologies to open up new revenue streams for museums through the sale of personalised, on-demand merchandising that allows them to capture a share of the 25 Billion art merchandise market (Bradshaw 2011). An indication of its potential impact is that the project has attracted interest during the COVID-19 pandemic (despite being in its current format an application designed for museum visitors on-site), earning: (a) a new industry and a new museum partner for the AHRC Fellowship Extension project, which aims to adapt the platform to the post-COVID-19 era (b) a HEIF grant award to help museums benefit through the platform. References: Bradshaw, T. (2011) Internet start-up draws in art world. Financial Times. https://www.ft.com/content/8ee39248-b485-11e0-a21d-00144feabdc0 
 
Company Name USEUM LTD 
Description USEUM COLLECTIBLES - collectibles.useum.org (Established 2021) Launched in December with funding from Research England's Higher Education Innovation Fund, USEUM Collectibles (collectibles.useum.org) is a research-driven consultancy that helps cultural organisations understand, navigate and develop projects leveraging blockchain technology and NFTs to generate new streams of revenue. Following the advice of UCL Business (UCLB), USEUM Collectibles was launched as part of USEUM LTD, which is an existing spin-out company of UCL, and a company that was founded for my PhD project USEUM.org in 2012 and is still live. About USEUM LTD - useum.org (Established 2012) A platform that democratises access to art, USEUM.org begun as the practical component of my PhD project (awarded in 2018 at UCL CASA under the supervision of Prof. Andrew Hudson-Smith and Prof. Melissa Terras). Today, USEUM receives 200,000 monthly visitors offering educational content, as well as features such as free art e-cards and free artwork downloads, allowing anyone to download 23,000 copyright-vetted, high-quality images of paintings, including famous works by artists such as Van Gogh, El Greco, Modigliani and others for free and unrestricted reuse. 
Year Established 2012 
Impact CONFIDENTIAL: USEUM Collectibles' clients include a major London-based museum, as well as the Los-Angeles-based cultural heritage NGO Arc/k Project, which holds significant 3D models based on photogrammetry, including the best 3D model available of Palmyra, before it was raided. USEUM Collectibles has also been featured on Yahoo!Finance as one of the platforms that change people's view of the NFT industry.
Website https://collectibles.useum.org
 
Description Presentation of my Research to University of Edinburgh's Centre for Data, Culture and Society 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Postgraduate students
Results and Impact I have been invited to present my research to University of Edinburgh's Centre for Data, Culture and Society.

The presentation is titled "NFTs and Museums: Current Uses and Debates" and it is expected to attract approximately 50-60 attendees primarily researchers and students.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2022
URL https://www.cdcs.ed.ac.uk/events/nfts-and-museums-current-uses-and-debates
 
Description Presented my research at "Blockchain in Business 2021" conference 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Industry/Business
Results and Impact I was invited to present my research at Blockchain in Business Conference, which was attended by approximately 100 delegates, including industry leaders and professionals from across Europe. My presentation was titled and "NFTs for the Arts and Culture" and presented key findings of my research, presented in the journal article (Valeonti et al. 2021).

One of the attendees was the Chairman of the European Blockchain Association (which is in collaboration with the European Commission) and following a conversation he then invited me to be part of EBA's NFT Working Group.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2021
URL https://hopin.com/events/blockchainconference-2021