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Arts & Culture's Digital Revolution
Arts and culture institutions are using powerful technologies like Drupal to revolutionize the way patrons consume art and interact with cultural institutions.

In spite of modern entertainment trends all pointing toward online media, in this digital age, museum attendance and engagement are booming. This is an encouraging thought for arts and culture institutions worldwide that are broadening their audiences and boosting engagement by improving digital access to their collections and programming.

According to the latest survey data in Canada, online visits to heritage institutions nationwide have grown by 52% since 2011, reaching 203 million clicks in 2015. Memberships and access to online exhibitions have soared as well, experiencing growth of 14% and 108% over the last five years, respectively.

From a technical perspective, these trends can be explained by digital improvements in accessibility, interactivity, information architecture, and visual design. These improvements have successfully created a richer user experience that supports existing members while attracting new visitors.

Improved Access to Information

As the web has matured, the standards for superior information architecture have risen dramatically. A strong digital presence requires simple navigation and the most essential information being no more than two clicks away at any time.

This can be a challenge for cultural institutions whose offerings are often wide and varied. The first step to improving access to information is understanding the target audience. From internal usage metrics to big-picture demographic shifts (most notably the maturing of a generation born in the digital age), institutions must understand the trends to provide a frictionless digital experience.

Beyond basic information about the institution and calls to action to drive visitor conversions, museums that intend on digitizing their collections face a unique challenge.

The growth potential is extraordinary and requires an ambitious, robust solution to handle such an enormous amount of data while presenting it in an inviting way.

When the Canadian Museum of Immigration at Pier 21 needed to integrate its vast collection of Canadian immigrant stories with its website, they required the expertise of an agency to take on the task.

Ottawa’s OPIN Software, the leader in enterprise Drupal services, produced a successful solution to enhance the digital experience for visitors, from providing website access to passenger lists to improving the search and catalogue functionality.

 

Using a robust platform like Drupal has its advantages for cataloguing content. Detailed taxonomy terms and advanced search capabilities ensure navigation is fluid and unswerving.

After OPIN’s solution was deployed, the museum experienced significant growth in repeat web visitors, contributing to increased physical attendance.

Bringing Artifacts to Life with Digital Storytelling

There is an ongoing effort by heritage institutions to digitize artifacts, bringing them to life for online visitors. This has proven invaluable as an educational resource as well as a means to encourage visitors to see the artifacts in person.

According to the latest research, Canadian heritage institutions converted over 16% of their physical artifacts and records to a digital format. Of these, only 10% is currently available to the public, leaving plenty of room for growth.

One notable example of an artifact brought to life through digital storytelling is Spain’s Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia’s use of the Drupal platform to tell the story of Pablo Picasso’s famous painting, Guernica.

 

The technology used for the project enabled users to interact with the piece in a way that was impossible before. From Gigapixel technology that allows the user to view the largest image of an artwork ever captured (in natural, ultraviolet, and infrared light), to a documentary archive that compiles over 2000 interrelated documents about the painting powered by Drupal’s advanced search and taxonomy features, storytelling has never been so immersive.

Of course, not everyone is able to go to Madrid to see Guernica. However, by immersing an online audience in the story behind the painting, the museum can unlock the potential of reaching a wider audience to sustain future growth and accomplish its mission.

OPIN’s work with Canada’s Museum of History is another example of technology being used to enhance storytelling. OPIN’s digital solution allowed the Museum of History to connect their vast physical collection with the vast amounts of corresponding data trapped in their decades-old storage system.

OPIN used Drupal 8 to extract the data, which was then leveraged to provide a variety of interactive content for the thousands of artifacts in the collection. This included virtual museum tours, interactive digital timelines within the museum, and other such displays.

Beautiful Web Design

It’s essential that the online offerings of an art or cultural institution mirror the high level of care dedicated to enhancing the appearance of the institution’s physical location.

Most of the time, a museum’s online presence is the first interaction a potential visitor will have with the institution. As the first touchpoint that a patron may have, it is paramount to evoke the same emotions in the digital visitor with beautiful web design as intended with the physical visitor in order to drive attendance.

Hiring a digital agency with world-class creative expertise like OPIN has proven indispensable to institutions around the world. Drupal, the platform OPIN specializes in, is built to support ambitious design visions across all devices.

For instance, a popular choice for arts and culture centres, Drupal’s Parallax background module offers a sleek way to display a website’s visuals in a fluid manner. Thousands of Drupal modules have been developed to suit the unique design needs of arts and culture institutions, from flexible and well-maintained theming, displaying large, stunning photography, to making design changes simpler for the internal team.

Enhancing In-Person Experience with Digital Resources

Many heritage institutions have acknowledged the benefits of harnessing technology, particularly smartphones, to improve visits to their physical locations. This has improved the interactivity of museum visits over the years, increasing attendance.

Digital calendars and maps of museums are increasingly popular, as finding artifacts in person is just as important as finding information online. Connecting digital resources to a physical visit is the ultimate immersive experience. As mentioned previously, there are over 2000 documents providing context to Pablo’s Guernica alone. Sometimes, people are hungrier for more than just a short blurb on a plaque.

Naturally, these aims are best accomplished using smartphones and tablets. Thus it is important for arts and culture institutions to opt for mobile-first digital solutions.

Drupal 8, developed as a  mobile-first platform, is the foremost technology for engaging physical visitors through digital means. Fully responsive on any device, it can support projects of any complexity and bring the most relevant information to the palm of your hand.

Accessibility Requirements

A key mission of museums worldwide is making learning accessible to all.

Naturally, this was a critical objective for the Canadian Museum of Human Rights when they sought to improve their existing Drupal site. To answer the call, Drupal specialists at OPIN developed a custom module to enhance the user experience for users with a variety of accessibility needs, including screen readers and visual aids. Known as the Fluidproject UI Options module, it gives users the ability to adjust font size, type, line height, contrast, and highlight dynamic elements such as links. This module is now available to users worldwide, helping deliver information to more people.

 

Additionally, OPIN ensured the museum’s language requirements were met, delivering a product that offers both French and English content using Drupal’s powerful multilingual functionality.

Museums and cultural institutions around the world can benefit from Drupal’s impressive accessibility offerings at a relatively low cost, to ensure no one is left out from their ambitious digital projects.




It is clear that even with an abundance of content available for consumption at all times on digital platforms, technology is no replacement for the desire for the in-person experience of engaging with cultural and artistic exhibits. Rather, technology enhances and facilitates these experiences via digital arts and culture platforms.

The growth potential through digital means is undeniable, so getting the fundamentals right is crucial. Museums and cultural centres across the world, from the National Baseball Hall of Fame to the September 11 Memorial and Museum have chosen Drupal as their platform of choice for their digital ambitions.

Drupal’s flexible and scalable functionality can support projects of any size and scope, and as an open source technology, it is a low-cost approach.

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Stephen has built a marketing career on his belief that even the most complex problems of the digital age should be resolved by starting from first principles, not chasing trends. This approach helps Stephen provide insights to our readers about the forces that are reshaping the digital landscape.