Three Reflections from Vastari's Fifth New Year
As we start the new year, it’s an interesting exercise to think what has changed in half a decade since Vastari’s inception.
Though our job as the Sherlock Holmes of the museum and collection world is not getting easier, there are definitely some things going on to make technology and the art world intersect more easily.
Touring Exhibitions: A Business Model With A Lot More To Give
The idea of touring an exhibition, to both share its costs and raise its exposure, harks back many decades. A museum organises a show and rents it to various more venues to recoup costs, or partners with other venues to share the up-front costs. There has always been a big divide between those who tour blockbuster exhibitions, hoping to bring in the largest number of attendees at each venue and thus charging an immense up-front collaboration fee, and the smaller touring exhibitions focussing on academic exchange and cost-saving instead of revenue generation.
In the last 5 years, as shipping becomes more affordable, insurance rates have dropped, and international networks improve, the business model of touring exhibitions is going through a boom beyond the blockbuster or the academic. Looking at 2012 vs 2017, almost every show goes on tour; it is more surprising to find that a museum exhibition shown at only one location, rather than the other way around. Even the exhibitions that don’t focus on blockbuster names are able to find the partners and the funding to go on tour.
But there still are some things holding back collaborations: transparency on venue reputations and standards, clarity on the business models institutions employ to collaborate with each other, and the under-penetrated market of private/public partnerships, to name a few. To attract funding from emerging markets or to partner with new venues, the industry as a whole needs to provide more clarity on the budgets for these exhibitions and the logistical requirements of putting them on. Particularly, venues that are new to hosting shows can benefit from accessing this information, but even established venues are finding more information about travelling exhibitions helpful in establishing new partnerships. When it comes to public/private partnerships, more clarity on objectives beyond solely the financial, better capacity to find mutual interests, and more effective methods of measuring an exhibition’s impact can increase the instances and the quality of collaborations.
With Vastari, we would like to push this further this coming year and feel inspired that the market is also looking in this direction compared to 5 years ago. Our system’s data and analytics provides members with more transparency on travelling exhibitions, so that more venues can get involved in touring their shows, or hosting one that tours. We have found in our research that most museums would like to both host a touring show and tour their own - there are very few that solely do one or the other.
The Cloud Isn’t As Scary Anymore - But Public Perception is Still Being Toyed With
In 2012, a great number of people were still afraid of online banking. The “cloud” seemed like a scary dispersion of particles outside of our control. Transitional systems for hosting, including Virtual Machines set within a cloud network, held and protected within barracks, were built. Vastari used these virtual machines for the first 2 years.
Then, a mentality shift happened. The world realised that everything can be hacked, so you better encrypt and distribute your information over as many locations as possible, to ensure that the information may be hackable, but incomprehensible.
An article in July 2016 of this year once again proves that the real fear should be of on-site hosting, rather than the cloud. As mentioned in the article, “On-premises systems – not cloud-based workloads – have been the favorite target of hackers in the last several years.”
There are of course still worries about how to standardise the cloud and it can be difficult to build legal jargon around data in the cloud, which is a hindrance for large enterprises. But as long as your company is hosted with one of the leading providers such as Microsoft Azure or Amazon Web Services, and builds robust applications with monitored log-ins, the initial worries that came from this immensely scalable new form of technology have been disproven. I feel that apprehension of the cloud can often hark back to a fear of the unknown. An online article from 2013 continued with this image, saying that what you don’t know is scary: “The biggest risk when it comes to cloud computing is that you never know what is up ahead”.
Funnily enough, this is actually the benefit of cloud technology. Hacking an old system that isn’t upgraded or improved over time is much easier than the ever-changing cloud platform.
Though the art world is avant-garde in its understanding of aesthetics and abstract concepts, it is not ahead of the curve when it comes to technology. Convincing collectors, museums, corporates and even private companies that their information is safe in the cloud is still a struggle. But I’m looking forward to 2017 more than 2012, as public opinion has started to shift particularly thanks to the mass adoption of online banking and cloud storage for business.
On our side, at Vastari, we are improving our log-in servers, object information storage and user databases in Q1 this year, which will help us continue to provide an optimum service to our clients, and we are very pleased to have immense support from the team at Microsoft to build these.
Transparency in the Art & Museum World: The Inevitable Reality
Robert Hiscox has been quoted what feels like thousands of times for calling the art world the “Wild West” and likening it to the insurance industry 20 years ago. Like other industries including banking, insurance and trading, the art business will need to provide more transparency, not less, in the 21st century to survive as a trusted asset for investment. The more opaque the market becomes, the more chance that value can be wiped out by changes in legislation, crackdowns on illicit funds or swings of the political pendulum.
Melanie Gerlis of the FT/Art Newspaper understandably displayed apprehension about the speed at which the industry would adopt transparency within the art world in this year’s Apollo Magazine predictions for the year ahead.
But, it has been proven within other industries that establishing standards, providing transparency, and improving communications can help the market as a whole expand in value propositions and possibilities.
Given the important legal cases of the past few years, particularly on fraud and restitution, it is clear that the cultural sector (both museums and the private sector) would benefit greatly from better techniques for identifying and verifying information about the assets they are working with. Technology provides a fantastic forum for this, and the advent of blockchain also promises many great solutions. I predict that in 2017, companies working on transparent, reliable data will flourish, and that includes the amazing open data and resources being developed by non-profits such as the Getty, Europeana, Art UK, UKRG, the Collections Trust and even IADAA. These resources have been in the making since well before 2012, but their lobbying, hard work and commitment to reliable data are paving the way to a much stronger cultural sector.
The Next 5 Years
All in all, this is an exciting time to be working in the cultural sector. The art and museum worlds are learning to embrace new business models, embrace the versatility and security of cloud systems, and work together for a more transparent sector. I look forward to writing reflections in January 2022(!), about how much the museum and art sectors have grown and I do strive every day for Vastari to continue to have an active role in these shifts.