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Art, Museums and Digital Cultures Cluster – Call for Papers

During the pandemic, museums have had to spend part of their budget and programme on digital production. 

Faced with an abrupt interruption in their activities and their central mission to mediate visitors and objects, museums were forced to adapt their annual programme by conceiving digital content in a challenging manner. 

This phenomenon revealed many shortcomings of Portuguese museums in meeting or diminishing a demand that did not exist, but also opened many avenues of exploration and action for these institutions, stimulating debates and prompting new practices and means of communication or exhibition.

Focusing on the opportunities and weaknesses that the digital realm offers to museums, art and heritage, the Art, Museums and Digital Cultures cluster establishes a formal and academic basis to reflect on these three major subjects and how they feed off each other in a deeply fruitful institutional debate for artists, curators, critics and historians.

It was with this purpose in mind that the cluster organized last 22 October the first webinar on these themes, organized by Helena Barranha and Joana Simões Henriques, and with the participation of Ana Carvalho, Emília Ferreira, Merete Sanderhoff, Rita Macedo, Enrique Salmoiraghi, José Ramón Alcalá, Luís Fernandes, Pablo Gobira and Elsa Garcia.

The webinar showed the need for investment in technological and digital resources by museums and their policies. These institutions also need to invest more in the production of digital works of art and curatorship. 

In the first part, the most important institutional problems in art museums were discussed, recalling – as Emília Ferreira stressed – that technical means and knowledge in digital skills are lacking, even when collections are already digitalised; the second part focused mainly on digital art, its historiography and its difficult and slow appearance in museums; and the digital curatorship of exhibitions, which obeys different spatial and temporal rules from physical ones. Digital art, as Enrique Salmoiraghi says, is subject to a complex multidimensionality that must be understood and explored to unlock the potential of these media and this art produced by algorithms, software, hardware, images, video and audio. 

As such, digital is an opportunity for museums and a change in access to art and knowledge. Technological development, as Merete Sanderhoff says, “has altered the focus of the museum and collections for the people” and has promoted democratization and participation of stakeholders, viewers, visitors. This is what museums and cultural institutions must now work on.

It was the first moment of introduction to the major issues that will soon occupy the cluster. It has become clear that a complex “digital transformation” is taking place, which will affect museums (in their different characteristics and fields of communication, education and content production) and the surrounding ecosystems. And all these yet-to-be-trailed paths need a critical framework to be worked out.

In this sense, the cluster has announced a Call for Papers, whose goal is to collect material capable of establishing these paths outlined by art, museums and digital cultures. Interested parties must submit their proposals by December 21, following the topics on the cluster’s website.

This Call for Papers precedes the first International Conference on Digital Art, Museums and Cultures, a collaboration between maat and the Institute of Art History, on 22 and 23 April 2021, with prior enrolment here. According to Helena Barranha, “the conference wants to discuss how museums, curators and artists are responding to the opportunities and risks of the so-called ‘digital transformation’ by recognizing the plurality of digital cultures” – an issue with different themes involving not only experts and scholars but also civil society and politics. 

To remember: the deadline for the Call for Papers is December 21 and the deadline for registration for the International Conference is April 5.

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