Blockchain + Museums — Story of Clashes or Lasting Love?
(This article was supposed to be published in 2019. But, strangely, it was still in my drafts folder 🤷🏻♀️ Its content is still so relevant that I found it good to publish, even a few years later.)
Lately, I organised two panels about blockchain and museums and I won’t say it was an easy task.
Last January, I organised the panel discussion “What Museum Ticketing Can Learn From the Blockchain Culture?” at Museum Connections in Paris, and last February, I organised the panel discussion “When Blockchain Meets Museums” at Factory Berlin with the Museum Think Tank Berlin.
Here are the different guests gathered during these events: Paul Stabe, MD, Head of Product Strategy from Artory, David Dehaeck, CEO and Co-founder from Wunder Art, Daria Suvorova, Legal and Blockchain Consultant, Blockbay GmbH, Bernadine Bröcker, Founder of Vastari, Patrick Tomelitsch, CEO of Oroundo, Alexander Debono, Senior Curator & MUŻA Project Lead, National Museum of Fine Arts and Alexandre Poltoratzsky from VivaTicket (you can find a short summary of the panel at Museum Connections here).
Almost one year after my article giving the state of blockchain and museums, I now wonder if we faced a two-world clash or love?
> How a centralised institution can start talking about decentralisation?
The end of the ‘Blockchain+Museums’ meetup in February highlighted the realities of museums today:
Blockchain is too far ahead from Museums.
Some museums are still working on the digitalisation of their collection, finding a framework to avoid data trash and create sustainable ways to open up their collections using APIs and open licences; But some others are actually still having a hard time making their hierarchy understand the digital transformation and the need of it. The chain of command is still quite heavy in most of the museums and the differences in mindset, culture and goals create group conflicts.
Blockchain gives the people a community-development based structure on which everyone can gravitate. But it is also a question of scale. The more people and content being on the Blockchain, the more the full potential of the Blockchain could be proven.
Blockchain finds its quality in the quantity. So without a great number of museums joining the movement with content and uses cases to disrupt the ticketing value, the patronage and ownership culture or the location-based museum experience, we won’t go very far.
Blockchain is definitely not on the museums’ menu right now, but its culture could be.
So, how the culture of Blockchain can inspire museums?
> Community and collaboration
Understanding the Blockchain philosophy means appreciating a society working on a collaborative model. Wikipedia has given us new ways of seeing content resources and references; Blockchain will give us frames for a society with more security, transparency and going away from ownership.
It is maybe my “museum-eye” that keeps changing my reality-perspective but when I read the words “community, safety, trustworthy, open”, I think about a museum before even thinking about the Blockchain, and I am not the only one.
Alexander Debono, former director of the MUZA, Malta’s national community art museum inaugurated in 2018, considers the mindset behind the Blockchain as a source of inspiration for its museum.
MUZA is a community museum based on participatory programmes and blockchain is all about giving freedom to the community. One of their last projects had a participatory approach to the collection where visitors could see the objects as a resource and not as a commodity to create a shared exhibition.
MUZA accepted to embody a polyphonic approach of the museum versus the traditional monolithic approach. Indeed, by giving power to people, the museum accepts that the role of the curator is changing. Indeed, an exhibition is not a question of authority anymore, it is about negotiating knowledge and listening to the desires of the visitors.
Museums are about people. Blockchain is by people.
But MUZA is not the only museums being allowing visitors to influence their programme of activities or exhibitions, people even wrote books about it. This is in the DNA of today’s museums to be able to listen carefully and to accept this permeability.
> Meaning, trust and new sources of revenues
Today, one of the best use cases of Blockchain for museums is the democratisation of art patronage. Projects like “my Tretyakov”, a blockchain-based art-patronage app by the Austrian company RIDDLE&CODE for the Tretyakov Gallery in Russia, offer visitors a safe and transparent way to make donations and become patrons of famous works of art.
The tokenisation of the museum ticket to attribute a specific use of each euro and, thus, turn the visitor into a micro-patron, is another way to democratise art patronage. If museums can guarantee where visitor’s money goes, more people will agree with the one-off small donations. Art patronage could start becoming a democratic action. By giving meaning to their visit and transforming it into an impactful action, visitors feel engaged and committed to something bigger.
Blockchain can affect the key business model of museum ticketing.
However, museums are still today these trustworthy places and, even if some people are still reluctant to give money without seeing exactly how it is being used, most of the visitors give to the museum without questioning it for decades. Good or bad, I am not here to judge, but the fact is that micro-patronage exists and works already in the museum industry via crowdfunding campaigns like the very successful ones by the Louvre Museum “Tous Mécènes” or by adding one euro to the museum ticket when buying it (the Rodin Museum got 30 000€ extra with its campaign “1 Euro For 1 Rodin” in 2014)
I see that micro-patronage via the Blockchain could bring more transparency and safety and this should be the logical future of museum ticketing, but for now, without a diversity of institutions doing it, people trust museums enough to donate anyway.
Also, the tokenisation of artworks can enable museums to start tracking a different kind of revenue via Blockchain (single ticket, services and products, patronage, local or international fundings) — no intermediary means more security, faster and more money / authenticity and transparency.
One thing that makes museums so valuable and precious through decades is the trust that people put into them. We go to museums because we trust the content because we trust someone that advised us to go because we trust the quality of art or experience that we will find there.
Will Blockchain be the next trustworthy source to go and appreciate museums? (riddle&code)
Blockchain is a network of trust at its core thanks to its system based on authenticity certificate and smart contracts.