Digital Creative Industries Networking project: Museums Hack Day and The Lightbox VR Project
Since 2013, the South East Museum Development Programme has been supporting collaboration between museums and the wider cultural sector. This project was designed to help museums to capitalise on the exciting burgeoning of the digital creative industries. This is one of the key areas of growth in the South East's economy, with many exciting businesses developing, as well as growing expertise in local universities.
The project was a partnership between Southampton Solent University, the South East Museum Development Programme, Digital South and Creative Network South.
What are the Project aims?
The aims of the Digital Creative Industries Networking project were:
To bring museums, digital and creative industries together to address common museum sector challenges
To come up with new solutions to these challenges
To identify a potential project to put these ideas into practice
To provide initial support to progress that project
How was the project delivered?
The project was delivered through several phases:
1. Cross sector consultation:
A cross sector working group was developed including museum, digital business and higher education representation. The working group then delivered a consultation event with representatives from all three sectors, recognising that the ‘ideal’ event might look very different depending on whether you were a museum curator, a technology entrepreneur or an academic researcher.
2. Museums Hack Day:
The fully booked 'main event' brought together 60 academics, digital SMEs and selected museums from across the South East for a day of networking and idea development. The museums had applied via a competitive process and the team looked for the most compelling challenges for digital creatives to get their teeth into, in the following areas:
- Giving a wider range of people access to collections and associated information
- Making the museum experience more interactive
- Providing effective and stimulating learning and discovery experiences
This opportunity was heavily oversubscribed and the following museums were selected:
- King John's House Museum and Heritage Centre
- The Lightbox Museum and Gallery
- Maidenhead Heritage Centre
- Mary Rose Museum
- Pendon Museum
- Southampton Arts and Heritage
At the event, each of the museums was teamed with digital designers, developers, technologists and academics. The teams were then asked to generate an idea for a fundraising campaign through use of digital technologies. The digital aspect of the event was incorporated to help transition museums into the digital age, with solutions helping bring their collections to life through increased visibility and by helping them access previously untapped audiences.
The ideas were then presented to and judged by an expert panel. Of the final five pitches, the Lightbox Museum took home the day’s prizes – including business planning support from the University and £2,000 seed funding to bring their idea to life. The Lightbox's proposal was to use the funding to develop an interactive digital project bringing their museum collections into the public realm and to help appeal to the younger generation.
3. The Lightbox's Virtual Reality experiment:
After the Museums Hack Day, the winning museum The Lightbox used the project investment to support its first foray into Virtual Reality with a ‘pop up’ event in the local shopping centre. They engaged a virtual/augmented reality development studio who used a special camera rig to capture footage in the museum. This was edited into a VR experience that was launched to the public in January 2018 via a ‘pop up’ event in Woking Shopping. Hundreds of people took part, including many in the target younger demographic with a high proportion of people who had not visited the museum in person.
What went well?
There was a fantastic response to the event, it gained widespread attention with significant input and commitment from an expanding range of collaborators, helping to widen the pool of digital creatives who heard about it and signed up. In parallel, nearly twice as many museums applying to take part as could be accommodated and the 'digital business' and 'academic' tickets sold out.
A high profile panel of expert judges agreed to take part which, together with clear criteria for the winning idea, added weight and validity to the process.
The teams that formed around each museum worked hard to come up with a viable project idea that would solve the museum's particular audience engagement challenge.
There was massive positive energy at the event and plenty of sharing via social media.
The winning museum The Lightbox used the investment pot to good effect, developing a real public-facing pilot event that attracted hundreds of people, many of whom had never visited The Lightbox in person, and many of whom were in the target demographic: younger audiences.
What didn't go well?
Some of the teams struggled to develop and agree a viable project in the timescale allowed by the competition. It was widely felt that having a facilitator at each table might have helped.
Not all of the contributors to the development of the winning idea went on to be involved in the final funded project.
Learning from the Museums Hack Day (both what worked and what didn't) has since informed the design of a successful Digital Ideas Lab delivered by Southampton City Art Gallery as part of a separate Arts Council England funded programme of work to engage younger audiences. As a result, several more museum-digital collaborative projects are now taking place.