works in museums. And institutions like the Langlois Foundation in Montreal are currently
developing common methodologies for the very long term maintenance of such works that
can overcome the obsolescence of their original materials." (Shaw, ZKM; DigiCULT
Interview, June 29, 2001)
The complexity of technology is also one reason, why traditional institutions have
trouble to fully take advantage of the possibilities new technologies promise. For example,
when establishing a web presence, museum managers prefer out-of-the-box solutions sold
by commercial companies at calculable costs than developing their own web site that would
best serve their needs. Lacking the competence to adequately assess new technologies, what
they might end up with are solutions that look like the future but that are not as good as it
should be."The territory of the new technologies is quite esoteric," says Jeffrey Shaw,"and
there is a lot of hype going on that takes advantage of people's lack of understanding.
Industry and even artists are offering things that are far less interesting than what they
purport to be". (Shaw, ZKM; DigiCULT Interview, June 29, 2001) The technological
challenges are too big, and the people who are working at it are not competent enough to
rise to the challenge.This is one reason, why traditional museums are not prepared to take
too big a risk with regard to new technologies and rather prefer to take little steps before
taking one big step towards innovation.
Another major obstacle that impedes on a broader use of new technologies in museums
is the price tag attached to it.While there is no questioning of the immense sums spent on
maintaining buildings or traditional art work, many institutions are extremely cost sensitive
and cost conscious when it comes to expenditures for new media."There are real costs
here," acknowledges Jeffrey Shaw, yet "one should not try to avoid those costs, otherwise
you cannot enjoy the real benefits of having such works in a museum." And he adds:"The
already demonstrated public interest and enjoyment of new media art works warrants this
investment. But in the same way that a good web site is always in a state of dynamic
renewal, engaging with media art is not a one-time investment. Rather it is a long-term
commitment to participate in an evolving and expanding territory of heterogeneous art
practices, where the `investor' should become a real partner in its processes of research,
creation, presentation and conservation." (Shaw, ZKM; DigiCULT Interview, June 29, 2001)
Yet, knowing that implementation of new technologies involves some risk, what can
other museums learn from the ZKM to make new technologies work for them?
ZKM as centre of excellence and intermediary
Although traditional cultural institutions most likely will not be able to duplicate the
ZKM-model within their organisations, there is, of course a lot to learn with regards to
how to best integrate new technologies into a cultural organisation and how to make them
work for oneself.
As centre of excellence and as intermediary who supports and helps other cultural
institutions, the ZKM, although still a young institution itself, has vast experience with new
technologies in different contexts. One area other institutions can learn from is how to use
new technologies to enhance on-site presentations and generate new experiences.Yet
another area where the ZKM can serve as an example of best practice is on how to create a
functional extension of the physical museum on the Internet.
In any case, the knowledge the ZKM can provide in these areas goes far beyond simply
digitising cultural objects, but is a far deeper understanding of how new technologies might
be used within the museum context, be it on-site or as virtual extension.