Creating a robust digital presence and viral exhibitions, the likes of which COVID-19 has necessitated for institutions globally, is challenging enough for museums with long-established reputations. But Hong Kong’s M+ Museum is managing the feat a full year ahead of opening to the public.
Currently under construction in a cultural area being developed in West Kowloon, the contemporary art museum is aiming for a collection and experience in line with London’s Tate Modern or New York’s MoMA when it opens in late 2021. But since 2012, it has been engaging local audiences with a range of innovative programs. Doryun Chong, the museum’s Deputy Director and Chief Curator, discussed developing successful digital models and how M+ Museum has experienced 2020 at Christie’s Education Global Virtual Conference 2020.
Building Blocks of Digital Transformation
During the pandemic, established museums have typically approached digital technologies in a reactive way, says Chong, adapting existing programming to digital and using social media to amplify. Conversely, M+ Museum has been digital since the beginning and considers the two components simultaneously. “Digital at M+ is not something new,” says Doryun Chong. “It has actually been understood within M+ as a critical aspect of the institution building project.”
Evidence of this balanced approach can be found in the launch of immersive exhibitions and the ongoing storytelling platform, M+ Stories. In 2014, M+ Museum created Neon Signs, a public participatory art project that encouraged Hong Kong-ers to submit photos of the city’s iconic signage accompanied by personal stories. Submissions were then shared by M+ in an open source archive. Three years later, the museum launched M+ Stories, a portal for audiences — from the casual visitor to art historian — to browse the museum’s collection and content. To date, it has produced more than 200 digital posts and received in excess of 500,000 page views.
Merging Onsite and Online
The integration of digital programming and the eventual onsite experience has been natural for M+ Museum, says Chong. But for global museums previously reliant on in-house visitation, particularly from tourists, a mindset shift is required. “Online and onsite, virtual and physical, are no longer binary,” says Chong, “but, in fact, part of a close feedback loop that is happening in the museum world,”
The museum’s M+ Collections Beta strives to create this seamless connection. The museum’s online open access platform presents much of its twentieth and twenty-first-century collection; to date, it boasts 3,084 objects and 2,710 archival items.