When Theresa Regli first entered the content management space, the internet was barely a thing. It was the late 1990s and the idea of digital platforms, much less digital content, had only just been seeded. Nonetheless, Regli carved for herself a niche in the media sector, gaining the kind of expertise that in more recent years, she’s applied to her work in digital asset management (DAM) with some of her choice clients, cultural organizations. “I wanted to help artistic institutions adopt this technology,” she tells Jing Culture & Commerce. “That was a deliberate choice on my part: to support museums and everything they do with digital asset management.”
And Regli’s support should mean much for the cultural industry. As a DAM veteran, she’s consulted for a breadth of businesses and penned the essential 2016 handbook, Digital and Marketing Asset Management: The Real Story about DAM Technology & Practice. Her work with cultural clients such as the UK-based Art Fund doesn’t just involve assessing their digital maturity, but helping to develop strategies to achieve digital goals.
To coincide with the annual DAM and Museums 2022 by Henry Stewart Events, Regli will be hosting a pre-event seminar on January 27 that dives deep into how DAM systems can support art and cultural missions. At the conference itself, speakers from cultural venues not limited to the Universal Hip Hop Museum, the Rijksmuseum, Canada’s Museums of Science and Innovation, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art will be tackling DAM-related topics from metadata to machine learning. Her participation follows up on her support of last year’s edition, of which, she notes, “It was very global, which I thought was fantastic.”
Ahead of her appearance at DAM and Museums 2022, we tapped Regli for her insights into how museums, backed by renewed digital imperatives post-lockdowns, are approaching their digital assets today.
What were some key learnings for you from last year’s DAM and Museums?
In terms of the content, what was especially interesting to me was how the pandemic accelerated museums’ desire to put things online because they wanted people to be able to experience the arts in a virtual environment. I had the same experience with the musical organizations I worked with — building virtual concert halls and online concerts. That was what struck me the most, just how passionate people were about that [digital pivot] and how much the pandemic accelerated getting things online.
But while the pandemic has accelerated digital transformations, it’s also exerted financial pressure on cultural institutions. How has this economic crunch affected museums’ digital momentum?
So I’ve seen a few things. One is that, fortunately, there are many technology companies that are willing to charge cultural institutions less for their solutions, which is helpful especially during the pandemic. I have also found — and this was the case with one of my one of my cultural institution clients — that museums have targeted specific donors to fund the technology. So rather than try to take it out of their budgets, they look to their wealthiest donors to buy an investment in technology. I have found that in some cases, that actually has more success than trying to find money in an existing budget.
But then, I would also say that I’ve seen an increase in hiring within museums of digital asset professionals, especially younger people who are just getting experience in DAMs. And I think it’s a really good opportunity for them to really grow their career because they have to own a system and they have to really get going with it.
And how have museums been monetizing or deriving value from their digital assets?
There’s been a number of things. First of all, museums are using their digital assets to drive more people into museums. They’re doing marketing. DAMs are also helping from a curatorial standpoint. A curator, for example, has that visual access to the assets — it’s a much more immersive experience — and they can create a collection from a particular era or of a particular artist. They can get ideas for not just the next exhibition, but even what they can create in the museum shop after the exhibition. DAMs give them more of a platform to be able to plan and be creative.
In the past two years, have you noticed museums that have been innovative with the creation or use of digital content?
Last year at DAM and Museums, there was a speaker, Giovanni Benigni, from the Vatican Museums who showed how they brought their whole collection online and for one of the biggest, vastest museums in the world, they’ve done an amazing job. There’s the Humboldt Forum in Berlin, which has done an incredible job opening their doors digitally and physically. I’ve also just looked at M+’s online catalog and it’s just impressive how they’ve done things digitally. Their online design really reflects the modern architecture of the building, and it’s a really great parallel of online and offline experience.
What makes an online catalog impressive to you?
You want to experience it in a large, high-resolution format as much as possible. Just like if you’re streaming Netflix, you want to make sure that images are not going to get grainy when you enlarge them on a big screen. That’s one of the principles of digital asset management — that capability for high resolution is important. And also, just having the data about the art accessible. If I’m looking through a collection, I want to be able to see who’s the artist, where the work comes from, when was it created, or is it going to go on tour. It’s not just about the object now; it might be about where it’s going to go.
In your view, for smaller organizations hoping to boost their digital infrastructure, what should be some of their key considerations?
If you don’t have a budget for it, open source. There’s a lot of free, open source software that’s accessible and many of the institutions that I’ve worked with turn to open source because they don’t have the budget for a DAM. I also think it’s important to communicate internally about the importance of digital infrastructure — what it can help the museum achieve and what’s the return on the investment. For smaller museums, it’s really important to make the case to say, “We could probably get more donations or we could get more people through the door if we use our DAM for marketing,” rather than just framing the DAM as a place to put all of your images.