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Minneapolis Institute of Art Journey into the Cloud Solutions

Paul Nilsen - Sep 13, 2018 6:48:15 AM

Cultural institutions around the world are looking for ways to update their collections for the digital age. Today’s patrons, trustees, and donors demand new digital experiences. Art museums are especially hit due to the nature of their very not-digital displays. They all need the benefits of digital technology to survive, ensure the democratization of culture, keep open spaces for dialogue, and to allow for the free exchange of ideas and knowledge. However, museum system software can challenge even the best of them. Despite the challenges, there are still good reasons why institutions such as the Minneapolis Institution of Art (MIA) are finding success with their digital initiatives.


Art Museum Management Software in the Cloud

Art museums deal with stiff competition. People have more entertainment and culture options than they did a decade ago. This urgency brought these museums a desire to become digitally proficient in order to survive and engage the people that walk through their door.

Customers want something to spark their interests but they cannot find that something with how traditional art museum exhibit software catalogs worked, despite the vast amount of information at their disposal. Because of this, they are not prepared to experience everything a museum has to offer because of the lack of time, will, or easy access to the art. To solve this problem, the curators at MIA decided to dive deep into the digital age with several different online museum exhibit software.


ARTSTOR Online Art Library

It all starts with a good website.

Getting visitors involved starts long before they walk through the doors. A museum’s website is the first thing people see. It is where they go to get information about the institution, its collection, exhibits, open hours, and events. Most museums do not need to do much to have a great website either. A simple site can do wonders while you plan out your other digital ventures.

Most institutions, including Minneapolis Art, do this by placing their collections online. Online art libraries allow customers to discover new artists and concepts they would never know otherwise. MIA did this by placing over 4500 pieces of their permanent collection in the ARTSTOR digital art library. A diverse cultures and media across history, this collection is only a small sample of the institute’s 89,000 works of art and objects, but it is enough to start people’s interest to the art.


Joining the ARTSTOR online museum exhibit software group also helped MIA keep their digital budget low while they promote the art. As a joint operation of several art institutes and the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, ARTSTOR works to educate the public while maintaining a vast encyclopedia for scholarly pursuits into the art. It also allows MIA and other art institutes to display art from around the world without having to physically move the fragile pieces.

Other museums simply upload essays and encyclopedia information on the various artists and pieces in their collection, essentially putting entire art history books in the palms of their customers.

Digital Transformation Involves the Entire Organization

While a good website is a great start, it will not bring your art museum into the digital era on its own. For that, you must convert your entire operation to digital organizations. However, for many institutions, this is not enough. Art museum digital transformation is more than just a department It is a complete paradigm shift in how to do business.

MIA tackled this obstacle by hosting an annual technology event they call the 3M Art and Technology Award. As a joint venture with 3M and the University of Minnesota, the three-year award allowed innovative thinkers to devise the methods and technologies for pushing the boundaries to change the way people experienced the museum.

The awards allowed MIA to overcome several digital transformation hurdles. Most organizational changes are riddled with seemingly contradictory strategic vision planning, funding, Human Resources issues, middle-management tensions, leadership preferences, and external consultant recommendations. MIA pushed through it by making it a game, putting their digital plans in front of their customers along with their staff to create a shared responsibility and culture change.



How Minneapolis Digitally Transformed Their Museum

Successful digital transformations require more than a simple promotional event. It can transform your entire museum experience for your visitors, staff, and presentations. Fortunately, developing a successful digital strategy is not difficult.

It just requires the following concepts:

  • Know the Visitor
  • Engage and educate
  • Know When to Not Digitalize
  • Reach Your Visitors
  • Capabilities and Execution

MIA’s digital transformation began in 2016 with the founding of their Digital Department, which brought in a few digital initiatives. They designed these initiatives around the above concepts, hoping to augment and personalize the experiences of their visitors in and outside the museum.



MIA Knows Its Visitors Through Its Website

You must understand who your visitors are and what they want to see to effectively engage with them. Minneapolis does this with a completely renovated website. Along with their partnership with ARTSTOR, MIA’s website offers a customizable, digital museum admissions software, called My MIA, which visitors can use to create personal profiles. These profiles provide visitor history, activity logs, and other content tailored to each visitor’s interests. The institute also has plans to expand the offerings over time such as museum news, member rewards, museum booking software with ticket discounts, and other opportunities, as more people use the service to engage with the museum.



MIA Engages and Educates Visitors with Mobile Apps

With the right tools, you can create personalized paths through your museum that identify the exhibits your visitors find interesting, establishing opportunities to engage and educate them. With the Journey mobile app, the Minneapolis Institute of Art engages its visitors with custom museum tour software that allows visitors to share their tours with their friends. Visitors create these tours by searching through the small museum collection software, identifying the works that interest them, and then saving them for later reference. They can also search themes based around a specific time period, artist, location, genre, medium, or subject. The museum virtual tour software app then provides recommendations that help visitors discover new and relevant works and collections.



MIA Keeps Digital Offerings Simple

The Journeys app works in conjunction with the Institute’s Overheard app. Overheard is an innovative, augmented reality museum guide software that provides site-specific, narrative, inspirational audio experiences for visitors as they walk through the museum. The app recreates common conversations visitors often have and lets them overhear these fictional discussions on the works of art on view as if they were happening in real time. Created by the winners of the first 3M Art and Technology Award from 2015, the app even includes actual recordings of real visitor conversations to complete the immersion. The museum documentation software app presents the history and contemporary relevance of each work of art in a more accessible manner that encourages personal reflection and further conversation from listeners. It does it all without adding unnecessary changes to the art or displays.


MIA Reaches Visitors with Digital Storytelling

Though online media, museums can engage and interact with distant audiences and visitors after they leave. MIA does this through Art Stories, the museum’s digital storytelling museum inventory software platform. The platform features over 100 engaging, multimedia stories about the museum’s permanent collection. Patrons can experience these deep, in-depth, delightful explorations, including intriguing details and secret backstories, through the museum’s website, the Journeys mobile app, and on 25 public display tablets situated throughout the museum exhibit software.


Current Successes Do Not Happen Overnight

All of these digital services took almost five years to plan and implement, and the Minneapolis Institute did not complete them on their own. The institute opens itself to public suggestions through the technology content with 3M and other initiatives, and are now reaping some rewards themselves.

For instance, Art Stories pushed patrons who only came to see the institute’s newly reinstalled African galleries to see the many other collections the museum had to offer. According to a study taken shortly after the gallery relaunch, the institute found that 27% of their visitors explored new objects, 21% experienced new galleries, and 48% engaged with the app on more than occasion throughout their visit. These results were replicated with each new gallery they brought into the system. Visitors who used the Art Stories simply explored more of the MIA, with one third vividly remembering their experience for weeks after their visit



However, the institute discovered quickly that creating and maintaining the museum CRM software became cumbersome and extremely inefficient. The interface often broke down. Updates often failed to upload. It became so bad that many departments considered ceasing the project, declaring it too challenging to complete and too technical to support.

It took a call to a professional digital transformation consultant before the museum exhibit software became worthy of the institute.

MIA’s digital consultant rebuilt Art Stories and the institute’s other museum project management software from the ground up to be more flexible, shareable, and usable. These changes worked so well that the institute began offering other art museums access to the platform through their new interface called Lume, stating how easy and flexible it is to use.

Why Hire a Digital Transformation Consultant?

The Minneapolis Institute of Art began their digital transformation to improve themselves but ended up with a tool they can offer other cultural institutions. All it took was a call to a digital transformation consultant. The consultant looked over MIA’s collection, plans, systems, and projects and reinvented them as something that simply worked for the institution.

This is no fluke either. Great small museum management software and initiatives can bring your museum into the digital age with great opportunities for your institution. You just need the right digital strategy for your situation, but you cannot do it on your own.

Sure, you can hire new staff. You can hire museum ERP software experts and specialists, but this can lead to bad designs and failures as it did for MIA. While the institution had great ideas and could imagine how each digital initiative could function, they lacked the experience and breadth of digital technologies to do them. This created an unsustainable situation for the institute.

To get your digital system up and running correctly the first time, you need to hire a small museum software consultant solution team who can not only help you decide the right digital path for your museum but will also provide you with the technology.


While you need museum management system software to implement your digital museum transformation visions, you must know how and when to use the technology for them to work. Not every computer system or software for museums works in all situations.

A good museum CRM software such as Salesforce or WordPress can serve as your central interface, but you cannot end with that. As in the case of MIA a collection of software neatly integrated together will form a final solution architecture that responds to the specific needs of the museum in the digital transformation.

Fortunately, your museum can recreate the success MIA had with your digital transformation. You can contact us to ensure that your art museum’s digital transformation initiatives will work the first time.

We offer several different third-party open source museum inventory software built around Salesforce CRM and Platform and the expertise to know when and how to use them. We have solutions for your website, organization, and collection and we will provide you the technical support you need to keep them running.

It takes a lot of planning, training, and experience to digitally transform a museum. However, you can offer the services your stakeholders and visitors want to see without destroying what makes your art collection and institution special. From museum virtual tour software to augmented reality, you can give old collections new life and turn your new ones into masterpieces. It just takes the right technology, culture, and know-how you can get from outsourced team of experts.

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Topics: Salesforce for Museums

Paul Nilsen

Paul Nilsen

Paul Nilsen is the director of solution development at Cetrix Cloud Services. He also works with the Solution Development Department at Cetrix Technologies, where he headed the department for three years. Paul has over 20 years of experience in IT, working on software engineering projects, hardware-software product integration, design of special purpose systems using artificial intelligence, and implementing CRM and ERP software systems.

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