EXPERT’S CORNER – The role of digital in the cultural sector

Sébastien Cotte, Digital Manager at France Muséums, tells us about the role of digital in the cultural sector, especially in museums, and its impact on how we design exhibitions.

What does it mean to be a Digital Manager in the cultural sector?

‘Digital’ comprises a whole range of ways of creating content and communicating. Now widely accessible in most countries, it is present in all aspects of both private and professional life.

In the already highly structured museum ecosystem, digital is a tool that supports both scientific discourse and visitor-related strategies. My role is to provide support to museum professionals and to help them find the most relevant responses to their needs. These responses have to be based on an in-depth understanding of the challenges they face.

In the 10 years you’ve been working in the French cultural sector, how has the role of digital changed?

Digital was already professionalised 10 years ago, and most of its key stakeholders have been present since then. Over the past decade, however, practices that were once seen as experimental or exceptional have become central to what visitors expect. Examples are interactive systems, community management, mobile apps and podcasting.

The role of digital is no longer open to debate. In fact, what matters now is the quality and relevance of the message: what digital conveys within the overall discourse of cultural institutions. Simply put, the key question is how to enable these institutions to leverage the potential of digital.

What opportunities does digital offer in the cultural sector – and more especially the museum sector?

Overall, digital technology allows you to ‘go further’. When used properly, it allows you to establish and nurture connections with visitors, even when they are far away. It enables you to reinforce, enrich or qualify what you say. It also provides opportunities for interaction, and it means that the visitor’s experience can continue long after he or she leaves the museum.

The current health crisis has clearly shown that digital simply cannot replace direct contact with artworks, mediators and other visitors. But it does allow us to maintain and develop these relationships.

With so much digital content now available, what should the “happy medium” be for digital in a cultural institution?

Digital must never get in the way of the true purpose of a museum visit: coming into contact with works of art. It has to act as a bridge between the visitor and the artwork, which it must never be allowed to overshadow. It must allow us to develop tools that are relevant to the widest possible range of visitors and to make what institutions communicate to visitors as inclusive as possible.

Last but not least, to be relevant, any digital solution has to be rooted in an approach whose aim is to enrich the visitor experience.

What vision of digital technology are you eager to bring to France Muséums?

The contributions France Muséums has made to the Louvre Abu Dhabi project have demonstrated our ability to use and propose innovative and relevant digital solutions.

What’s essential going forward is our ability to craft trans-media communication in close collaboration with each and every project leader. It’s also vital to apply digital solutions as early as possible so that they meaningfully enhance the overall visitor experience.

This requires an in-depth analysis of how different media and different levels of communication complement one another: displays, labels, catalogues, interactive, audio or touch-sensitive systems, on-line visits, podcasts and so on. We need an in-depth understanding of how these media can be made to work together seamlessly so that they enhance the experience at every stage (before, during and after the visit itself). This cross-disciplinary approach is a part of France Muséums’ DNA, which brings together all these fields of expertise within a human-sized organisation. It’s a key method that will allow us to enrich and broaden the museum experience more than ever before.

The dialogue between artworks and visitor experience is central in the France Muséums approach in building bespoke concepts and programmes. Learn more about our expertise.

Sébastien Cotte, Digital Manager
Digital Manager