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Below you will find an interview by THE ARTS+ at Martijn Pronk, Head of Digitali Communication of the Van Gogh Museum in Amsrterdam.

The Interview is about combining the arts with new technologies – but primarily it is all about people and how museums can benefit from new digital technologies.


Martijn, you are Head of Digital Communication at the Van Gogh Museum since February 2017 – please tell me something about your work and your most important tasks.


Martijn Pronk: The Digital Communication team is active in social media, focusing primarily on Facebook and Instagram and also on Twitter and Google+. The fans of Vincent van Gogh are spread all over the world. We stay in touch with them via social media: past and future museum visitors as well as all those not able to travel. We connect millions of people to Vincent’s art, his letters and his incredible life story. The Van Gogh Museum is among the global top ranking museums in number of social media followers. Obviously, an important task of the team is to monitor social media results and engagement and to share information with the museum staff. Social media generate important data for marketing automation. Other social media activities include content production and web care. And finally we must not forget e-mail: the Van Gogh Museum reaches out to hundreds of thousands of newsletter subscribers.

The other main activities of the Digital Communication team are the museum’s websites. They offer access to the entire collection and the portfolio of the Van Gogh Museum products and services. Among them, e-ticketing is vital for our organisation. The Van Gogh Museum has already touched the 50% e-tickets barrier and we wish to further increase online ticket sales.

You have developed a new digital strategy for the Van Gogh Museum. Would you please give us an insight into this strategy and its main goals?

MP: The new digital strategy is a part of the updated and revised museum strategy for the coming period – at this moment still a working document. All I can say is that we will increase our social media activities. For example, we are producing new video content and we have started live streaming very successfully. Video generates excellent engagement from our audiences and it is a medium that perfectly suits Vincent van Gogh’s legacy. The further rise of social media will affect the Van Gogh Museum website. In a social world built from countless small particles of content we will need the website to offer an overview, a place where we publish in-depth information aimed at various customer groups, and where we tell stories.The website plays an essential role in the museum’s brand management. In the near future e-ticketing and web sales will move to the social media realm, at this moment they are important website functions. I do not have a complete blue print yet, but we may safely assume the website will continue to be an important museum medium, albeit in a changed role.

How would you describe the digital future of museums and how can the traditional work at museums be merged with new digital technologies?

MP: Even though all museums have developed websites, they have built apps, and we have seen hundreds of digital products and services, you could argue that we are still in an early phase of digitalisation. In fact, you see many museums struggle with the next step: we have a website, we have a multimedia tour… now what? What some call innovation others call experimenting and that is not the same thing. Often, digital is still a layer on top of real life. It is not fully integrated. In my opinion this is (among other factors) a result of the organisational structure of museums. Management hesitates to commit to projects they cannot fully comprehend, the return on investment is absent or unclear, the digital mandate suffers from stakeholders with opposing demands, et cetera. Highly trained digital staff is essential for future digital success.

Since an art museum visit includes so much more than art, I don’t envision disruptive threats to art museums in the near future. Of course, we will be able to visit complete museums digitally, even in 3D and VR, but this cannot be compared to a real life visit. We should consider this as an addition and not an alternative to the museum visit. It is a different form of inspiration. That said, I would love to see a totally innovative and unconventional digital approach. Which museum director will be brave enough to break the rules?


I would like to see digital technology being much more integrated into the visit. Too often a digital product or service in the museum is a stand-alone product, not really connected, skippable and not essential for a satisfying visit. Digital must never be an end; it is a means to an end. This is how I understand (and share) the criticism of V&A director Tristram Hunt, who recently spoke out against what he called a fetish of digitising art. Obviously, digitising art and placing it online is in itself not a viable concept. We need to do it better and smarter.

Why is a platform like THE ARTS+ so important for the future of museums and collections?

MP: At a digital conference I was recently reminded of how many museums still fail to show potential sponsors what they have to offer. A digital project should be mutually beneficial for museum and sponsor. Obviously this means working together right from the start. A platform like THE ARTS+ is a way for museums to connect and present to the outside world, not only as individual organisations but also as a diverse and important industry. Interacting with innovative companies, THE ARTS+ is a place where new and smarter ideas are born.

How can analogue master pieces like those from Van Gogh benefit from digital technologies?

MP: Art can benefit on so many different levels: distribution, accessibility, research, security, communication, et cetera. In my job, I use digital as an opportunity to reach out and share Vincent van Gogh’s life and work with the whole world.

Thank you very much, Martijn, we’re looking forward to seeing you at THE ARTS+.

The interview was conducted by Sonja Harnisch.


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