Museum TrendsWatch 2019: Blockchain

Rachael Cristine Woody

Rachael Cristine Woody

July 10, 2019

I attended the American Alliance of Museums (AAM) annual conference held in New Orleans, May 2019. The conference hosted a TrendsWatch 2019 session where Founding Director at the Center for the Future of Museums (CFM), Elizabeth Merritt reviewed the CFM’s TrendsWatch 2019 report. Read on for my synopsis and observations on the third trend to watch (Blockchain) as part of your museum strategy; I’ll write about the others in additional posts.

What is Blockchain?

The underlying technology of blockchain has been around for more than a decade. The most popular use of blockchain is cryptocurrencies. However, it’s important to note that while blockchain technology is connected to cryptocurrency it is not a cryptocurrency. Here’s a definition for blockchain via the TrendsWatch 2019 report:

Blockchain technology is a system designed to store digital records of transactions—the transfer of anything (physical or digital) from one person to another. It is often referred to as a digital ledger.

Additionally, blockchain is an unalterable record that dually provides privacy and transparency. Each time a digital transaction occurs a “block” recording the transaction is added to the chain of transactions – creating a transaction history. The data can be kept secure and remains unalterable because the foundation of blockchain is a decentralized network with digital encryption. The technology has the potential to forever alter how we traditionally execute and record transactions and this disruption will impact many industries and sectors—including museums.

Museums and Blockchain

The TrendsWatch 2019 report points out that blockchain could safeguard information from being lost or damaged, whether through malicious act or neglect. Additionally, the report states that “[b]lockchain could also enable museums to be utterly transparent about collections and provenance, enabling anyone to access data by use of a public key.” Having such unprecedented access to object information could aid in addressing past acquisition practices and support repatriation efforts; including Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA) and returning Nazi-era assets.

Any activity that can be defined as a series of transactions can benefit from blockchain. For example, these other internal museum activities:

  • ticket sales (and instant money allocation from those sales)
  • collections management (in addition to provenance)
  • donor and gift tracking
  • exhibition loans

If the museum were to look externally it’s possible that blockchain could be utilized to:

  • streamline museum partnerships
  • inspire cross-collection use
  • encourage the sharing economy by supporting artists and scalable art

Scalable Art: Blockchain allows for multiple persons to invest in art on a micro-scale allowing for art to be scaled to the level of investment.

Another immediate application adjacent to museums would be the tracking of art for artist compensation. This could take at least three forms:

  1. Tracking the sales of physical art for both public and private buyers
  2. Creating digital art that is truly one of a kind, creating for the first-time digital scarcity
  3. Tracking the viewership (in person or online) of art and allocating compensation to the artist for each view

For more reading on how the museum industry can innovate with blockchain please see the following posts:

MuseumNext: How Blockchain Could Change the Museum Industry

Diane Drubay: How Blockchain Can Impact Museums?

Museum To-Do List

TrendsWatch recommends the following potential to-do items for museums:

  • Provide education and outreach around blockchain technology and how it can (or will) integrate into our lives.
  • Support artists by experimenting with blockchain to track their art.
  • Test the creation of blockchain ledgers to track the museum’s acquisitions, loans, and exhibitions.
  • Extend that testing to include collaboration with other museums in an effort to create pan-institutional collection management via blockchain technology.

And I would add:

  • Evaluate how ticket sales, membership, donors, and gifts can be tracked and immediately allocated to museum operations.
  • Pioneer ways in which collections management practices and the collections management system can benefit from blockchain.
  • Test ways in which the museum’s digitized collections can be tracked, authenticated, and sold (for use) via blockchain.
  • Explore how to improve exhibition loans and cross-collection use (physically and digitally) with other museum partners.
  • Experiment in the sharing economy blockchain supports and participate with the public by investing in scalable art.
Rachael Cristine Woody

Rachael Cristine Woody

Consultant, author, and blogger Rachael Cristine Woody advises on museum strategies, collections management and grant writing for a wide variety of clients. Read more of Rachael’s posts on museum strategies for success. Learn about Lucidea’s Argus solution for museum collections management and digitization, which can be used to support a wide variety of museum strategies.

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