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“Experiment! Make mistakes!”
Angela Spinazze, member of the SMK digital advisory board, 2009

In May 2008 something happened that would have a major impact on SMK. The museum received a vast grant on a scale never seen before in Denmark: Nordeafonden donated 22 million DKK (approximately $4 million) to be used for the development of digital museum practice. The overall effort came to be known as SMK digital. Ambitions ran high right from the outset. [18] A five-year schedule comprising six projects was launched. Work began on building digital foundations in the form of a new collection database and website. The efforts also included a range of education initiatives aimed at the general public: a new Search the collections; an online universe entitled Art Stories, based on relations to other art collections and knowledge resources everywhere on the Internet; web TV and games produced by the museum itself; digital presentation and tools within the museum galleries; and the development of MySMK, a creative space for users on the museum website. *20

International advisory board

The ambition to be a trailblazer on the digital front prompted SMK to set up an international advisory board to provide inspiration for the process. The board members came from a range of museums that had inspired our own visions for digital museum practice. By getting the board involved, we gained direct access to a range of digital museum professionals that we regarded as leading figures within the field. [19] The concept for SMK digital that had prompted Nordeafonden to sponsor the project was inspired by overall tendencies towards user involvement and participatory design described by Nina Simon in her influential blog Museum 2.0 *21; tendencies that Shelley Bernstein had turned into tangible practice in the groundbreaking exhibition Click! A Crowd-Curated Exhibition, just to name one prominent example. [20]

With their experience and expertise, the advisory board opened up a wide range of doors to new methods and practices we could employ. But which of these were suitable for SMK? The board encouraged us to get to know our users by taking a very practical, hands-on approach: Defining target groups, talking to them, listening carefully to what they said, and of course acting on it. Exciting suggestions came flooding in. We were encouraged to integrate user comments and creative contributions on the museum website and in the galleries, to involve audiences in the display and hanging of the collections, to use game mechanisms when designing learning activities, to make daily rounds of the museum to speak with users, and to do it all right now instead of putting it off for later. A new, user-centric focus emerged. As did a growing sensation of a pressing urgency as we observed what was going on at fellow museums internationally – an increasing awareness of the fact that the digital field evolves a great deal faster than we were accustomed to in museum work. [21]

At the time when we received the funding for SMK digital, the museum was still in many ways thinking and operating in broadcast terms. Even though people in various parts of the organisation had begun to pick up on and be inspired by new forms of museum practice, a general shift in mindset and everyday practices was still required before the many ideas could be prioritized and put into actual practice. The introduction of SMK digital offered an opportunity to hire project staff with specific digital qualifications in multi-media productions and website design. However, no manager with expert qualifications within the digital field was appointed. The overall management of SMK digital fell under the museum’s existing managers. SMK digital was launched with great ambitions and intentions, but at the same time with a lack in the organisation of professional insight into the digital field.

One of the advisory board members, Angela Spinazze, gave us this piece of advice: “Experiment! Make mistakes!”. While this may sound obvious, the phrase embedded itself firmly in the programme’s collective consciousness, giving us the courage to begin work on the challenges we were facing, experimenting as we went along and learning from our mistakes.

In November 2008 SMK digital launched Denmark’s first digital museum strategy, collecting and combining objectives within digitisation, education, and communication activities.*22 One of the strategic objectives stated that “SMK digital is a catalyst for the users’ creativity” – an objective that revealed a growing awareness within the organisation of the new role that SMK wished to play. The strategy stated that this objective would be reached by getting to know our users and by working systematically on incorporating users in the planning and production of the museum’s communication and education activities.

[21] The international advisory board of SMK digital gathered for workshops at the museum in October 2009. Frankie Roberto is presenting.

From the outset emphasis was placed on learning processes, sustainability, and accessibility, building bridges between the physical and the digital museum, and – most of all – emphasis was on the users. A consistent preference for open standards was formulated, and during the initial stages a number of important decisions on this issue were made – aided by our international advisors. We chose to build a new website using an open source Content Management System. We decided to join the development of CollectionSpace, an international and open source-based database system for museums.*23 This process proved more timeconsuming than originally anticipated, and over time this would also affect the rest of SMK digital due to a fundamental lack of a consistent digital infrastructure – a condition I will return to. Last, but by no means least, we made a commitment to being open to the world around us; we wanted to maintain an ongoing dialogue with our users and act as a catalyst for their creativity.


*20  Prior to the launch of SMK digital, SMK already had a portfolio of visionary digital projects such as The Virtual Art Museum and the ULK Art Labs (Skovbo, Nygaard & Wilde, 2008). These were pioneering efforts in Denmark as far as digital museum activity and user participation were concerned, but they foundered once the allocated project funds ran out because no funds had been set aside to embed the initiatives in the day-to-day operation of the museum. When SMK digital was launched the organisation still did not fully appreciate what it takes to operate and integrate digital platforms and participatory projects.

MySMK, the users’ own universe on the website, was a key project at the time when we applied for funds for SMK digital, reflecting the project’s strategic objectives regarding user participation. However, the project was never realised in the form originally intended. Rather, the explosive growth in social media usage from 2008 onwards prompted us to reassign our priorities, opting instead to promote user involvement on platforms such as Facebook and Google+.

*21 See archive of contributions from 2007-08 in the right column

*22  The strategy identified the overall values for SMK digital:
• Vision: SMK digital develops digital museum practice that encourages and satisfies the users’ desire for art.
• Mission: SMK digital makes art accessible, relevant, and inspirational for users through digital media, platforms, and tools that create synergies between the physical and digital museum.
• Values: Innovation, Accessibility, Sustainability. The entire strategy can be found here:

*23  CollectionSpace is an open source collection management system developed as an international collaborative project involving the Museum of the Moving Image, The Walker Art Center, University of Cambridge, University of California, Berkeley, and SMK, funded by The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation,

Updated: 26.apr.2018
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