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“Digital tools dramatically change the horizon of opportunity for those who could create something new.”
Lawrence Lessig, The Future of Ideas, 2001

SMK’s use of Creative Commons licences is motivated by a desire to encourage sharing and creative reuse of our digitised collections. The pilot project on image sharing informed us that the need for openly licensed images is on the rise – not just in the interaction between museums, but also in the education sector, in Wikipedia and the Internet in general – and that there is a growing will among Danish museums to share their images. In order to translate knowledge into action, SMK has launched a number of concrete projects that prompt museums to share their digitised collections – and users to make use of them in new, interactive ways.

Art Stories unfolding
HintMe is the result of an experimental pilot project with the objective to build a shared mobile communication platform, exclusively containing open images.*64 The platform was developed as a collaborative effort involving 9 Danish art museums and is based on three fundamental principles.

1. All images in the mobile platform carry Creative Commons licences – to realise the intentions of sharing our digitised collections
2. The technical solution is based on an existing platform rather than on building a new one from scratch – to save money on expensive development and maintenance
3. Users take part in the development of the platform’s concept and content – to ensure that it will meet the users’ real needs

[70] HintMe offers users keys to look closer at artworks, and encourages dialogue bewteen users and museums. From a user test of the beta version at SMK, 2012. The paintings are by the Danish artist N. A. Abildgaard (1743-1809).
CC BY 4.0 Merete Sanderhoff.

HintMe is an attempt to put into practice the core vision of Art Stories: Linking up different collections on the Internet, referring users to other institutions, and facilitating a multivoiced dialogue about art. HintMe simplifies and radicalises the concept behind Art Stories. The point of entry is the artwork itself, which is accompanied by short comments (hints). These hints primarily act as keys to taking a closer look at the work but can also point to a wealth of other online content. Users can get hints pointing to particularly interesting features of a given work. And they can offer up their own hints, for instance sharing details they have noticed, or asking questions of other users or of the museums. HintMe is open to anyone who logs on, allowing them to share their thoughts and experiences.*65 [70]


The project was born as an experiment with two objectives:

• Prompting more widespread adoption of open licences among Danish art museums
• Developing a shared, sustainable mobile platform on a limited budget

Over the course of 2010-11 the general use of smartphones exploded. Online traffic to museum websites via handheld devices was seeing strong growth, and many museums were already exploring the potentials offered by mobile platforms. Handheld devices with Internet access hold great potential for museum communication; they can encourage users to take a closer look at art, embrace outside impulses and perspectives, and facilitate dialogue between users and museums. [71] HintMe offers partners a chance to be part of a mobile platform in return for sharing their digitised images with open licences. The shared mobile platform was designed to be scalable. It is a responsive website that adjusts to any Internet-connected device, be it smartphone, tablet, laptop or desktop. The content is produced on Twitter, an internationally widespread social medium, and any museum willing to sign their name to the three basic principles are welcome to use the HintMe platform.*66


To the project participants, it seemed like common sense to create common solutions to common challenges. This proved accurate in many ways. Over the course of the pilot project the partners agreed to promote the use of open licences for images of artworks in the public domain, to co-ordinate content across our collections, and to communicate via a shared platform with a consistent, uniform design that will be familiar to users regardless of where they come across HintMe. In practice, however, we have realised that such co-ordinated efforts can be rather fragile affairs as the various museums involved will experience fluctuations in their staffing, management, strategy, and financial situation. It has been difficult to ensure continuity in the production of content and to integrate HintMe fully in the museums’ operation because some participants have changed jobs, come under new management, or quite simply been too busy working on other tasks. [72]

[72] During the development of HintMe, employees from the participating museums held a series of workshops, where we discussed and refined the concept of our shared platform, and explored new ways of working with our collections, in relation to users and across institutional borders.
CC BY 4.0 Merete Sanderhoff

HintMe is envisioned as a catalyst for user learning and creativity in a way that Art Stories was not ready to become (see p. 52 ff.). However, it has not truly taken off yet. At this point, tests show that users appreciate the dialogue-based and open approach of HintMe, but at the same time they have little inclination to actively participate in the dialogue going on there. In keeping with the so-called 1 % rule, most users are mainly interested in receiving hints and in following conversations between others.*67

[73] Nina Simon's model for me‐to‐we design. 

Given the fact that one of the project principles is that the users’ real needs should be listened to and accommodated, HintMe has been designed with a particular view to offering passive users hints that expand and enrich their art experience, as well as a resource of high-resolution images of museum artworks for anyone to use. HintMe was quietly launched in the summer of 2013, and work continues to make it more attractive for users to share their cognitive surplus through active contributions to the dialogue. For example, we work with Nina Simon’s spectrum for “me-to-we” design, which offers specific and concrete methods for encouraging users to participate actively, co-operating with the museums and each other on producing what is at the core of it all – the content. [73]

Another very real challenge facing Danish museums in this context is the fact that Twitter has not yet become as widely used in Denmark as it has abroad. However, this trend only became clear at a late stage of the project when the first official survey of Twitter usage in Denmark was published in February 2013. Since then, new figures have shown strong growth in the general adoption of this social medium among Danes, so for now the museum partners have decided to continue to use Twitter and to develop new ways to encourage HintMe users to participate more actively in connection with art education courses, museum events, and online meetups between users and museum educators.*68


By building a resource of openly licenced, interlinked museum images that can be accessed via handheld devices we wish to send a steady stream of digitised art out into the Internet, allowing it to be shared, commented on, processed creatively, and used for learning and teaching. HintMe is intended to be a miniature hub for open Danish art collections – a first step in the direction of providing open access to a major resource of highquality Danish museum images. The intention is not to build an actual infrastructure for the free exchange of digitised culture – such an infrastructure is being developed on a large scale in the form of Europeana. As Jill Cousins says in her article (p. 132 ff), Europeana is working towards developing a European cultural commons aimed at gathering and making digitised culture from all European cultures freely available. With its obligation and dedication to inter-institutional collaboration, democratic dialogue with users, and open licences on high-resolution images, HintMe has attracted attention within Europeana. Free data is one thing, and within this field Europeana has firmly set a new standard. However, if we look specifically at freely available, reusable high-quality images, only few European cultural institutions have begun opening up their vaults. Even though HintMe only shares a few hundred images as yet, the fact that 9 art museums have agreed to apply open licences to their content nevertheless sends a strong signal. The project has been used as an example of the direction that Europeana wishes to pursue, and it has given Danish art museums a place in Europeana’s work to develop a cultural commons.*69

From metro fence to aesthetic playground

Copenhagen is currently expanding its public metro network. Up until 2018 a series of areas in the city are effectively converted into building sites, a fact which quite naturally causes some inconvenience and exasperation for many Copenhageners. One of the steps taken to counteract this is called Cool Constructions – an ongoing initiative to decorate the large fences around metro building sites.*70 In 2013 SMK went into collaboration with the Copenhagen Metro Company responsible for constructing the Copenhagen metro. We invited local residents living in the immediate vicinity of two of the fences – by Frederik’s Church and Solbjerg Square – to unleash their creativity on the museum’s open images, modifying them, remixing them, cutting out details and using them to create their own collages to adorn the metro fences they look at every day. [74] The two fences have turned out very differently, the one at Solbjerg Square an analogue collage produced during a local festival in June 2013, the other a digital remix created in PhotoShop in close collaboration between young art pilots and local residents by Frederik’s Church. Here, I will zoom in on the process behind the digital remix.


When SMK decided to provide open access to images, making them available for sharing and reuse, it added a new dimension to the museum’s role as catalyst for the users’ knowledge and creativity. In recent years museums have increasingly incorporated the role of facilitator in addition to their traditional roles as producer and conveyor. At this point many, if not most, museums have realised that they are not just places where visitors come to seek out art experiences and information; they also provide a backdrop for the users’ creative activities.*71 As museums worldwide are experiencing when launching participatory initiatives, simply opening up their doors and saying “go on!” is not enough. User-generated content does not simply appear at the museum’s convenience; it requires that they create incentives and firm frameworks for the user’s contributions; they must facilitate the users’ work and show that their contributions are valued and valuable. In other words, if we want to see people reusing and remixing SMK’s free images, we must make real efforts to reach out to potentially interested user groups, informing them about the new possibilities that the images represent; we must make specific frameworks and settings for creative work available, and – very importantly – we must provide users with motivation and inspiration to take part. [75]

Deep engagement

SMK’s collaboration with the Copenhagen Metro Company has provided examples of how several of these challenges can be met:

• Clear incentives for users to participate: The project aimed at decorating the large metro fences that invade people’s neighbourhoods for a while
• A specific framework: The large, green metro fences can be used like large canvases open to the users’ creative work
• A clearly delineated task: To decorate the fences using SMK’ open images
• A good cause: The project gave users the chance to turn an everyday nuisance into a creative task for the community, the end result being a thing of beauty for which they have ownership and which gives them pleasure when they look out the window.

The metro fences are a prominent feature of the Copenhagen urban space, offering an excellent public interface that can be used to demonstrate how anyone may now use and process images from the SMK collections. The fences allow the images to truly leave their museum context behind and have a real, positive impact on people’s everyday lives. The fact that the project is associated with the metro construction work, which greatly changes living conditions for many people, has enabled us to move upwards within Nina Simons “me-to-we” spectrum, grappling with the uppermost levels that deal with creating links between individual user contributions and creating a good setting for the users’ social interaction and work towards a common cause. [76]

[76] The art pilots are putting up the digital remix on the metro fence by Frederik’s Church in Copenhagen, summer 2013.
CC BY 4.0 Frida Gregersen

The initiative is influenced by Shelley Bernstein’s work on user involvement at Brooklyn Museum. Exhibition projects such as Click! A Crowd-Curated Exhibiton and GO: a community-curated open studio project were aimed directly at local residents in Brooklyn, getting them deeply involved in selecting, shaping, and directing the content of exhibitions. [77] Bernstein’s strategy rests on the assumption that once you go beyond the rather non-committal “like” button and encourage users to get truly involved, exercising their own judgement, creativity, and collaboration where it matters in their everyday lives – then art becomes vibrant and relevant. And that is when it becomes part of them.

The young art pilots from the ULK Art Labs have acted as the face of SMK in the collaboration with the Metro Company.*72

ULK is a hub for young creatives who meet on a voluntary basis at SMK to work on participatory culture projects. When entering the metro fence project, the art pilots were already experienced facilitators of social, creative projects, but up until this point their projects had mainly been aimed at other young people. The metro fence project gave the art pilots a new challenge: facilitating creative collaboration across generational and social barriers. The art pilots are volunteers, and much of their motivation for working on the project was fuelled by the opportunity to develop their own ideas about how the museum’s open images can be used, in dialogue with local residents.

The project revealed a generation gap in terms of attitudes to what you can and should do with digitised works of art. To the art pilots it felt utterly natural to remix the images, and their work has given rise to some very original and charming results. To some of the older residents such an approach initially felt almost like sacrilege. They preferred instead to utilise the high-resolution images to enlarge the artworks or zoom in on selected details, allowing viewers to admire them in their original, unmodified glory. This prompted some highly educational discussions and negotiations between the art pilots and local residents during the community meetings and workshops. For SMK, it was interesting to realise that our own efforts at letting museum images become part of the digital remix culture can in fact offend some users’ view of art. It is no longer only the museum that relates to the issue of the artworks’ integrity when they are offered up for unrestricted public consumption, but the users too.

At times it proved quite a challenge for the art pilots to accommodate the residents’ different needs, to handle different and opposing ideas on aesthetics and underlying frustrations about the metro building project, and to ensure that all users’ contributions and wishes were reflected in a communal and consistent form on the metro fences. Over the course of the project, the pilots and residents agreed that not everyone can agree on what they consider beautiful and interesting to look at, but that the overall process, the reflection and exchange of ideas between generations and people with different aesthetic norms is in itself enriching. [78]

To me, the metro fence project truly brought the promise of SMK digital to life. At the launch of SMK digital in 2008 we had a vision stating that we wanted to act as a catalyst for the users’ creativity. However, back then we were not truly ready to invest the resources and energy required to involve and work with users.*73 The collaboration between art pilots and Copenhagen residents, beleaguered by Metro construction work, points towards a new phase where SMK is better prepared to be open to and support the users’ unpredictable interpretations of the museum’s lifeblood: the collections. The project shows that we are moving away from a classic stewardship approach, which is mainly about protecting the artworks against damage, misrepresentation and abuse, towards a growing awareness of how we can maintain public interest in the collections, keeping them relevant by setting them free to be used for creative work, re-use and sharing on the users’ own terms.

[78] One of the residents living by Frederik’s Church is watching as the metro fence is decorated with remixed art. She helped select the flower and plant motifs that were to adorn the fence beneath her windows, and assisted the art pilot at the computer

[78] One of the residents living by Frederik’s Church is watching as the metro fence is decorated with remixed art. She helped select the flower and plant motifs that were to adorn the fence beneath her windows, and assisted the art pilot at the computer to remix and create this specific composition.
CC BY 4.0 Frida Gregersen

Imagination is the only limit

The metro fence project represents a learning process for SMK, allowing us to reap specific knowledge on how users want to reuse digitised art and how they create new value for themselves and each other during the process. As a museum, the act of opening up our digitised collections, allowing them to become building blocks in the users’ hands, is about relinquishing our exclusive rights to defining what art is and what it can be used for. Kristina Alexanderson from Creative Commons Sweden has stated it very clearly: “The limits of our imagination is all that holds us back, and it often does!”*74 Museums possess highly specialised knowledge about cultural heritage, but we do not necessarily have the best ideas for creative reworking and reuse of the artworks. SMK’s job in the collaboration with the art pilots and the Copenhagen Metro Company was to make useful, high-quality material available, which helped users unearth the potential it offers. We hope that the project will boost public awareness of SMK’s open images, provide examples of what people can do with them, and generate new creative initiatives and activities. As a starting point, the art pilots have released their PhotoShop files under the CC BY license in order to openly share their remixes and encourage new creative adaptations of SMK’s open images [79]

[79] The remix on the fence by Frederik’s Church got great reviews in the Danish press, and was voted best metro fence 2013 by the public. From the award ceremony for “The Fence Post”, November 2013. The 10,000 DKK which came with the award will be used f

[79] The remix on the fence by Frederik’s Church got great reviews in the Danish press, and was voted best metro fence 2013 by the public.
From the award ceremony for “The Fence Post”, November 2013. The 10,000 DKK which came with the award will be used for new user engagement activities in ULK. Download their work and follow their initiatives at
CC BY 4.0 Merete Sanderhoff


*64  See The partner museums are Faaborg Museum, The Hirschsprung Collection, KØS - museum for art in public spaces, Vejle Museum of Art, Ribe Kunstmuseum, J. F. Willumsens Museum, Sorø Kunstmuseum, Thorvaldsens Museum, and SMK.

The principles behind HintMe are largely based on lessons learned during a research trip to the US in October 2011. My hosts included the Smithsonian Institution and National Gallery of Art in Washington D.C., MoMA and Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, and the Art Institute in Chicago. The trip was funded by the Danish Agency for Culture. A detailed report describing five main trends for digital museum practice and a detailed overview of host institutions is avail- able for download here:
In addition to this HintMe is inspired by Clay Shirky’s recommenda- tions on how to start up social media platforms (based on the chapter “Improving the Odds” in Cognitive Surplus)

  • Start small
  • Ask your users
  • Adapt
  • Experiment
  • Seize the opportunities presented by new technologies and user behaviour

*66  You can read more about the reasoning behind our choice of Twitter as a platform and the concept behind HintMe in a detailed case study on Europeana’s PRO blog (Bates, 2013)
All references to and presentations of the HintMe project are collected and regularly updated on my tumblr blog Museum Misc:

*67  The 1% rule, also known as the 90-9-1 principle, is a rule of thumb that divides Internet users into content creators (1%), content contributors (9%), and lurkers (90%).

*68  The consultancy agency Bysted was behind the first analysis of Twitter usage in Denmark, published February 2013

The study shows that slightly more than 92,000 Danes had a Twitter profile, and slightly fewer than 30,000 used it actively. Figures from May 2013 show that since then, the number of Danish Twitter users has risen to 150,000, of which 60,000 are active users. This corresponds to a 50% growth rate in just three months. (the figures in this study differ somewhat from those in the Bysted survey, but nevertheless show the same overall trend).

HintMe was presented at Europeana’s 2nd Strategic Briefing for the Cul- tural Commons in Cyprus, October 2012, at the Europeana workshop “The Value of Open” in Paris in January of 2013, and is described in detail in a case study on Europeana’s PRO blog, April 2013 (Bates, 2013).

For a Danish introduction to Cool Constructions (Byens Hegn), see

*71  Simon, 2010, p. 16-17.

The ULK Art Labs were originally launched as an online community and physical forum for young people in 2007, but soon foundered due to lack of funds (see note 20). Since then the online community has been taken down, and the ULK Art Labs have been reinvented and reorganised, arising in a new format In recent years, the ULK Art Labs have staged a number of high-profile projects at Denmark’s leading music festival, the Roskilde Festival, where festival goers have been invited to take part in creative schemes aimed at creating benefits for all – one example is the construction of a creative chill-out lounge where festival goers could kick back and relax in the midst of the hubbub of festival life. New volunteer art pilots are added regularly and meet every week at SMK, where they take part in developing and carrying out specific projects.

Which the former U.L.K. Art Labs became a symptom of, as mentioned earlier. See also note 20.

*74  Quoted from Alexanderson’s workshop “What the school needs” at Open Cultural Heritage Data in the Nordic Countries, April 2013.

Updated: 26.apr.2018
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