The past year has massively transformed the way cultural institutions approach their digital systems and resources. Remote working arrangements have compelled reassessments of internal networks, just as lockdown orders have underscored the necessity of robust digital platforms and strategies with which to engage socially distant audiences. 

For David Lipsey, though, digital asset management (DAM) has been a decades-long occupation. A pioneer in the field who currently co-directs Rutgers University’s DAM Certificate Program, Lipsey has had a front-row seat to how DAM can benefit a diversity of sectors from publishing to financial services — and especially, the sphere of cultural institutions. “I’ve always been a believer that technology should enable the parts of our world that measure themselves by mission and mandate, and not just by profit and loss,” he tells Jing Culture & Commerce. “Museums became a focus for me because of how much rich media is in them and how it can have meaning when it is shared.”

The upcoming DAM and Museums conference will highlight the increasing value and necessity of digital asset management in the museum sphere. Image: DAM

The upcoming DAM and Museums conference gathers industry leaders for discussions of the many ways digital asset management has transformed the museum community. Image: DAM

As part of that commitment, Lipsey is chairing DAM and Museums, a conference presented by Henry Stewart Events that spotlights digital solutions for institutions through discussions, workshops, and case studies. This year’s edition takes place on February 10, with virtual sessions set to explore areas such as data conservation and collection, tech ecosystems, and digital futures. And with 2020’s challenges casting the need for digital in sharp relief, the conversation around DAM, notes Lipsey, is bound to be deeper and more essential. 

“The need for digital ability is true for our largest institutions and our smallest institutions. COVID doesn’t play favorites: it shuts the local historic museum in a small town as quickly as it does The Met,” he adds. “Managers and executives of museums around the world have come to a reckoning about digital that’s been unlike any that they’d come to before.”

Ahead of the event, Lipsey filled us in on the increasingly central role of DAM in a post-pandemic climate and the value museums can uncover in their digital assets.

A post-COVID digital reckoning

“With the tragedy of COVID, there’s been a spotlight on the need to deepen the digital discourse and the need for better digital enablement. I think many museums have found ways to make the everyday allure of their engagement a pretty deep digital experience. They’ve been pushed in a way to take a fresh look at their assets because suddenly those assets had to be used digitally. Digital assets live in this fascinating ubiquitous space: they can help the school tour and at the same time, they can assist in a much more mundane activity. This ubiquity has created an opportunity — and almost a demand — to look at ways of doing digital better and doing it with innovation.”

Key steps in digital transformations

“Museums need to assign resources and invest in staff education so they come to understand digital tools well beyond just their websites. I would say they need someone at their side who’s kind of a digital Swiss Army knife — someone who knows how the digital asset tools help the website, the educational programming, the collection, and so on. 

“In assessing priorities, many museums found themselves having to rebalance what have been the traditional missions of, say, mounting an interesting show or hosting forums or events. They probably first feel there’s no escape from digital, but what’s essential is coming around to developing a more proactive understanding that digital is not an unnecessary expense, but an enabling opportunity.”

Digital asset management in museums

In the American Alliance of Museum’s 2020 survey on the impact of COVID-19 on U.S. institutions, educational resources and digital activities topped the kinds of services museums provided during pandemic-related lockdowns. Image: AAM

Building holistic digital ecosystems

“Historically, many museums have seen digital as an isolated, compartmentalized operational need. But a modern museum now has the opportunity to look at digital as a platform for its operations, not just segmented operations in a department. There’s been more of a centrality in thinking about digital.”

Monetizing digital assets

“I think the museums have done a pretty good job of licensing images for art reproductions or textbooks. Whatever museums were doing in terms of education or licensing, the pandemic sure put a spotlight on that. A lot of cultural institutions have been able to dip their toes into the water of fee-based digital activity, and I don’t think any of us have any conclusions yet about which of those are going to work or sustain, but it certainly raised the need to ask the question.”

DAM and digital horizons

“[I’m hopeful] for DAM and digital to be considered a core part of the enterprise, where the assets and the data within the museum can help it achieve its mission better. That’s the question that will be asked about how DAM can help us with our overall museum mandate in every facet of our operations. And I’m very hopeful that that will be a lasting change that will occur in museum governance.”


Jing Culture & Commerce