In early June, with museums around the world learning to navigate new visitation patterns and shifting modes of digital engagement, the National Museum of China (NMC) held a livestreaming relay that brought 16 museums across five continents onto a single platform.
“Treasure Hunt Relay” livestreams began with NMC’s Director Dr. Wang Chunfa in conversation with his museum counterpart before each institution presented collection highlights to a global audience. At a moment of restricted travel and frayed cultural connections, the initiative demonstrated livestreaming’s ability to facilitate cultural exchange and museum brand building.
One participant was the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Asian Art, the Washington D.C. institution with nearly 100 years of experience showcasing exceptional collections of Asian art and collaborating with Chinese peer organizations to stage exhibitions. Even prior to COVID-19, Smithsonian Institutions had begun a concerted embrace of digital to expand access and interest, but the pandemic has prompted a new sense of urgency.
Jing Culture & Commerce spoke with Dr. Sonia Coman-Ernstoff of the museum’s Marketing and Communications Team to learn about its involvement in “Treasure Hunt Relay” and future digital plans.
Broadly speaking, how would you describe the museum’s mission and strategy?
Our work illuminates our Chinese [and Asian] art collections and helps our audiences learn about Chinese culture via a wide range of exhibitions and programs, from large-scale international loan exhibitions to digital interactive resources, online catalogues, and conservation and research projects. Our strategy is to focus on artworks that enhance cultural competency and unveil endless paths for inquiry.
In what ways has this changed in the wake of COVID-19?
The Smithsonian Institution’s digital-first strategy has taken on new urgency in the past seven to eight months. Our museum renewed its commitment to this strategic approach, and both adapted existing in-person programs to digital formats and created new, natively digital programs. Digital and video offerings help us reach new audiences around the world.
Are there any initiatives that exemplify this new focus?
Video streaming has emerged as an important instrument of communicating our knowledge and passion to our virtual visitors, for example, the museum launched Objects We Love [in which curators share short videos detailing treasured collection works] and Look and Listen, in which Chinese musicians play their instruments with art from our collection.
Why did you decide to join the National Museum of China’s livestream relay?
It fit perfectly into our strategic vision, with the added benefit, and pleasure, of joining a virtual platform of peer national museums and speaking to Chinese audiences whom we otherwise could not have reached in such great numbers.
Could you discuss the curatorial process behind the livestream?
In the video our museum produced for the project, we decided to give audiences a sense of both the breadth and the depth of our collections, resources, and activities. Narrated by Dr. Chase Robinson, Dame Jillian Sackler Director of the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery and Freer Gallery of Art, the program reflected multiple voices from across our museum. Once the program launched, we were extremely pleased to learn that the video had over 2 million views within days of its premiere.
How do you understand the value of the livestream relay in the current context?
In these trying and uncertain times, the digital medium has a renewed importance in connecting museums with local and international audiences and — as the Relay project has proven — in connecting museums from around the world with one another. Now more than ever, cultural institutions are called to encourage cross-cultural understanding by educating the public about diverse cultures and artistic traditions.
What role do you anticipate museum livestreaming will play in your long-term strategy?
Video streaming is something we will continue to do as a valuable component of a larger strategy of putting the digital first, adopting a digital mindset, and committing our resources to sharing our expertise with audiences both local and global.