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2 minutes to read Posted on Tuesday November 6, 2018

Updated on Monday November 6, 2023

portrait of Julia Fallon

Julia Fallon

Community and Partner Engagement Manager , Europeana Foundation

How the renovation of a world renowned art museum is inspiring a sector in digital transformation

The renovation of the Rijksmuseum provided an inspiring example throughout the cultural heritage sector, in many areas of operation: from gallery development, visitor engagement and online access policy. Thanks to their own impact assessment looking at the economic and social impact of the renovation, we've taken a look at what we can learn from that, and how it starts to articulate the value of their digital strategy.

‘In only a matter of years, the [Rijksstudio] has become a benchmark for connecting people in the Netherlands - indeed all over the world - to one of the most significant museum collections.’ - The Rijksmuseum Masters Mobile, Sothebys Museum Network

In 2003, the Rijksmuseum set upon an ambitious and radical renovation with one goal in mind - to open up to as wide an audience as possible. The renovation resulted in a rejuvenated, world-leading museum. Delivered by developing methods and new preservation technologies, the Rijksmuseum has become an inspirational physical space to house national treasures, reflected with equal splendour online with the opening up of its collections through the Rijksstudio.  

The results of the holistic renovation blazed a trail through the cultural heritage sector. With its digital strategy indistinguishable from its core strategy, the Rijksmuseum transformed perceptions of what it meant to open up both their physical and digital archives. Through the Rijksstudio, it encourages creative use of its collections, rewarding visitors with breathtakingly high-quality digital images. 

Snapshot: Rijks Studio

The Rijksstudio: a platform developed by the Rijksmuseum to share free-to-use collections with the public in high quality.  Empowering visitors to download masterpieces and curate their own collections.

A brief timeline of the Rijks Studio

  • Renovation started 2003
  • Museum opened 2013
  • Rijks Studio launched 2012
  • Rijks studio Award presented to users for creative use of artworks 2014/15/16/17/18 

Status in 2018

  • 360,000 users 
  • 200,000 collections created
  • 2+ million downloads of artworks

The economic and social impact of the renovated Rijksmuseum

‘The first challenge was to open the building. The second was to open the collection. The third was to open the idea of the museum in the minds of the people who work there.’ - Wim Pijbes, EC event, Rome

When the museum reopened in 2013, the first challenge was complete. An impact report undertaken by Booz & Company explored the economic and social impact of renovation, and in particular what it brought at a local, national and international level. This report projected that the renovation of the Rijksmuseum would contribute €90 million per year to the Dutch economy. This projected economic impact was based on a combination of factors such as the anticipated increase in employment levels from 2,063 FTE p.a. before the renovation, to an average of 2,700 during the renovation and 3,759 after it. 

‘International research suggests major museums such as the Rijksmuseum are a crucial element in the economic and societal well being of a city.’ - Professor Tony Travers, Director of LSE London, a research centre at the London School of Economics

The positive effects of the renovation were also seen in more indirect outcomes such as increasing the appeal of the city of Amsterdam to tourists and contributing to increased employment from the regeneration of its vicinity, the Museum Quarter. 

At a local level, increased standards and improvements to the local environment benefited both the organisation and its visitors, while the efforts to open up led to an improved network of local museums in the establishment of the new Museum Quarter.

The impact of the renovation is also evidenced by the Rijksmuseum’s provision of new professional courses in preservation techniques, enabling skills for conservation and restoration to be revived and further developed. 

And at a national level, the renovation enabled innovation among the organisations that contributed to it. Restoration company Koninklijke Woudenberg, for example, invested in technology that can produce a replica of a sculpture based on a 3D scan. 

Read the full economic and social impact assessment of renovation of the Rijksmuseum.

The transformative influence of the Rijks Studio

Leaving a lasting impression throughout the sector is the Rijksstudio - innovative in both how it presents the museum’s collections visually, and the policies under which it does so. Developed as an integral part of how the Rijksmuseum engages and attracts visitors to its collections in either the physical or digital space, the Rijksstudio is more than a section of a website.  

‘The [Rijksstudio is the] cultural digital heritage benchmark for connecting people and the collection’- Peter Gorgels, Digital Communications, Rijksmuseum

For visitors, the Rijksstudio offers unprecedented access to high-quality artworks free from copyright. Over 200,000 personal collections have been created by visitors in the first five years. The strength of the Rijksstudio lies not only in the artworks it presents, but in the way visitors can take ownership of them, exploring, creating and curating collections according to their own interests and associations. Sharing these bespoke collections online, the Rijksstudio can showcase the same artworks in many different contexts, inspiring enquiry in myriad ways.

Spurred on by the Rijksstudio’s encouragement to reuse material, and supported by a collaboration with Etsy, lovers of the Rijksmuseum’s collections have created thousands of new applications for its artworks - from wallpaper to eye masks and temporary tattoos. 

The ‘Rijksstudio award’ was launched in 2014 to reward the most creative uses of the Rijksmuseum’s collections. The award demonstrates a truly global appetite for the open collections of the Rijksstudio. In 2017, the award had launches around the world - in Berlin (Blogfabrik), London (Design week), and New York (MOMA) - and attracted over 2,600 applications from 62 countries. 

Winner of the 2017 Rijks Studio awards, "Masterpieces never sleep", by Lesha Limanov (Belarus)
Winner of the 2017 Rijks Studio awards, "Masterpieces never sleep", by Lesha Limanov (Belarus)

The decision to present the collections in the public domain, in high quality with no restrictions on reuse, was a bold move. Remember, at the time, providing people with information about the rights to collection items was uncommon. And making the decision to allow free reuse of collections by transferring them to the public domain with the appropriate metadata was one that required the practical and collegiate support of the open community - including the Europeana Foundation, Kennisland, the Open Knowledge Foundation and Wikimedia Foundation. These two decisions proved fruitful and have been crucial to transforming the public’s perception of the Rijksmuseum as a modern and open museum.  

The approach of the Rijksstudio has fast become the gold standard for open access to digital cultural heritage. The Rijksmuseum’s renovation showed the sector that digital strategy need not stand alone from that of the physical space, and provided proof that engaging audiences online can lead to many positive results, from the creation of beautiful products, to artworks becoming better-known and to the organisation developing a reputation for being a thoroughly modern museum.

Where do we want to go from here?

Most of the research looking at the impact of the renovation was generated in the year after the work was complete, and showed positive impact even before it was really possible to start to measure or articulate the breadth of changes it could achieve. The Rijksmuseum acknowledges that is too early for the local economy ‘to benefit from the investments in the city’s infrastructure’.  We’d like to see more research undertaken, and for that to look more deeply at the role of the Rijksstudio in the different types of impact generated by the opening up of the Rijksmuseum.