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2 minutes to read Posted on Thursday February 7, 2019

Updated on Monday November 6, 2023

portrait of Julia Fallon

Julia Fallon

Community and Partner Engagement Manager , Europeana Foundation

Making the case for impact at SMK

The challenge to transform the artworks of Statens Museum for Kunst (SMK) from passive to active assets, a journey fuelled by digital transformation, began in 2012. The release of 160 high-quality openly licensed works of art was applauded throughout the cultural heritage sector. Building on this, SMK forged partnerships and collaborations to encourage engagement with their open images, laying the foundations for SMK Open - a four-year programme making SMK’s collections freely available to everyone  for any purpose from the serious to the sublime.

SMK at 'Byens Hegn'
SMK at 'Byens Hegn'
SMK Statens Museum for Kunst

Running from 2016-2020, SMK Open supports the organisation’s ambition to  Set Art Free.

Initiated to deliver a technical infrastructure that connects all of SMK’s digitised resources and make them openly available, SMK Open underscores the museum’s deep commitment to democratising its collections. By bringing collections online in openly licensed and ready-to-use formats, SMK wants to reach more and more diverse user groups and increase the opportunities to learn, create and innovate with its raw material.

Snapshot: SMK Open

Making the SMK’s art collection freely available to everyone — for any purpose, ranging from the serious to the sublime. The objective is to make art relevant to more people.

A brief timeline of SMK open

  • 2012 SMK releases 160 high-quality openly licensed images in trial OpenGLAM
  • 2016 SMK Open starts (runs to 2020) 2017 Launch SMK Open website
  • 2018 Merete Sanderhoff wins Danish Open Data award

Status in 2019

  • 260,000 works in the SMK’s collections
  • 40,000 art works digitised (15% of whole collection), 15,000 of which are captured in high quality
  • ⅔ of works in the whole collection are in the public domain
  • Application in the pipeline to fund further raw digitisation of the collection

Looking at the bigger picture

‘Experiment! Make mistakes!’ – Angela Spinazze, member of the SMK digital advisory board, 2009

The foundations for SMK Open were laid in a seminal programme, SMK Digital,  a five year project to develop digital museum practice with a goal to be ‘a catalyst for users’ creativity’. During this programme, creative uses of SMK works - enabled by both open artworks and the collaborative approach to stimulate community engagement - led to popular uses such as ‘Byens Hegn’.  A collaboration between the volunteer Art Pilots of ULK (Young People’s Art Lab) and SMK, a 79-metre fence containing all 160 open images was wrapped around the walls of construction sites for the renovations of Copenhagen's metro. Contributing to a more positive local environment, architects and residents agreed that the community benefited. establish a sense of community around the hoardings…” - Tina Saaby, City architect and neighbour, København K

The positive effects of providing free access to high-quality digital works of art continued to grow in the years that followed the first release of open images.  Within the museum, the SMK Open API powers a new mobile application built to enable visitors to instantly discover art, as well as an application to explore works virtually in incredible detail.  Monthly WikiLabs initiated by SMK bring together museum professionals with cultural heritage enthusiasts to learn about editing and refining Wikipedia entries, contributing to a wider strategy to forge a strong partnership with Wikipedia that has lead to incredible increases in the visibility of SMK’s collection: demonstrated by the increase in page views of SMK works in 2015 of 770,000, to 20 million in 2015 and 33 million in 2016.

"What we’re learning from becoming an OpenGLAM museum is that it’s not enough to just provide access to the images; in a sector that has long taught audiences that they can’t use artworks without permission, we have to teach them that it’s their cultural heritage, that it belongs to them, and that they should feel free to use it." - Merete Sanderhoff, Statens Museum for Kunst

The transformative influence of SMK Open

The digitisation and opening up of SMK’s collections built a toolbox of rich digital cultural resources for people around the world to use. But closer to Copenhagen lies an inspiring testament to the impact that free and open access to cultural heritage can bring. The collaboration with ULK Art Labs not only brought SMK’s collections to the city’s landscape, but provided an insight into how cultural heritage can be used to shape people's lives.

‘With our digitised collections we can help educate and enlighten people, supporting them in their endeavours to become reflecting, creating individuals’ - Mikkel Bogh, Director SMK

Image: Youngsters listening to the audio track and making collages in the ULK + SMK Open stall at UFM’18

Developed as a social and creative community for young people aged 15-25, ULK members work with museum staff to experiment and to inspire. The remix project in 2015 saw ULK work with people who used drug injection rooms to identify art that represented the ideas and dreams of the users. These images were then remixed, printed and used to decorate the room transforming it into a space users could feel proud of as a reflection of themselves, as a valued part of society.

‘It’s awesome that we can use these artworks that were once created and preserved, and make something new out of them, make them our own, so to speak. That way, you can bring something old with you into the new.’ - Anonymous participant in ‘Making the Invisible Visible Workshop’, 2018

ULK developed a workshop in which young people create visual expressions of the difficult emotions to do with mental and physical health, social challenges and stigmas,  by discussing, clipping and remixing digitised artworks from the SMK public domain collection. Preliminary impact research indicates that creative work supported by open art enables young people who are struggling in life or who are trying to understand how others feel to express their own feelings in different ways, and to find ways to cope with and digest their impressions.

Where do we go from here?

Through collaboration, SMK shows that creative reuse of digital art isn’t just about developing a new digital application or use, it’s also about tackling significant social challenges and stigmas. As almost each creative reuse they explore is unique or a one-off experiment, we're looking forward to seeing impact research being undertaken that showcases a whole range of reuse possibilities.