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2 minutes to read Posted on Tuesday January 8, 2019

portrait of Douglas McCarthy

Douglas McCarthy

Collections Manager, Art & Photography , Europeana Foundation

Museums in the Digital Age: Open access arrives at the Lenbachhaus

Munich’s Städtische Galerie im Lenbachhaus recently launched Collections Online, offering high-resolution image downloads with CC BY-SA licences for its out-of-copyright works. Jacqueline Falk, responsible for Digital Communication at the Lenbachhaus, shares the inside story with Douglas McCarthy.

main image
August Macke, Der Geist im Hausgestühl: Stillleben mit Katze (detail), 1910

Hi Jacqueline, tell us a little about your role at the Lenbachhaus

I take care of everyday digital activities including our social media, website, blog and newsletter — and now our new baby, Collections Online. I try to convey the diverse content of our museum to a broad audience and to engage online users in experiencing our collections and the stories behind them.

What motivated the Lenbachhaus to adopt its new open access policy?

As a cultural institution, we are not just a storage space for artworks. To us, a museum is a place where people meet, learn, and exchange ideas. Enabling everyone not only to experience art but to interact with it, is a central part of our educational mandate as a municipal institution. We strive to be an open house, offering free exhibitions at least once a year, and developing a comprehensive and participative art education programme.

After we had joined Google Arts & Culture it seemed a natural extension of our mission to make our collection available online and to adopt an open access policy. The positive response to Collections Online already shows that this is the right way to meet the expectations of our audiences in the digital age — it's been amazing to receive all the encouragement and feedback.

Tell us about the process and stakeholders behind Collections Online and the open access policy

The decision to develop Collections Online — not just for our museum but for all five municipal museums in Munich — was initially made by Anton Biebl, currently Municipal Director and future Director of Munich’s Municipal Department of Arts and Culture. We were the first museum to start the process last winter. The project was strongly supported by our museum's director and our administrative director.

Luckily the team in our museum is, for the most part, very open-minded with regard to digital media. We formed a cross-team from different departments as we believe that the project affects, and relies on, active collaboration of nearly everyone in the museum.

Although our collection artworks are internationally renowned (especially Der Blaue Reiter paintings), online you often see poor quality digital versions with bad lighting and inaccurate colours. So we wanted to counter those images with higher quality images, in keeping with our mission to respect and safeguard the artworks we are entrusted with.

Regarding the open access policy, we had to work within our municipal guidelines, which stipulate that we charge for high-resolution images. We decided that it was possible to publish high-quality images online but still charge for very high-resolution images with a colour checker. Fortunately, our management did not need much convincing and it supported the open access policy early on.

Who are the open access influencers in the German museum sector?

In recent years, a large number of German museums have published their collections online but many are still hesitant to adopt open access policies. Nonetheless, the topics of open access and copyright have been discussed widely at various conferences, and documents such the “Hamburger Note” (2015) and “Münchner Note” (2018) have been published and signed by numerous cultural institutions.

Regarding open access advocates in Germany, one can name a few. The Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe Hamburg with Dr Antje Schmidt must be mentioned, as it was one of the first German museums to adopt an open access policy. It's always an inspiration to listen to Ellen Euler too, Professor for Open Access and Open Data at FH Potsdam. Our colleagues at the Pinakotheken use the same CC BY-SA licence as us and their 2017 conference Museen im digitalen Raum addressed common concerns relating to copyright and open access.

What goals do you have for the new policy?

For the Lenbachhaus, success means that our artworks are experienced by more people than ever before, that they are used and appropriated and perhaps turned into something new. Digital exposure to our collection can inspire users to experience the originals while other visitors might want to sum up their museum visit by consulting the collection online. We think that the works in our collection are of great importance and that they tell stories relevant to life today. Open access gives the artworks and stories the chance to become part of everyday life.

What's next?

Collections Online is our first big step towards better digital access and engagement. One of our goals is, of course, to put more artworks online and to develop additional features. A project like this is never complete. We see Collections Online as becoming the central platform where we'll share the Lenbachhaus’s scholarly activities and archival research with the public. We're thinking about ways to connect this platform with others too, especially Wikipedia and Europeana. We're evaluating opportunities for new partnerships and collaborations. In 2019, we plan to take part in Coding da Vinci, which will take place in southern Germany for the first time.

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