7 Trends for the Museum of the Future

May 10, 2012 Business and Management 4 comments

Maritime Experiential Museum
Interactive and educational gaming at the Maritime Experiential Museum & Aquarium

I’ve just read very quickly the Center for the Future of Museums (an arm of the American Association of Museums) well written report called TrendsWatch 2012 which outlined key trends in the development of museums. With lots of links to examples and highlights of cutting edge ideas in American museums, the report provides lots of food for thought for museum and attraction professionals.

Let me highlight the seven trends that they have identified and provide a local context to them.


In the age of democratised influence facilitated by social media, museum visitors are no longer content being passive “gazers”. Rather, they want to be more involved in the process of curation, interpretation and education, becoming collaborators rather than just consumers of culture. The role of curators – the traditional keepers of knowledge and culture – would change to be facilitators and quality controllers when managing crowdsourced citizen generated content.

While progress has been made in a few museums involve the public in co-curating exhibitions and programmes, the bulk still practice a “monologue” as opposed to a “dialogue” with their audience. There is much room to grow in this area in order for our museums and attractions to be “participatory” institutions.

New Models in Social Entrepreneurship

Unlike the US where nonprofits are facing the squeeze with a tightening of regulations on them, the situation here is pretty different. Perhaps what is needed is not so much a change in legal status of museums here but an exploration of different business models to generate greater revenue. This may go beyond the traditional routes of ticketing, tenancies, facility sales, and merchandising.

Many Western museums in cultural capitals like London, Paris and New York are already doing so with the decreasing of government support triggered by the financial crisis. They sign deals which involve not only the loaning of artworks/artefacts or travelling of shows, but the licensing of their brand names in affiliate institutions in the Middle East.

Mobile, Distributive Experiences

Through mobile phones, tablet devices, laptops and other devices, almost anybody can carry a “virtual museum” in their pocket, perusing its galleries, learning about its artworks/artefacts, and viewing educational content from its hallowed halls. “Pop-up” museums have also brought art, heritage and science to the communities, with mobile exhibitions, displays and curated corners away from the city centre. Trailers (called RVs in the west) have also been fitted out to become travelling museums.

In Singapore, the concept of travelling exhibitions is already fairly tried and tested, helping to reach millions of Singaporeans and visitors who may otherwise not have stepped into museums. Increasingly, community curated and co-presented spaces are also the trend here, in line with the desire to bring culture into every household. We also have our versions of travelling mobile museums moving from neighbourhood to neighbourhood.

New Forms of Funding

To seek more sources of funds, museums in the West are turning the age-old idea of cultural philanthropy on its head. The trend is now to seek small amounts through social-networking tools like Google Wallet or Paypal in a term known as crowdfunding. Mobile devices can also be used for such micro-donations through SMSes or other means. Such approaches have already been embraced successfully through microloan platforms like Kiva.org.

Creative Aging

In any developed city around the world, the issue of an aging population loom large, and it becomes increasingly important to find meaningful engagement for seniors. Museums in Western cities find that most of their visitors tend to be young (this observation is mirrored here in Singapore), and efforts are made to draw an increasingly mobile, well-heeled, and educated silver haired community into their walls.

A great way to work with retirees and seniors is to involve them as museum volunteers in various aspects of its operations. With their wealth of knowledge and life encounters, docents with decades of experience can spin a rich narrative that enhances the museum visits.

Augmented Reality

As rich experiential zones, museums present excellent bases upon which to deploy the latest technologies in 3D visualisation, allowing guests to relive a bygone era in vivid detail. Beyond the cinematic shows in 4D theatres, museums can also encourage visitors to download apps that allow them to view “invisible” objects in a museum or compare what a place used to look like in the past and the present.

Such technologies have already been employed in Singapore with the Asian Civilisation Museum’s iPhone app for the Terracotta Warriors exhibition. However, there is certainly room for more innovative future uses melding gaming, reality and virtual encounters. For example, historic scenes from the past (eg the Battle of Pasir Panjang) could perhaps come alive through a short video clip by just pointing your mobile devices in the right direction.

Shifts in Education

Finally, the evolution of learning away from classroom based rote learning to a more experiential do-it-yourself model has also influenced museum educational programmes. By working with schools more closely, museums can blend the learning experience both formal and informal using the latest approaches in pedagogy, encouraging project-based approaches where kids can create stuff in the context of a museum.

Such approaches have been done successfully in our local museums (most notably the wonderful “Art Garden” that is part of the Singapore Art Museum’s Children’s Season) through fun-filled environments where kids can immerse themselves in mindful play while learning about art, history, science or culture.

For more, do check out the TrendsWatch 2012 report here.

Are there other ideas or trends that museums can embrace in the future? I’d be happy to hear your thoughts.

By Walter
Founder of Cooler Insights, I am a geek marketer with almost 24 years of senior management experience in marketing, public relations and strategic planning. Since becoming an entrepreneur 5 years ago, my team and I have helped 58 companies and over 2,200 trainees in digital marketing, focusing on content, social media and brand storytelling.


  1. Thanks for sharing your thoughts! It’s an exciting time for museums as mindsets and expectations are changing as we speak. Perhaps the 8th trend for museums may be to go smaller and focusing on customized interests…

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