One of the first things Statens Museum for Kunst, Denmark’s national gallery, did when it decided to modernize its display in late 2014, was to remove the signs that say “No photography.” According to Jonas Heide Smith, the head of digital communication at SMK, this was because many of the peculiar rules that museums traditionally insisted on—often in the service of safety, or copyright regulations—were being flouted by smartphone-toting visitors. “It [became] a losing battle to try to uphold them.” So down came the signs. It was a small change but part of a larger revolution.
Museums have spent years trying to shake off their image as stuffy, dictatorial places and, instead, create the sense that they are open and inclusive. In the meantime, they have been losing out to the internet. More people in the U.S. now “discover” art through the social media platforms Instagram and Pinterest than they do by visiting galleries, according to a survey published earlier this year by the art market site Invaluable, and nearly half of those aged 18 to 24 find new artists via social media. Meanwhile, 84 percent of Americans visit art galleries or museums less than once a year, and 15 percent say they never go at all. If our places of culture are going to attract a new—and bigger—audience, they need to embrace at least some aspects of social media. They’re trying—but, like painting a picture, it’s a slow process.