“Most of our rich collection, that makes our museum a museum, is not seen by the public or researched. I think we have to change that,” says Martin Roth, director of the Victoria and Albert Museum. In this video for the World Economic Forum, Roth describes how a new digital strategy can help get objects out of deep storage to be appreciated by a new audience.

Click on the video to hear Roth’s talk, or read some quotes below.

On connecting to the digital natives

Museums are always changing with a society. Sometimes it’s an evolution, sometimes it’s because of political pressure and sometimes it’s because of technology. If someone asks you, how many objects do you have in storage? And you have to answer, 80% in storage, 20% on display. So that means that most of our rich collection, that makes our museum a museum, is not seen by the public or researched. I think we have to change that, and with the new technology, I think we have a chance to have a different approach.”

“Let’s think about the audience we have today: digital natives. Could digital natives live without the internet? 75% say no. The average UK adult now spend more time engaged with digital than they do sleeping. How many times a day does a average digital native check their smartphones? At least 45 times. So how do we bring those objects and this together?”

On curating and storing

“We have something in our museums we call open storage. But there’s still a difference between the audience and the objects, research and the curator. We have a lot of people who are interested in textiles who come and work with our curators. Our storage facility is outside London, and it’s a former cruise missile bunker, and we call it deep storage. We have two of those bunkers, the Tate has three and the British Museum has five. If there is an object in deep storage, it’s forgotten.”

“This beautiful Frank Lloyd Wright Office is in deep storage, so it will take ages until it comes out of deep storage and is used somewhere in the V&A. So how can we combine both? My suggestion is that we use digital technology to change the accessibility of our collection.”

“You’re born in Tehran, but have never been back there, and the V&A has an amazing collection of objects from Persian Iran. So you want to see more in the museum than is on display. So you work with the curator and receive more information, and you create something like your own exhibition with five objects. Maybe it’s there for a few hours, maybe you leave it there in our storage facility. So you create your own exhibition. We ask you to give us your own knowledge.”

On a rapid response

“Do we really need curated shows today? Yes, but we also need something called a headline exhibition. This object is a 3D gun and it was invented about a year ago by a student called Cody Wilson. It was in the media everywhere. Our curators went to Texas, talked to the young man who invented it, received all the information and we had it on display for a short time.”

“It was an immediate reaction to what happened in public. It’s about information, it’s about explaining what’s going on. But at the same time, it’s about the aura of the real object. So what we want to show is the object and give more information at the same time. But it doesn’t mean it’s an exhibition. It could be there for a short time, more like a headline in an newspaper.”

Watch the full video in the player above.

Author: Martin Roth has been Director of the Victoria and Albert Museum since September 2011.

Image: The feet of visitors are seen from below as they make their way along a translucent walkway at a National Museum. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque.