Knight Foundation believes that the digital space holds significant opportunities for cultural institutions, and in recent years has intensified its work to help organizations create valuable digital content. Museums that do not invest in digital capabilities and offerings will miss important connections with potential audiences. This deficiency also seems likely to erode the relevance of the arts in society as audiences spend increasing amounts of time online.
In early 2018, Knight Foundation approved $970,000 in grants that aimed to raise the digital profiles of eight museums by supporting the costs of positions dedicated to digital and technology work. These digital positions would conceive, plan, and implement digital strategies that improve the visitor experience and expand audiences. Seven of the initial eight grantees proceeded to hire their digital positions; four of the museums’ hires remain in their positions as of this writing.
The grant period presented a series of unprecedented challenges for museums and for society at large. The Covid-19 pandemic forced many museums to close their physical spaces, pivot to remote work and add more digital programming. The racial justice movement accelerated in 2020, which itself caused a reckoning with museums’ histories of Eurocentrism and lack of staff and board diversity.
All seven grantees showed growth in digital capacity during the grant period. And, though the grantees differed significantly in their budget sizes and in the scope of their digital programs, several themes surfaced repeatedly during the research.