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January 30, 2021

ICOM VoicesThe Value of Digital Conversations in 2020

Bernadine Bröcker Wieder

Chief Executive Officer at Vastari

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Keywords: Webinars; Expertise; Advice; Survey; Sponsorship
cover image: @Comic sans/Getty

In May/June 2020, Vastari, a technology firm that facilitates temporary museum exhibition exchanges, carried out a survey to shine a light on the post-pandemic uncertainty regarding exhibitions. In response, 50 museum leaders indicated that informal conversations with other museums, together with official advice from government bodies, were the most helpful contributors when deciding what to do with their future exhibition programmes.

Vastari Museum Leaders Survey ‘Future Exhibition Programming’, 50 respondents including museum directors, curators or exhibition team members – Unpublished internal data retrieved May-June 2020. © Vastari

Vastari helps museums plan their future exhibition programming by borrowing works from private collectors or booking touring exhibitions – actions that were no longer happening due to the health crisis. Like so many in the cultural sector, we agonised over the future of our industry. The survey exposed more questions than answers. Many in our network – especially museum professionals and exhibition producers – questioned how to reopen safely, digitise their offering and make money online to sustain themselves.

Digitisation and revenue-generation has been Vastari’s principal goal as a company for the past nine years. While conceiving innovative ways for museums to connect with content owners like collectors and exhibition producers using the Internet, our team also had  to identify our early adopters (clients who would be receptive to a new proposition and willing to pay for it) develop a relative product for the market and continue to uphold the cultural industry’s ethical approach during the digitisation process. Could we employ the same ‘startup’ methodologies for product development and thew knowledge we gathered over the years, to help with hosting these new digital conversations?


We started by creating a series of digital events entitled ‘Digi-What?’, collaborating with Joël Kremer from Moyosa Media/the Kremer Collection and Anaïs Aguerre from Culture Connect. As a trio, we invited a select group of museum professionals to three roundtable discussions focusing on the future of digital in museums. It was not without risk – none of us had organised these types of events before, but we had worked together before. Joel and I had organised a workshop for start-ups and museums at We Are Museums 2019 in Katowice, Poland, and Anaïs and I had worked together on a panel about reproduction and the V&A’s ReACH initiative at Cromwell Place in London in 2018. However, an online event with international participants was new to us. We decided to start small.

We invited the attendees to a Zoom call with a relatively open structure, during which all participants could comment, following a brief introduction. These digital conversations worked as a ‘sandbox’ for participants to wrap their head around the new formats. The first discussions were informal, as we adjusted to this new way of exchanging ideas, brainstorming and finding realistic solutions to genuine problems.

Refining the Offer

Looking back, quite early on the unmoderated concept evolved into a more formal format to engage with, and learn from. Within weeks our community reached out to us, wanting to connect further, dig deeper, understand more. We surveyed the ‘Digi-What?’ attendees and found that they wanted to hear more from the experts, while still being able to ask their own questions.

In September 2020, Vastari launched a ‘Webinars’ section on its website; accessible for free for all registered members of the platform. This section included the recordings of the ‘Digi-What?’ conversations as well as our new ‘Vastari Connects’ webinars, that continue to this day. Luckily, at a time when traditional revenue streams were affected by the impact of the pandemic, we found that sponsors were willing to support these types of discussions. Engagement with the Vastari platform increased, and our average user site visit duration increased from nine minutes in Q4 2019 to 56 minutes in Q4 2020.

Average session duration (minutes). ©

Network Effects

A few months after our ‘Digi-what?’ experience, Culture Connect went on to organise an ambitious speaker programme for the Louvre Abu Dhabi, titled ‘Reframing Museums’. Another Digi-What attendee, former museum director and Maltese Culture Ministry professional Sandro de Bono hosted digital conversations in the University of Malta instead of his inaugural Biennial Conference Muze.X during November and December 2020 with thought leaders including Diane Drubay of We are Museums, Seb Chan of ACMI, Nina Simon of OF/BY/FOR ALL and Mike Murawski from Art Museum Teaching.

Vastari is not the only organisation to have found online conversations valuable during this period. Four other webinar series that have been very helpful throughout these rather exceptional times have been Cuseum’s webinars on audience engagement and technology; Articheck’s ‘Artevolve’ series on technology innovation; and Creative United’s ‘Future of the Art Market’ series in collaboration with Creative Scotland. Lastly, the brilliant We are Museums collaborated with Museum Connections and the French Embassy to host ‘The Lab: Making Sense of Immersion in 2021’ with contributions from content producers and cultural institutions from around the world.

Valuing Expertise

These digital conversations enabled our industry to connect, process and overcome the various changes and crises brought about by the pandemic and associated lockdowns. But what’s more, they demonstrated the fundamental importance of taking time to process important information about how the industry works. Stepping back from producing outward-facing exhibitions, events, educational programmes and fundraising, participants could take a moment to think, reflect, and reposition. Enabling these discussions then also created an opportunity for suppliers and sponsors to connect with the community.

During this time of pause and reflection, I personally spent time looking at what museums are ‘selling’ and what they monetise in their operating processes. Some things have monetary value, like touring exhibition hiring fees, while others have shared cultural value, like borrowing from a private collector. I came to realise that these digital conversations demonstrated just how much expertise museums possess within their walls and quite how little monetary value is currently associated with that knowledge, experience and creativity.

Why are speakers and contributors at museum conferences largely unpaid? Why do museum experts receive no compensation when appearing on TV? Can monetary value be generated from these discussions, at a time when the industry needs it most? Vastari’s objective for 2021 is to find a way to make this sharing of expertise from informal discussions between friends into a revenue generator for museums, thus emphasising the value of their knowledge.

Readers wishing to take part in Vastari’s ongoing webinar discussions can do so on the ‘Keep Calm and Carry On’ section of the website.

References and resources

Vastari website :

More information about the marketing term ‘early adopter’ :,the%20technology%20or%20product%20mainstream.

Vastari Connects webinars ‘Keep Calm and Carry On’:

Louvre Abu Dhabi, Reframing Museums Youtube channel:

Shaping Museum Futures, Biennial Conference debating museum futures, University of Malta Valletta Campus:

More about the Cuseum webinars:

More about the ArtEvolve webinars:

Future of the Art Market series:

The Lab: Making Sense of Immersion in 2021 – Episode 1: