This is a rare and privileged opportunity to meet and converse with two of the world's leading (former) museum directors.
As Williams Director of the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology (2007–12) Hodges, at the request of the university’s Provost, embarked upon a programme to create a modern museum accessible to Penn students and to K-12 schoolchildren and Philadelphians. Restructuring the museum involved re-positioning the research staff, modernizing the curatorial and exhibition programmes, as well as changing the education, catering, marketing and gallery programmes. This led to a successful campaign to refurbish the Museum’s West Wing, to install new teaching facilities, to install new travelling exhibition galleries, and to implement a digital programme to put the museum's international collections online.
As Director of the Met, Tom Campbell spent nine years pushing through a modernization campaign, heavily investing in digital technologies and dramatically expanding the institution’s engagement with Modern and contemporary art. He also embarked on an ambitious infrastructure strategy, improving existing spaces while building new ones. While there were many vocal critics of Campbell's approach he staunchly maintains that museums are now "challenged to make ourselves relevant not only to existing audiences but to new audiences." Upon departing the Met, Campbell received a prestigious Getty Rothschild Fellowship to conduct research at the Getty Museum in Los Angeles and then England’s Waddesdon Manor, a period he has said he will use to continue his exploration of the digital future of museums. He is however, well aware of the potential pitfalls and drawbacks that the 'digital experience' can bring with it:
"Things are changing so fast it’s hard to kind of summarize. Thomas Friedman has just written a great book, Thank You for Being Late, in which he talks about how much has changed just since 2007 when the iPhone was introduced. We’ve been trying to respond to that at the museum by getting the collections online. We’ve made huge progress there. You know, I was in Paris at an exhibition of Bonnard at the Musée d’Orsay. Some of the pictures were labeled and some weren’t, and I saw one of the Met’s pictures was there without a label, so I put it into my iPhone and had Philippe de Montebello’s voice booming out about the painting. It was an example to me of how amazing it is to have this kind of access to information.
"Now, we’re trying to refine that information and make it richer and more interconnected. One of my curators was at a conference in Lima, Peru, recently, and she said that there were professors there from schools in the Andes where the students can’t afford to buy textbooks, but who are eagerly using the authoritative information they can get from the Met website.
"So, I think that’s very exciting, and at the same time I’m hesitant, because it all has to be kept in balance. Our goal is to bring people to connect with art, and we don’t want the digital to be gimmicky, to become a distraction. That’s something we have to think hard about when we’re in the galleries, and especially now that we’re on the threshold of this whole new potentiality of virtual reality, which again could have amazing educational application. The idea of taking kids into a virtual Sistine Chapel, to Angkor Wat, could be an incredible educational experience—but we don’t want it to compete with, or get in the way of, the real object."