Developing Digital Methods to Map Museum «Soft Power»

Natalia Grincheva (, University of Melbourne, Australia

The project aims to employ Geographical Information Technologies to develop a pilot version of the digital mapping system “Museum Soft Power Map.” It explores key factors in the time-space development of museum capacities to contribute to local creative economy by attracting tourism and generating economic activity. In collaboration with the Australian Centre for the Moving Image (ACMI), the project creates a dynamic digital map to visualize a growing in time geographic diversity of the Centre’s collections, programming, audiences and partnerships. It reveals what factors affect the development of the ACMI’s global brand recognition and influence its capacity to attract larger visitation and revenue.

Contemporary museums, as important actors in the international arena (Sylvester, 2009), increasingly serve as vital economic players helping their cities to compete for talent, tourism, and investment (Towse and Handka, 2013; Vivant, 2011; Werner, 2005). Though Nye’s (2004) concept of “soft power” has been recently employed to discuss museum contribution to place branding, urban regeneration and tourism development (Lord and Blankenberg, 2015), there is a significant gap in the academic knowledge on what exact museum resources and activities accumulate “soft power” and how they affect the development of institutional global brand recognition in time and space.

The project tests a theoretical hypothesis that representing, promoting and celebrating cultural diversity help contemporary cultural institutions to attract larger global media attention, increase international visibility and appeal to more diverse audiences and partners (Nye, 2004, La Porte, 2012). The project traces a historic development of the ACMI’s global brand that is based on the institutional vision to “be the leading global museum of the moving image” (ACMI, 2016). With diverse collection of hundreds foreign language films, representing a wide variety of cultures across the globe, ACMI runs a dozen of international tours and projects annually to strengthen its “reputation for world class exhibition experiences” (ACMI, 2016). In a close collaboration with ACMI, the project develops a customized Geographic Information System (GIS) that maps a growing international profile and visibility of the ACMI’s collections, curatorial expertise and activities through time. The main goal of this digital mapping tool is to explore how attention to diversity on the level of collection acquisitions and a strategic focus on international outreach in its programming help the museum to accumulate institutional “soft power,” measured through increase in its audienceship and selfearned income in Melbourne and other hosting cities.

A young, dynamic and ambitious institution, ACMI in 15 years of its existence, managed to develop a large audience reaching in 2016 1.5 million visitors to the Federation Square museum and 500 thousand attendants of its international exhibitions in six countries (ACMI, 2016). With 22% international visitors, ACMI generates $11.5 million through tickets sales and program services annually. As a partner in the project, ACMI is eager to provide its historical institutional records and digital expertise to develop the GIS software which traces and measure the development of its “soft power” in time and space.

The project employs museum records in the last 15 years in collection acquisitions and strategic programming to map and visualise a growing geographic diversity of the museum cultural resources and activities to explore how this international exposure affects audience development. The GIS software operates as a combination of deep mapping layers, each representing a different dimension of museum capitals tied to a specific location on the globe. Resources or Cultural Layer exposes a diversity and scope of museums’ collections and main exhibits, highlighting geographic areas of their origins. Outputs or Social Layer maps complex museum “ecosystems” by visualizing museum social resources and telling stories about their engagements with constituencies, partners and audiences on the local and global levels. Impacts or Economic Layer builds on the metric of economic effects, measured through ticket sales at home and abroad, local and international program service revenue, membership dues as well as income received through museum shop, restaurant, and renting. The GIS processes the input data from three dimensions of museum capitals to map, visualize and draw correlations among cultural assets, social outcomes and economic impacts.

Combining and building on recent findings in academic scholarship on deep mapping (Bodenhamer et al., 2010; Gibson et al., 2010; Abrams et al., 2008) and museum evaluations (Jacobsen, 2016), the project designs a GIS system that advances a rapidly developing field of cultural mapping. The major outcome of this project is a research platform that can make a contribution both to applied knowledge and to academic scholarship. On the practical level, this research system can improve ACMI proactive management in global PR and programming. The digital map reveals geographic areas of missed opportunities by exposing locations where ACMI has a low or no cultural affiliations. Also, the system helps to identify “hot spots” of social density in terms of visitation and social activities, as well as to explore if stronger institutional efforts to target specific locations can result in a higher economic return on institutional investments. In academic terms, such a digital mapping tool advances the digital humanities scholarship by developing computational methods to explore cultural institutions and their impacts upon audiences. It combines quantitative and qualitative traditions within cultural mapping to reveal how collections, curatorial expertise and international programming strategies can generate museum “soft power.”

My poster presentation at the conference will present the first stage of the mapping system development. The first stage is focused on mapping ACMI collections and calculating collection appeal power index to different countries. The demo version of the application is available here: Integrating content analysis of the multicultural and multilingual collections with cultural analytics data, representing different countries around the globe, the online map shows where ACMI can have a stronger appeal with its offerings and holdings.

ACMI has unbelievably rich and diverse collections. It has 200 thousand original items and more than 40 thousand titles. The majority of the collections are accessible online through the online collection search system which currently allows to search through 41.713 titles. 70% of films are produced outside Australia not only in the US and UK but also in France, Germany, Japan, China or New Zealand. There are movies in around 50 different languages which are spoken in more than 230 countries around the world. For example, extensive collections in English that originate from Australia, New Zealand, Canada, the USA, the UK and other countries provide a potential content access to people from a hundred countries, while films in French could reach people in 38 countries.

To understand the potential appeal power of the ACMI collection to people from different countries, I considered two main types of criteria: collections characteristics and social demographic statistics. Collections criteria indicate how many items where produced in a certain country and how many films in the collection are in the language/s spoken in this country. Social demographic criteria bring to light such nuances as immigration statistics in Melbourne, annual tourism rate, ancestry data and internet penetration rate which affects the collection access and discoverability online. I calculated the collection appeal power index as a weight some of all subsidence’s across two key criteria. The demo app available online ( ) demonstrates the Appeal Power Ind
ex that ranges from 0 to 1 and is visualized by the intensity of the blue color applied to different countries. When you click different countries, the app indicates how many movies from the ACMI collections were produced in this country, how many movies in the collections are in the spoken languages of this country as well as highlights secondary factors like tourism, ancestry and immigration from this country which increases the probability of the collection exposure and visibility among people of this geographic area.

Appendix A

  1. Abrams, J. and Hall, P. (2008). Else/Where: Mapping New Cartographies of Networks and Territories. Minnesota: University of Minnesota Press.
  2. Australian Centre for the Moving Image (ACMI). 2016. Annual Report 2015-16.
  3. Bodenhamer, D., Corrigan, J. and Harris, T. (2010). The Spatial Humanities: GIS and the Future of Humanities Scholarship. Bloomington: Indiana University.
  4. Gibson, C., Brennan-Horley, C. and Warren, A. (2010). Geographic Information Technologies for cultural research: cultural mapping and the prospects of colliding epistemologies. Cultural Trends 19 (4): 325–348.
  5. Jacobsen, J. (2016). Measuring Museum Impact and Performance. Rowman & Littlefield.
  6. La Porte, T. (2012). The Legitimacy and Effectiveness of Non‐State Actors and the Public Diplomacy Concept. In Public Diplomacy Theory and Conceptual Issues, ed. International Studies Association, ISA Annual Convention.
  7. Lord, G. D. and Blankenberg, N. (2015). Museums, Cities and Soft Power. Rowman & Littlefield Publishers. AAM Press.
  8. Nye, J. (2004). Soft Power: The Means to Success in World Politics. New York: Public Affairs.
  9. Sylvester, C. (2009). Art/Museums: International Relations Where We Least Expect It. London Paradigm Publishers.
  10. Towse, R. and Handka, C. (2013). Handbook on the Digital Creative Economy. Routledge.
  11. Vivant, E. (2011). Who brands whom? Town Planning Review 82 (1): 99-115.
  12. Werner, P. (2005). Museum, Inc: Inside the Global Art World. Chicago: Prickly Paradigm Press.

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