The role of museums in the 21st century is changing. A modern museum is now a technology-infused experience with an opportunity to explore, learn and have fun. And, it has become available to the world because of the internet.
The Metropolitan Museum of New York, considered one of the world's three great museums alongside the Louvre in Paris and the British Museum in London, has spent millions of dollars in developing an interactive website that can take you to all corners of the museum.
“Technology is hugely important. We think of it as our fourth platform," says Dan Weiss, president of the Met. "We have three buildings, three different museums [the main building on New York’s 5th Avenue, the Met Breuer, a newly acquired building for modern art to bring in a new audience for the Metropolitan and compete with other modern art museums, and the Met Cloisters with the wonders of Medieval Europe in a setting of beautiful gardens], and our website and online presence, it’s a huge source of an audience for us.”
The Met’s website alone had over 33 million visitors last year.
WATCH: Visitors Flock to the Met
The overriding issue the Met grapples with is relevance. Does the modern day museum bring added value to a person’s life? Is the experience enriching? Has the Met adapted to the 21st century?
Weiss puts it this way, “Part of it is simply the quality of the offerings that we have and, in addition to the quality, just the overall strength of our collections we have been building new and more innovative programming in the last several years that interest people.”
He added, “They come to see our special exhibitions, they come to see our live performances, they come to experience what constitutes one of the great cultural centers of the world.”
The Met drew 2.5 million visitors for just three major exhibitions in the past year, and 74 percent of them came from places other than New York City. Almost half were international visitors.
The biggest exhibit in the history of the Met was last year’s “China: Through the Looking Glass.” The interactive Costume Institute presentation looked at the impact of China’s aesthetics on Western fashion by integrating couture with cinema depicting periods of Chinese history. The exhibit took the visitor into the world of China.
“Of course it’s a famous museum," visitor Massimo Carboni of Montreal, Canada, told VOA. "You hear about it all the time in the news about all the new exhibits they’re getting and it’s a staple of New York. You can’t see the city without seeing it.”
The Costume Institute’s spring exhibition opened in early May. "Manus x Machina: Fashion in the Age of Technology," explores how fashion designers are reconciling the handmade and the machine made creation of haute couture and avant-garde ready-to-wear. It is already drawing huge crowds, as is a new addition to the roof garden: a haunted house sculpture seemingly off of moviemaker Alfred Hitchcock’s drawing board called PsychoBarn.
The Met's 6.3 million visitors last year immersed themselves in 5,000 years of world history through its vast collections from Egyptian temples and the ancient Temple of Dendur to old masters paintings to Greek gods and goddesses, arms and armor, arts of Africa and the Americas, and other incredible artifacts.
From ithe Met's Beaux Arts façade, the Great Hall, and its grand stairway, the architecture alone draws people to its 190,000 square meters of space.
The Met’s current operating budget is approximately $300 million this year. It has an endowment of approximately $3 billion, and gets additional income from admissions, memberships, philanthropic gifts and grants, retail operation in the museum, and some government support.
With all that, there is a belt-tightening underway that may cost some jobs. The same is true for other museums in the New York City. The Met itself estimates people who came to the Museum spent more than $5 billion into the New York economy.
The Met’s permanent collection contains over 2 million works. The museum first opened its door in 1872.