Euromuse.net: A Calendar of Major Exhibitions in European Museums
Monika Hagedorn-Saupe, Axel Ermert, Kathrin Zinkmann, Institut für Museumskunde, State Museums of Berlin, Germany
euromuse.net is a public access portal of European art and cultural history museums. Its purpose is to give accurate information on major exhibitions throughout Europe, providing all vital information in one place. Moreover, it offers background information on the organising museums and their collections. Initiated in 1999 by a group of seven major European museums, it went live in a soft launch in autumn, 2001, and was publicly launched in autumn, 2003. By the time of the public launch, the network already consisted of more than 100 museums throughout Europe. This paper presents the euromuse project, describing its development, current state, and plans for further development of the portal.
Keywords: On-line calendar, exhibitions, museum portal, European network, euromuse.net
A European Joint Effort: www.euromuse.net
As the name indicates, euromuse.net is a European undertaking. It was initiated in 1999 by members of the European Chapter of the "Large Exhibition Organizers' Conference". The Large Exhibition Organizers' Conference is an organization founded in the late 1980s by a couple of European museums and the Réunion des musées nationaux (an umbrella association for 33 French state museums). A major concern of this group is to discuss and clarify questions arising when organising and exchanging exhibitions; topics such as political, technical and legal issues. Over the years, membership has grown to about 80 museums, comprising some of the most notable museums of art and cultural history in the international museum landscape.
The idea to develop an Internet platform that brings together museums throughout Europe arose from the museums' objective to communicate to a broad public the European cultural heritage and the specific traditions which it represents. By jointly presenting the richness of the museums' collections and their manifold exhibition activities on the Web - and thus facilitating access to them - the initiators aimed for raising awareness of Europe's cultural diversity as well as its shared identity.
The core group developing the prototype of euromuse.net comprised The National Gallery in London, the Musée du Louvre and the Réunion des musées nationaux in Paris, the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna, the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, the Statens Museum for Kunst in Copenhagen, and the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin.
The National Gallery, London
The National Gallery houses the national collection of Western European painting. It has around 2,300 pictures and covers every school of European painting from about 1250 to 1900. The collection was established in 1824, when the art collection of John Julius Angerstein was bought for the nation. The gallery was built in the 1830s by architect William Wilkins; it has been expanded four times, most recently with the Sainsbury Wing in 1991 which houses the Gallery's Early Renaissance paintings such as works by Van Eyck, Piero della Francesca, Botticelli, Leonardo da Vinci and Raphael, as well as the Wilton Diptych.
The Musée du Louvre, Paris
Established in 1793 by the French Republic, the Louvre Museum is one of the earliest European museums. Its collection incorporates works dating from the birth of the great ancient civilisations right up to the first half of the 19th Century. They are divided into 7 departments, incorporating works from ancient civilisations up to 1848; Near Eastern and Islamic Antiquities; Egyptian Antiquities; Greek, Etruscan and Roman Antiquities; Paintings Prints and Drawings; Sculpture; and Objets d'art. These diverse collections confirm the encyclopaedic vocation of the Louvre Museum.
Réunion des musées nationaux, Paris
The Réunion des musées nationaux (RMN) is a public enterprise of a commercial nature under the supervision of the Ministry of Culture. It works with 33 French state museums of all sizes, for which it acquires art works, organises temporary exhibitions (especially in the Galeries nationales du Grand Palais), and publishes and distributes catalogues, CD-ROMs, videos and various reproductions (postcards, posters, engravings, moulds, etc). The RMN also publishes guide books and catalogues for several of the large regional museums (in Grenoble, Lille, Lyon, Nantes, and Rouen) and manages their shops.
The Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna
The collections of the Kunsthistorisches Museum are amongst the most important and spectacular in the world. They range from Ancient Egyptian, Greek and Roman Antiquities to the collections of medieval art and the splendid Renaissance and Baroque collections. Many of the treasures were assembled by the Habsburg dynasty of Austria-Hungary, for centuries enthusiastic patrons and collectors. The 16th Century Kunst- und Wunderkammer (art and treasure chambers) of Archduke Ferdinand and of Emperor Rudolph II, together with the Baroque collections of Archduke Leopold Wilhelm, form the nucleus of the Museum's magnificent collections.
The Rijksmuseum Amsterdam
The Rijksmuseum Amsterdam, housed in a historic building, has also an internationally renowned collection. At its heart are the paintings of the Golden Age in the Netherlands: twenty works by Rembrandt, four by Vermeer, and many other pieces by such artists as Frans Hals and Jan Steen. The brilliant focus of the museum is Rembrandt's Night Watch. Less well known but just as beautiful are the paintings from the Middle Ages and the 18th and 19th Centuries. Moreover, it has superb collections of silver and Delft Blue, old doll's houses, and exhibitions of drawings and prints and the mysterious art of Asia.
The Statens Museum for Kunst, Copenhagen
The Statens Museum for Kunst, the Danish national gallery, is rich in art from the late 13th Century to the present day. The works on display include paintings, sculpture, installations and every other form of art on paper, both from Denmark and abroad.
The Staatliche Museen zu Berlin
The Staatliche Museen zu Berlin represent the result of centuries of collecting. In the 19th and early 20th centuries, holdings increased enormously through generous donations, through archaeological fieldwork, and through ethnological expeditions undertaken. Today the national museums in Berlin consist of 16 museums, each with its own special area of competence. Despite the losses suffered between 1933 and 1945, most collections rank high among the world's major museums.
The Beginnings of euromuse.net
It took the group about two years to develop a first version of the portal. Step by step, the partners specified the general mission: “to communicate to the public the European cultural heritage and the specific traditions which it does represent”, and outlined a concept on how to best get there in terms of site structure, design and content.
One basic principle was to reflect the co-existence of all the different cultures and languages in Europe, and to be easily accessible for an international audience. Therefore, it was decided to offer the information published on euromuse.net both in the native language of the organising museum and in English. As the main target group, the partners agreed upon the individual visitor to a museum, at home and abroad, who likes to travel and has a distinct interest in art and culture. These users in mind, five topical sections were created:
The prototype was realised through an external designer, Susanne Brandhorst, and the software company Byblon (now brandhorst & bremer. information architects.) It went live in a soft-launch in autumn 2001. During the next two years, the euromuse group made an effort to improve the site, to evaluate its performance, to work with focus groups discussing its usability and functionality, and to check whether the information offered is what our target group wants. Two new versions went on-line; a third one then was publicly launched in autumn 2003.
Since 1999, when first initiated by the small group of seven partners, the number of participating museums has grown steadily. Now the network is comprised of 45 partners representing more than 100 museums from 14 European countries, with ten different languages spoken. Those countries already represented on euromuse.net are Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom.
Since the public launch of euromuse.net last autumn, more museums have decided they want to become members. Beside the editing team of euromuse.net, which can be approached via firstname.lastname@example.org, there are contact points in all those countries that already have partners in the euromuse network, promoting the project in their country.
The decision on whether a museum should become a partner of euromuse.net is taken by the museum that serves as contact point in a country, and after consultation with other partners. As a general guideline, it was decided to open the network to all European museums of art and cultural history which have major collections, and which organise temporary exhibitions of European importance. Considering the vast number of museums in Europe - about 6,000 in Germany alone - it is essential to establish criteria for participation in order to keep a clear profile in the Web.
Currently, the State Museums of Berlin, and specifically its branch, the Institute for Museum Studies, have assumed responsibility for the technical development and maintenance of euromuse.net. Editorial service for all English texts is provided by The National Gallery in London. Major financial support to the euromuse project comes from the State Museums of Berlin and The National Gallery, London - supplemented by the annual membership fees of the participating partners.
While most of the communication amongst the partners concerning day-to-day business is by e-mail or by telephone, organizational and conceptual matters are discussed once or twice a year in meetings held at alternating locations, with all partners that are interested in taking part. The last meeting took place in August, 2003, in Berlin, with two big issues on the agenda: preparations for the public launch of euromuse.net, and a discussion of the possibility of a proposal for EU-funding to enlarge the functionality of euromuse.net, e.g. with a section for publications of the partner museums. In addition, there are the annual Large Exhibition Organizers' Conference meetings, where the current state of euromuse.net is reported and discussed.
One important guideline of the network is to foster collective Web presence, without compromising the individuality of the participating museums or institutions. Therefore, the information published on euromuse.net is supplied directly by the individual museums. Depending on their internal organisation, the data are provided by the press department, the multimedia department, or the exhibition department.
Due to different annual schedules and the varying duration of temporary exhibitions, each museum has its own routine for providing the data for euromuse.net. For example, some of the museums are able to produce an extensive exhibition programme for the next two years, while others show only one or two major exhibitions per year. Respecting the diverse structures, euromuse.net does not work according to a fixed deadline, but is updated continuously.
When a museum wants to post exhibition announcements, news or information on special on-line offers on euromuse.net, it records the relevant data on electronic forms - both in its native language and in English - and sends them to the Institute for Museum Studies in Berlin.
At the Institute, all data are carefully checked before they are released online. In case there are questions, or changes have to be made, the editor at the Institute contacts the person responsible in the organising museum; English texts are sent to The National Gallery in London for final editing. The image editing is done at the Institute for Museum Studies in Berlin, while the responsibility for clearance of copyright on the image material is the initiating museum's. Thus, euromuse.net can ensure stylistic consistency and accurate, high quality information.
Site Structure and Navigation
The euromuse.net portal has five main sections: museums, exhibitions, news, resources, and shops. Each section includes a convenient search facility which allows searches by date, topic, name, city, and/or country - depending on the type of item searched.
After having selected a search criterion, the user gets a result list; in all cases, the titles of exhibitions, news or resources are displayed in English, as well as in the native language. The user may click on a title to receive more information either in English or in the native language.
All information on exhibitions, museums, news, resources or shops is arranged in the same structure: in short and in detail descriptions of the chosen item, and - depending on the item - further information. For an exhibition, for instance, this may be information on the location, the running time, opening hours, co-organizers, sponsors, other exhibition places, etc.
Moreover, up to seven images go along with the information provided, showing the museum building and masterpieces from the collections, or images of the exhibition.
Internal links between the sections allow quick and easy access to associated information within the portal - e.g. switching from an exhibition announcement to the museums section, where the visitor gets background information on the organising museum, or vice versa.
Naturally, users also find relevant Web-links, e.g. to the museum's homepages, to practical information such as admission fees, or to the exhibition's Web page.
Reactions to the Site
As mentioned already, the developing phase of the Web site was accompanied by user tests. One test was arranged with a group of museology students, who first mapped out general needs and expectations concerning on-line exhibition and/or event calendars, and then compared euromuse.net with various other sites.
The test showed that the testers found euromuse.net an attractive and useful site to get an overview of, and access to, a multitude of museums and their exhibitions. They appreciated the clear structure and search facilities of the Web site as well as the rich content. They pointed out the value of getting not only titles, places and running periods of an exhibition, but also announcements, details, and background information on the organising museum. Moreover, they considered the site - as it selects, structures and describes on-line resources from and for museums - a helpful instrument for their research activities.
How do we envision the further development of euromuse.net?
Our immediate goal is to consolidate the existing system. In other words, we constantly update the site by including more museums, more exhibitions and additional news and resources to make frequent visits worthwhile. The objective is to keep euromuse.net posted as a new, attractive tool which continues to be up-to-date in respect to its content, presentation, and technology. Through careful quality control and content co-operation from participating museums, euromuse.net aims to achieve long-term customer loyalty.
With regard to medium and long term objectives, we plan to push on with further technical development, and to extend the services provided by euromuse.net. Currently, there are four main focuses:
As the entire costs of the project are covered without external funding, all further developments can only be done step by step. While the euromuse project proceeds, an on-going task will always be the evaluation of the site, to ensure that it lives up to the needs and expectations of museums as well as outside users.
Two years after first going on-line, the exhibition portal euromuse.net meets the needs of the participating museums as well as other users. It provides the museums with a collective Web presence and thus increased visibility, and the users with a one-stop tool helping them to find their way efficiently through many proliferating individual Web sites and search engines.
By jointly presenting major European museums, euromuse.net can highlight both trans-national traditions and cultural diversity. The great number of partners thereby allows for multi-faceted and informative insight into current museums and the exhibitions scene. The fact that outstanding and generally known museums can be found side by side with lesser known, but nonetheless important, museums adds to the positive impact of the network. In particular, those museums whose own Web sites are only available in the original language benefit from presentation on euromuse.net. At the same time, euromuse.net doesn't compromise the individuality of its partners as they retain control of all information provided, and it serves as a gateway to each museum's individual Web site.
Along this line, euromuse.net has set a good example for partnerships among European cultural institutions, one which will serve well as a model for further co-operation.