This is the first of a series of interviews with professionals operating at the intersection of Culture and Digital. My guest this week is Jonas Heide Smith, Head of Digital at SMK – National Gallery of Denmark. Here’s his input on several issues related to his work.
How did you become interested in all things Digital?
Seeing the Apple II demo’ed as a child 😊 Since then I’ve just been fascinated.
What main characteristics must a professional working in Digital and Culture have?
It helps to bridge the gap between aesthetics and tech – so an understanding of how systems/databases work combined with an interest in user experience and human behavior. But the skills required depend somewhat on the institution type and its size.
What’s your main mission at SMK?
To make the art collection valuable and useful to as many people in the country as possible.
How would you describe your website as a communication tool?
It’s clearly one of our absolutely most important channels – it’s tailored to the needs of “potential guests” checking to see what’s on and considering whether they should go.
In what ways do you use the strengths and avoid the pitfalls of social media?
For us the biggest pitfall is a constant pressure to become boring and superficial to avoid controversy etc. We try to avoid this by adding a human factor into into our content.
Tell us about the project of digitizing the SMK’s collection
Digitizing is an ongoing project. Also it’s actually not a project – but a process that happens for different reasons (typically related to conservation). The projects I’ve been involved in have to do with unearthing SMK material, making it accessible and connecting it meaningfully. We do this to support one of our most important and most difficult strategic challenges, which is to increase the museum’s relevance for traditional non-users.
What is your typical day like?
It’s a great mix of responding to emails, trying to push projects forward, coordinating with colleagues and working out solutions to problems that pop up. On a good day I also get to think up new, interesting things 😊
What main lessons have you learned from your years as Head of Digital as SMK?
People matter more than strategy and specifications. Also: Many skills are very hard to learn, and you either need a native aptitude or to have studied them for a long time – it’s very difficult to become a great project manager or communicator as an adult, if you don’t already have the knack. Also: Much of the really important stuff you need to do goes below the radar – it’s stuff that no-one will ask you to do, and that no-one will praise you for doing.
How can we further bridge the gap between Digital and Culture?
I don’t think the gap is very deep. Institutions need to work out what their goals and assets are and then use digital to further those. Institutions also need to understand that working with digital should be goal/problem-oriented but also sometimes needs to start with experimenting with the tech itself – it’s not an easy balance to get right.
What’s your favorite piece of art at the National Gallery?
Difficult question 😊 But there’s something about Valdemar Schønheyder Møller’s and the way it plays with the intersections between photography and painting.
Jonas Heide Smith is Head of Digital at SMK – National Gallery of Denmark. He has a PhD in video games (yes, really) and a background studying and teaching strategic digital communication since the early days of the Internet. He goes by @jonassmith on Twitter.