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published: March 2004
analytic scripts updated:  October 28, 2010

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Museums and the Web 2003 Papers

Using Technology for Small Museum Promotion

 William Brickner, Silicon Valley Art Museum, U.S.A.


The Silicon Valley Art Museum (http://www.svam.org) is an all Internet, globally oriented art museum focused on the interaction between art and technology over the ages. Founded in 2000, it produces exhibits of paintings, sculpture, photography and multiple media, accompanied by technical and curator notes describing various aspects of the work shown. The museum also has an extensive program of 72 free art lessons for children ages 5 through 12.

As the museum grew, it became increasingly apparent that other small (under $500,000 budget) and mid-sized ($1/2 to $2 million budget) museums such as SVAM did not generally have the funding or public relations connections to become known outside a small local area. In 2003, SVAM decided to make its calendar program and server time available to other museums to mount their own calendars, which they would completely control. The museum can use its own schedule of events or it can use the calendar system provided as part of the program.

The other requirement is that each museum have a link on its Web site to a specific central Calendars of Other Museums (COM) page. There, on a dropdown menu, the calendars of museums participating in the program are listed. Clicking on an individual museum name establishes a direct link to that museum’s calendar. The program is particularly helpful to travelers. If they do not know the name of a specific museum in a region they are visiting, a second drop-down menu on the COM page, organized by region, takes them to all the participating museums in that region.

The cost to participating museums is quite modest, ranging from $45 to $75 per year, depending on the number of services and the amount of technical support required by the calendar program chosen by the individual museum. The benefits are the greatly increased exposure of each museum’s programs to the hundreds of thousand of visitors to the sites of the other participating museums. The paper describes, using the Calendar program as an example, the process by which a new product is being introduced into the museum field by using the Internet as the vehicle to stimulate change. Museum executives responsible for introducing new ideas into their organizations or new services or products to their public should find an understanding of the principles of innovation helpful in increasing their odds for success.

Keywords: shared calendars, museum promotion, event software

The Problem — "Trouble in River City"

Most of the 8200 museums that are currently listed in the 2004 Official Museum Directory as being active in the United States have found themselves in very tight financial circumstances since the collapse of the stock markets in 2001. The majority of these museums can be classified as "Small", having annual budgets under $1 million.

Also, most museums budgets have been under severe strain because of major declines in corporate giving and reductions in income from memberships. This has been a critical problem for smaller museums normally operating on tight budgets. Compounding this problem have been the cutbacks in grants from foundations that have found their endowments significantly reduced due to the drop in the stock markets. Museum directors have reacted to declining income by emphasizing maintaining key areas such as exhibitions, senior staff and physical security while reducing junior staff and activities not deemed critical. Typically, little of the reduced budget is specifically targeted towards generating a new visitor base from outside of the local geographic region.

The Opportunity — "We built it, now let’s get them to come!"

Given these circumstances, museums need to develop new ways of generating income. One of the best ways is to increase the size of the market. For museums this can either be increasing visibility in the current locale, or reaching out for potential visitors and new members from among the millions of individuals who travel in and to the U.S. each year.

Demographic and technological trends in the U.S. and worldwide are reinforcing strategies for attracting new visitors. Among these trends are:

  • Aging populations. The retired and "young retired" are disproportionately represented among museum visitors.
  •  Deepening need for information. More people are developing specialized interests and hobbies. This is clearly seen in the rapid rise of new magazines and Internet sites for specialized areas.
  • Increased mobility. Museums, especially larger ones, are seeing an increase in the number of visitors who are not local.

 The growth of the Internet in the past decade has significantly changed how information is communicated.

One Museum’s Solution — "Cooperation, not competition"

The Silicon Valley Art Museum (SVAM) is a not-for-profit, 501 (C) 3, all-Internet art museum with headquarters in Belmont, California. Founded in 2000, it has an extensive program of exhibitions, free art lessons for children, an interactive gallery for members, and a small museum store. These are all located on its Internet Web site http://www.svam.org . It has a global audience with visitors each month from some 25 to 30 different countries.

SVAM’s focus is on exploring the interaction of art and technology. This is due in part to its location in "Silicon Valley" and in part to the interests of the educators, business executives and artists on its Board. Since it views its audience as global, it works to facilitate interaction with all other museums in order to encourage more widespread understanding of the value of museums in the development of cultures.

In 2002, SVAM had grown to the point where it needed a calendar to inform visitors of new exhibitions, art lessons and other activities on the Internet. It spent most of the year developing its calendar software system. During that period, it discussed with other museums their experiences with their own calendars and also talked to those who, like SVAM, had no specific multi-month calendars. As a result, by modifying some existing software a calendar system was developed that was:  Flexible in terms of use of color, logos, type styles and security

  •  Easy to use, not requiring knowledge of any computer language
  •  Capable of linking to the calendars of other museums
  •  Inexpensive to operate

Screen Shot: January 2004 calendar

Fig.1 SVAM Calendar

Fig. 1 SVAM Calendar The museum’s calendar became operational in 2003. It was designed to link with other museum’s calendars via a link in the upper right hand corner. 

Screen Shot: other calendars

Fig. 2 Calendars of Other Museums

Clicking this link takes the viewer to a page - (COM)Linkage Page) - containing drop-down menus with links to the calendars of other museums. This COM page, with its regions and the names of participating museums, permits viewers first to identify a geographic region of interest and then to pick out specific museums of interest in it. Clicking on a specific museum then brings up the current calendar of that museum.

Palo Alto Center Calendar

Fig. 3  Palo Alto Art Center Calendar

This feature is particularly valuable to individuals and families who are planning a trip and want to know what museums will be exhibiting at the time of their visit.

The calendar program was then offered to a few smaller San Francisco Bay area museums who shared the same low level of visibility as SVAM. The goal was to let a wider public know where these museums are located and the exhibitions and programs they offer. At the time of this writing seven San Francisco Bay Area museums now subscribe to the program, and it will be extended to museums in the Western U.S. and Canada in early 2004.

Museums wishing to obtain greater visibility among a broader public can participate at one of two levels:

1.  Enhanced Program

In this program SVAM will supply access to the calendar software, mount the participating museum’s logo and name on the header, and turn full operation and control of the calendar over to that museum. All calendars are stored and maintained on a separate server that is designed and protected to give a high level of continuous service.

Entries can be made for a current month and future months, and calendars for the previous twelve months remain available The calendar software is very flexible, allowing for different type fonts, a wide range of colors, pop-up windows for individual events, etc. All entries to the calendar are in English and do not require any knowledge of computer programming languages to enter regular information or make changes. Placing the museum’s name and logo in the header of each calendar page is done by SVAM using the client’s design and logo.

The fee for the Enhanced Service is $75 per year. For an example of this type of calendar, go to http://www.svam.org and click on "Calendar" on that home page.

2.   Basic Program

Some museums prefer to use their own calendar or "Events" page but still want to be linked to all the other museums’ calendars. In this program SVAM provides and maintains links to the central "COM" page. The participating museum has the option to direct these links on its home page, its own calendar page, or elsewhere on its site. A link is also provided so that visitors to the Web site can also access the COM page.

The fee for the Basic Program is $45 per year. For  an example of this service, go to www.mexicanmuseum.org/calendar/index.asp?language=english

Screen Shot: Mexican Museum

Fig.4 Mexican Museum Page With Link To COM Page. Note the link that takes the site visitors to the COM page.

Participating museums in both programs can discontinue participation at any time by giving 30 days notice.  Their calendar will be removed.

Technical Issues

The principal objective of the program is to give Internet visitors from any participating museum’s site access to the calendars of all the other participants so that little or no additional expense is incurred by each museum.

In the Enhanced system access is provided by two links on the client’s (Museum #1) calendar. One links to the COM page and drop down-menus of the other museums, and the other links to Museum #1’s home page or page of choice. Both links are provided by SVAM, as are the link to the client’s site on the Calendar Central page. The calendar itself is installed on SVAM’s servers. The client can start immediately to use the calendar without requiring any technical help.

In the "Basic" system, clients uses their own calendars and they are provided with a link to a place on their events page or their own calendar. This link takes them to the Calendar Central page for access to all the other museum calendars.. The link is provided by SVAM but must be installed on their Web site by their Web master.

Other technical capabilities are incorporated in the calendars themselves. These include;

  • Security: There are four levels :
  • Viewing: Permits visitors to see the calendar for any month or date.
  • Adding Events: This can be done only by the client’s designated individual(s). We recommend that there be ju7st one individual and an alternate who can add or delete events.
  • Editing: Allows existing events to be changed or deleted.
  • Administration: Permits only the Administrator, using a password of  choice, to change colors, type size and fonts and to operate the calendar.
  • Events Control: The Administrator simply writes in the information for an event that starts on a specific day, This can be repeated automatically for every day, every week, every second Tuesday, and a myriad of other combinations. Each day can have a pop up window which can be opened to give more details of the event or announcement.
  • Navigation: All navigation and administration is done with a browser so little computer knowledge is required by the user. This permits easy navigation to other months  or date and instant access to pop up windows.

The SVAM servers operate on a 24/7/365 basis and are protected with firewalls, anti-virus software and multiple location backups in secured facilities.

Marketing Issues

This paper was prepared for the "Using Technology for Small Museum Promotion" session at The M/W 2004 Conference. The operative word in that title is using, not technology and not promotion. The best technology in the world has little value if no one uses it. Nor will unused technology be very helpful in museum promotion. Museums, like educational institutions, are generally conservative organizations; therefore it is critical for those who wish to introduce new ideas or products into these organizations to be conscious of the rules that influence their adoption. Answers to the question of "Why do people adopt new products?" were best given by Everett Rogers (1962) in his pioneering work Diffusion of Innovation. He concluded that innovations have the following five main characteristics that affect their adoption rate:

  1. Relative advantage, or the degree to which an innovation is better than the product it replaces
  2. Compatibility, or the degree that an idea is compatible with the culture and social norm of the society in which it is introduced
  3. Complexity, or the difficulty encountered in understanding or using the innovation
  4. Divisibility, or the ability to try the idea on a small scale, thus reducing risk
  5. Communicability, or the ability to pass the results of an innovation on to others who have not adopted it.

These factors were important to us at the museum in making the decision to offer this to other museums beyond those few local museum friends. Our analysis indicated that the idea of an Internet based calendar that helped museums reach a larger audience could be successful if we reasonably met the above criteria. (Note that success to SVAM meant that we would break even and recover our development, upgrade and support costs each year after the first two years.)

The following are the reasons we believed that we reasonably met each of the above criteria:

  1. Relative advantage — The calendar technology permits repeating event announcements automatically without retyping. Additionally, conventional calendars do not have pop-up windows to provide detailed information about an event
  2. Compatibility - Most museums have calendars or lists of events on their web pages. However, in many cases this function is largely controlled by the Webmaster rather than by communications personnel, and could be seen as infringing on their territory
  3. Complexity -  The calendar is quite simple to learn to operate. SVAM recommends that each museum appoint a single Administrator who has password control to insure security of the announcements.
  4. Divisibility — Having two programs, one for museums that want to retain their own calendar and a second for those wishing to have a new calendar reduces the risk for the former. Both get the advantages of linkage to the calendars of all the participating museum. A second risk reduction factor is the ability to discontinue participation with 30 days  notice.
  5. Communicability — One of the many advantages of the Internet is the ability to see the calendar program in use at other museums and to be able to contact those museums to obtain their comments on its use. This is facilitated by having a Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) section instantly available on the calendar program’s COM page for those interested in obtaining more information.

From a practical point of view, there will always be reasons for delaying adoption. The most common ones we have encountered have included: "The Director of the museum is overloaded with other issues," "The Web master doesn’t want our museum to have external links," "We are happy with our present calendar," "The person who would have to make that decision is no longer with us."

It is well documented in the literature that the adoption of innovations follows an "S" shaped trajectory where objections and problems need to be overcome to facilitate adoption. This program has completed the first innovator phase in California and is now in the early adopter phase, by the end of which approximately 15% of the California museums that will ultimately adopt the program will have adopted it. Success in obtaining participation of the first 15% in a reasonable time generally indicates a successful future for the innovation.


This paper has described the process by which a new product is being introduced into the museum field using the Internet as the vehicle to stimulate change. Museum executives responsible for introducing new ideas into their organizations or new services or products to their public will find that understanding the principles of innovation, combined with utilizing the Internet or the internal information systems of museums aware of the site, will increase their odds of success..


Rogers, E. (1962.) Diffusion of Innovation. New York: Free Press of Glencoe, 132-133