MOOC The Internet as a “research library”

The Goethe-Institut provides Mentored Open Online Courses in the field of cultural management since 2015.
The Goethe-Institut provides Mentored Open Online Courses in the field of cultural management since 2015. | Photo: Cordula Flegel

What is the relationship of the arts and culture to the market and marketing? What does internationalization mean for local arts scenes? In 2015, the Goethe-Institut and Leuphana Universität Lüneburg offered their first massive open online course (MOOC) to further train cultural managers. Now the MOOC is entering a second year. Chris Dercon, director of the Tate Modern in London, moderated the course and talked with Kathrin Passig about the importance of the digital presence of museums, and why people without a YouTube account disappear from his field of vision.

Mr Dercon, you are the moderator of the Massive Open Online Course Managing the Arts whose second edition will start in April 2016. What do you think about the MOOC learning format?

Chris Dercon and Kathrin Passig Chris Dercon and Kathrin Passig | Photo: Cordula Flegel We have to reflect for the future about what online learning can really do. There are so many new learning instruments these days. I think the digital is incredibly crucial. For instance, one of the things I’m really interested in is the possibility of online learning for refugees.

And I hope that the Humboldt Forum in Berlin will focus as much attention on digital co-creation, digital building, digital architecture as they do on restoring the façade of the Schloss. Because that’s just a façade. If you want to position yourself in the world today as the Goethe-Institut or the Humboldt Forum then you need to explore digital forms of co-creation, digital learning.

In one video keynote of Managing the Arts you say, “We do not want to build iconic buildings anymore. We are thinking about extensions in a new way. Indeed, we are building networks. And these networks often take the form of the web, of social media, of MOOC, of learning as a form of participation.”

I think that the new Tate Modern, which is opening on 16 June, is a fabulous building. But because of the financial situation everywhere, it might be the last museum of its kind, of its generation. I do think that museum architecture in the future will be much more horizontal in many different ways. And horizontality also means digital expansions of museums.

I think a very good example of this is what Max Hollein is doing in Frankfurt. He spent so much time, money and energy on the digital expansion of the Städel Museum. And the funny thing is that the two experiences – analogue, digital, the true physical environment and the digital environment – do not mutually exclude each other. These two experiences reinforce each other very much. We have seen that the more people attend our digital Tate site, the more successful we also are in the real Tate. Many, many German museums are still just using the website as a kind of information tool. But I think you have to consider it as a piece of architecture.

I think it’s even worse. Some of them actively fear that by giving away anything on the website they will deter visitors.

That is absolute nonsense. The opposite is true. The more people you attract with your website the more people you attract to come to your museum. Because people need both. Of course, the digital museum will never replace the physical environment of the museum. The two experiences mutually reinforce each other.

You don’t have to treat a digital museum like a window. You have to treat it as a piece of architecture in itself. So I don’t think it makes sense to compare the digital giveaways to the activities on site. You have to create activities for your digital museum. I don’t think it makes sense to say, “We do this inside, so what do we do outside?” It has to be completely separately conceived. But at some point it has to connect.

Which part of your work is tied to physical presence and which part is mediated by the internet?

I would say that at the moment three-fifths is physical and two-fifths is basically digital. That’s quite a lot. I had to learn it. I was so pessimistic about it in the beginning. Because I’m not from that generation. I had to learn it. I’m constantly learning. For instance, we had to learn that Snapchat is much more effective with our younger audience at the moment than Periscope. And the fact that I already know these things, as a museum director, is not bad at all, right?

What do you do in those two-fifths of your time?

I do a lot of research. I follow tweets of people I am interested in. I follow certain Instagram accounts: Stephen Shore who is now having an exhibition in Berlin. He has one of the most interesting Instagram sites. I follow the Instagram site of Alice Rawsthorn, who is the influential design critic of the New York Times. She has a fantastic Instagram account where I learn a lot, not only about Alice’s views on design but certain aspects of design I didn’t know about. I use the web as a research library. The thing is to be selective. To not let it come to you.

I definitely look at YouTube. For instance, when this whole thing started at the Volksbühne with Claus Peymann, I constantly looked at his Regie of Peter Handke’s Publikumsbeschimpfung, which you can find on YouTube. Can you imagine? I mean, people on the East Coast, in Princeton, in the German literature department, they know everything about René Pollesch. They’ve never been to Berlin. They don’t speak German all that well. But they watch René Pollesch on YouTube.

Do you find yourself seeing less of the work of the people who are reluctant to put anything on platforms like YouTube or Vimeo? Because some art institutions just flat out refuse to do that.

Yes, in my case, I miss out because they are not present. It is a shame that certain art institutions don’t spend as much time and energy on a digital presence. It’s incredibly important, but you have to do it well. And that’s the reason why I say, don’t treat it as just a “propaganda” tool, as a marketing tool. Try to come up with something that is much more of today, which presents your ideas in a different way.

Chris Dercon, born in Lier, Belgium, is a museum director, exhibition curator and writer for films and television. He is the director of the Tate Gallery of Modern Art in London and will be the head of the Volksbühne Berlin in 2017. In 2016, he will moderate the MOOC Managing the Arts by the Goethe-Institut and Leuphana Universität Lüneburg for the second time.

Kathrin Passig is a journalist and a writer. For many years, she has not only written on the Internet but also about the Internet and its use. In 2002 she was the co-founder of the Zentrale Intelligenz Agentur, in 2006 she won the Ingeborg-Bachmann-Preis and in 2012 she published the non-fiction book Internet – Segen oder Fluch together with Sascha Lobo.