22nd General Conference of ICOM, 7-12 November 2010, Shanghai

ICOM MPR „Communication and New Audiences”


New Museums in Central Europe online: quest for audiences

Katarzyna Jagodzińska, International Cultural Centre in Krakow, Poland



Decades of the second half of the 20th century and the beginning of the 21st century are the time of the worldwide fashion for museums. There are founded museums of art, cultures, history, music, cars. Their exhibitions deal with places, events or brands. Regardless country and cultural borders they look similar as they are created by the same group of architects who follow the same world trends. Museum boom is not only about cities and countries widely related to cultural mainstream and not only about countries where the museums saturation level is the highest, but also about the regions which rarely appear on cultural world map and whose cultural investments and artistic achievements are regarded mainly locally. In the 90. museum boom became visible in the countries of Central Europe and its special character and size is the reason why I decided to pursue my research in this field.[1] The neglect wrought by over forty years of communism is most visible in the field of contemporary art. Before 1989, contemporary art museums were practically non-existent. However, this does not mean that contemporary art did not exist in the social awareness – contemporary works of art were collected by museums and national galleries, and networks of state galleries were established for the purpose of their presentation. It became clear in the 1990’s that the Iron Curtain deprived Eastern European countries of an important component of national culture – contemporary art museums as independent institutions and, in relation to it, the evolution of museum architecture.


After the end of the Second World War, Poland, the Czech Republic and Hungary found themselves within the so-called Eastern Bloc, and state life was put in order by socialism and communism. Everything was based on state ownership, therefore all the previously private cultural institutions were nationalised and all the institutions established in this period were state institutions. The market for works of art did not exist.


Taking the different areas of Central European countries into account, as well as differences in population density, the individual states differ when it comes to the saturation of museums. In 2005, 772 museums were operating in Hungary; 690 in Poland; 419 in Czech Republic and 92 in Slovakia. In 2007, the proportions slightly changed: 720 museums were operating in Poland; 635 in Hungary; 449 in Czech Republic and 103 in Slovakia. The level of saturation of museums is highest in Hungary – in 2007, there were 6.27 museums per 100,000 inhabitants and it is lowest in Poland – 1.88 museums. Even the least populated, Slovakia, has a higher index than Poland – 1.91 museums. If one takes into account the number of museums per 1,000 square kilometres, in 2007 there were 6.8 museums in Hungary, 5.69 in the Czech Republic, 2.3 in Poland and 2.1 in Slovakia.



Number of museums per 100.000 inhabitants

Number of museums per 1000 km²











Czech Republic















Own calculations by the author


This information indicates that the largest and most populated country has statistically the poorest results in securing the access to culture, heritage and art to its citizens. Surely because of the low index in museum saturation in the beginning of the 21st century, Poland became the biggest museum construction site in Central Europe.


The most interesting aspect from the point of view of this article would be to compare the number of art museums, yet this is not possible on account of the fact that the statistical office in Slovakia did not separate a category specifying the type of museum in its examination (all museums are classified together), whereas the statistical office in Hungary performed such classification within the range of museums only until the year 2000.


Concerning museum and centres of modern and contemporary art created after 1989 one can name five new institutions in the Czech Republic[2] and two more which emerged from the existing institutions[3], in Poland there were founded four new institutions (one is a branch of the existing institution which was thoroughly reformed and renovated)[4], five more will be created and/or built until 2016[5], one until 2012 will receive a new seat[6], and one more will be extended and rebuilt[7], in Slovakia there were two new institutions created[8], and in Hungary – four new institutions.[9]


All museums and exhibition halls in Central Europe represent a continuously growing consciousness of traditional and more and more unconventional forms of communication with visitors. Depending on financial resources promotional message of museums appears on posters, leaflets, brochures, advertisements are placed in the press and outdoor boards and commercials in the radio and on tv. Nowadays also a website is a standard of every institution – everyone knows the simple truth: If you’re not online, you don’t exist, however, it is a very general term. In its basic understanding a museum website contains a set of basic data (address, general information on institution’s character and fairly regularly updated basic information on the programme), and in its more extended form it is a source of knowledge on institution and its collections as well as a platform for exchange of information. Because of the easy access to internet tools – both territorial and economical, and common use of the Internet by the existing visitors and potential audiences – I decided to make an analysis of internet presence of museum and centres of contemporary art in Central Europe. Thirteen institutions founded after 1989 are the subject of the analysis, and its aim is 1) to show to what extent countries located beyond cultural mainstream make use of web tools to gain and retain visitors, and 2) to explore what is the evaluation of internet tools made by communication specialists in researched institutions in the countries that started to operate within free market economy and free flow of information with a delay in relation to West European countries. The following institutions were selected for analysis:


Czech Republic

Museum Kampa in Prague (Kampa)

FUTURA Centre for Contemporary Art in Prague (Futura)

DOX Centrum současného umění in Prague (DOX)

MeetFactory in Prague (MeetFactory)

Wannieck Gallery in Brno (Wannieck)


Centre of Contemporary Art Znaki Czasu in Toruń (CSW)

Museum of Modern Art in Warsaw (MSN)

Muzeum Sztuki – ms² in Łódź (ms²)

Instytut Sztuki Wyspa in Gdańsk (IS Wyspa)


Múzeum moderného umenia Danubiana in Cunovo near Bratislava (Danubiana)

Múzeum Milana Dobeša in Bratyslava (Múzeum Dobeša)


Ludwig Museum BudapestMuseum of Contemporary Art in Budapest (Ludwig)

Kogart in Budapest (Kogart)

MODEM Modern és Kortárs Művészeti Központ in Debrecen (Modem)

In the first phase I made an analysis of museum websites in the context of character and ammount of uploaded materials, as well as the use of tools serving communication with audiences. In the second phase I sent a questionnaire to persons dealing with communication in museums where they were asked to evaluate the efficiency of communication tools and specify more precisely selected information which is inaccessible on websites.


Museums in the web – an analysis


Museum websites in national languages have their counterparts in English (no other languages are applied). In the case of 3 institutions English version is limited (Modem, CSW, IS Wyspa), and 1 institution runs the English version website only (Múzeum Dobeša). All institutions provide basic contact information on their websites: address, telephone, email, but only 8 (out of 13) make direct phone numbers or email to employees available. Written directions or a location map is widely applied – only 2 institutions do not publish them (Modem, ms²). Ticket price information is not that common – 4 institutions do not provide this information (Futura , Múzeum Dobeša, Kogart, IS Wyspa).

The basic aim of a website is to inform users about the institution’s programme. Information about current exhibitions is available on all websites, 12 institutions inform about past exhibitions (except ms² which does not have a separate archive of exhibitions, only general archive of all events is available where it is very difficult to find an exhibition), and 9 institutions give preview of upcoming exhibitions (except Futura, Modem, MSN, IS Wyspa). Exhibition information can be regarded as exhausted (except Kampa), however, 4 institution did not find it necessary to publish a gallery of reproductions that would accompany written descriptions (Kampa, Danubiana, Ludwig, Kogart do not provide more than one reproduction). It should be emphasised that Ludwig, MSN and CSW also apply videos related to exhibitions on their websites.

2 out of 13 analysed institutions do not have collections. Among 11 which hold collections of art, 7 include a history of a collection, its description and a gallery of reproductions (more that two) on their websites (description is missing on Wannieck, Múzeum Dobeša, Kogart and MSN websites and illustrative part is missing on Kampa, Modem, Kogart and MSN websites) – it is not included at all on Kogart and MSN websites (collection appears only when it is presented as a temporary exhibition – available in exhibition archive). Institution itself is also a subject of a narrative of a website. All websites provide photographs of museum buildings, however, their description appear on 8 websites only (except Futura, DOX, Múzeum Dobeša, MSN, IS Wyspa) and the history of institution is available from 12 websites (except Múzeum Dobeša, Modem).

Apart from information, texts and illustrations a museum website is a place where the institution initiates contact with its audience. The www offers subscription of a newsletter, it is linked to accounts on social services, it enables feedback from visitors using museum blog and forum. There are special press sections for journalists, and press articles are available for visitors as scans or links to periodicals in sections entitled “written about us”. Also an Internet bookshop is available where one can order museum publications. Unfortunately all these options are not so common among Central European museums. Internet press section is run by only 4 institutions (DOX, Wannieck, Ludwig, CSW), and only 3 boast about articles related to them in the press (Futura, Wannieck, Kogart) – different institutions in both cases. Only 3 institutions offer the possibility of buying their publications online. Newsletter in national language is prepared by 11 institutions (except Danubiana, Múzeum Dobeša), and in English only by 6 (Kampa, Futura, Ludwig, MSN, ms², IS Wyspa). Number of subscribers differ – institutions located in capitals have definitely more subscribers than institutions in other regions.


MSN in Warsaw


DOX in Prague


Museum Kampa in Prague


ms² in Łódź


Ludwig Museum in Budapest


FUTURA in Prague


Kogart in Budapest


MODEM in Debrecen


CSW in Toruń


IS Wyspa in Gdańsk


Wannieck Galery in Brno



3 Polish institutions run blogs (CSW, IS Wyspa, MSN), but forum is not used at all by any of analysed institutions. Having accounts in social services became a popular form of contact with museum friend who are regularly informed about programme and events – 10 institutions take advantage of this tool (except Múzeum Dobeša, Kogart). Facebook is absolutely the most popular (9), followed by Twitter (6), FlickR (3), YouTube (3) and local social services (Modem has an account in Iwiw, and CSW in nasza klasa). CSW also runs its own social service.

In the second phase of my research I asked representatives of communication departments of analysed institutions to fill in a short questionnaire. I received answers from 11 institutions – in spite of many attempts I did not manage to make contact with Múzeum Dobeša, and director of Danubiana explained that due to employment shortages caused by difficult financial situation he is unable to answer my questions (We are a small museum, where I´m the only one making all tasks and you will surely understand that we have no department, which could handle your questions and answer them expertly – Vincent Polakovič).


I divided target group I asked for into three categories: age (1. up to 24, 2. 25-35, 3. 36-55, 4. 56+), nationality (1. citizens of a country, 2. people abroad) and residence (1. city where institution operates, 2. region where institution operates, 3. whole country, 3. abroad). Manager of Futura indicated that in relation to his institution such a division has no importance – No targets divided. Whoever reached by our emails and Facebook is a receiver, and All our materials are being sent out in two language versions: Czech for locals and English for the rest of the world – Ondrej Stupal wrote in email. PR specialist in DOX selected target groups with the reservation that: We do not focus on one age group only, our visitors are ranging from students to senior citizens. We are opened to everybody who is interested in new ideas we present. The numbers we added to your groups reflect the results of the research – who is our visitor (Terezie Kaslová, MediaReport s.r.o.). 9 institutions selected age group between 25-35 years and 1 institution the age group up to 24 years (IS Wyspa) – this means mainly young people in the age after higher education, professionally active, using Internet. All institutions marked that they communicate mainly with citizens of their own country (Poles, Slovaks, Czechs, Hungarians). 6 institutions marked a city where institution is located as the main territory of interest (Kampa, DOX, Modem, Kogart, MSN, ms²), and 4 other – the whole country (Wannieck, Ludwig, CSW, IS Wyspa). All institutions consider websites as highly significant methods of communication comparing to traditional printed promotional materials – in 10 points scale (0 points – it is completely unimportant; 10 points – it is the most important of all methods) a website received the average of 8,6 points (Ludwig and ms² awarded the least – 7 points, and Futura, DOX and MSN awarded maximum of 10 points). Other forms of internet communication comparing to information in traditional media (press, radio, tv) have smaller value than a website – 7,7 points in average (Kampa and DOX awarded 5 points, IS Wyspa – 10 points). In the open question about the most effective methods of communication representatives of institutions indicated Facebook at the first place (6), followed by newsletter (5), and a website (4).


I also asked for communication methods that have not been used so far and which are to be implemented. IS Wyspa plans to establish an internet radio, CSW aims to implement an online system of booking and selling tickets and in future provide special applications to mobile phones, ms² plans to use Twitter and Blip, Futura is thinking of using Twitter, Kampa would like to create a blog and communicate through Bluetooth, Ludwig is trying to apply of methods and tools of communication, DOX will develop methods that have been used so far, MSN will develop video resources available online, and Modem uncritically claims that institution already uses all available methods of communication.


Museums in the web – conclusions

The first conclusion that comes to mind after analysing above data is the high consciousness of the internet communication among the majority of new art institutions. However, the geographical diversification of this consciousness is worrying – Poland came out best in the analysis, while Slovakia – worse. This state of being is based not only on the lack of questionnaire feedback from two institutions chose for my analysis. Danubiana has a profile on Facebook and Twitter, its website is updated (however its design is outdated and uncomfortable to navigate), it is also possible to buy its publications online, but it does not publish a newsletter, it does not present articles that appear in the press on its website and does not run a press section. Múzeum Dobeša except basic contact information and extensive materials on exhibitions does not offer any additional tools and materials. It should be added that both institutions are private enterprises. Unfortunately the situation related to the level of communication represented by other Slovak museums does no look good as well. Slovak National Gallery with its headquarters in Bratislava, the biggest art museum in Slovakia, does not care at all about the content of its English website (e.g. while on the Slovak version website there are eleven exhibitions in “current exhibitions” section, there are none in the English version[10]).


Many of the analysed institutions draw close attention to visual features of their websites, to necessity of regular updating, enriching with photos and videos and launching various services which help in mobilizing a visitor and provide additional sources of knowledge. CSW in Toruń created for instance an online ART-BAZA [art base] – an internet database with regional artists and a catalogue of artworks of contemporary art in state, institutional and private collections in the region where CSW is located (only in Polish). CSW also launched its own social service named cocarta – The service is a communication platform for everyone working in the arts, both amateurs and professionals. Its goal is a presentation of all kinds of contemporary art, presented in the form of graphic art, photography and multimedia. Cocarta users can evaluate and comment the works. The service has its own discussion forum which enables exchange of experiences and knowledge among all artists who belong to the community. Service users can create thematic groups and have access to the system of internal messages. Every cocarta user has to assign one’s work to a specific category of art, one can also tag it.[11]  Ludwig Museum gives opportunity of sending an e-card.


Introducing this kind of applications and services for specific target groups not only helps in building up resources of knowledge available through the websites, but also widening and diversifying the offer what supports institution’s promotional value. Every new initiative means an extra possibility of gaining new audience that will stay in touch with the institution. Similarly to the development of the offer prepared by museums in their real locations, especially to the educational offer which has been in the centre of attention, as well as extra services (e.g. Danubiana provides river transport from the centre of Bratislava to its location on Danube peninsula), institutions improve the level of virtual communication – they experiment with new tools (social services), provide more and more materials on their websites (videos, complete catalogues of collections). I executed similar research of museum websites twice in 2007, however, on a different group of institutions. Because of a different selection which also included museums founded before 1989 and also those not devoted strictly to modern and contemporary art I cannot compare current results with the previous ones. Nevertheless when looking at them all one can make a general statement – situation has changed for better.


A museum website plays an important communication role, it provides different kinds of information, it can have an entertaining flavour, however, it is also a source of scholarly and specialist knowledge (e.g. Ludwig Museum has not published yet the catalogue of its collection in printed version and the whole spectrum of collection is available online). In 2005 Canadian scholars in the research entitled Actual/Virtual Visits: What Are The Links? asked Internet users for three main aims of a museums website. The hierarchy of answers presented itself as follows: 1. provide information about museum’s hours, events, services and facilities, 2. increase access to the museum’s information and related resources, 3. provide information that enhances your understanding or experience of the collections beyond what is found in the physical museum 4. provide support for the museum’s educational mission, 5. promotion/marketing, 6. provide support for the museum’s research mission. I believe that the results can be regarded as universal. I have also asked museum representatives to chose three most important goals of their websites. The result is similar, however no institution indicated support for its research mission: 1. provide information about museum’s hours, events, services and facilities, 2. promotion/marketing, 3. increase access to the museum’s information and related resources, 4. provide information that enhances your understanding or experience of the collections beyond what is found in the physical museum, ex aequo with: provide support for the museum’s educational mission


Museums and art centres in Central Europe follow trends set by the western institutions. It happens with regard to architecture and models of functioning (what I prove in my Ph.D. dissertation), as well as models of communication with audiences. Museum websites in majority represent very high level – they are esthetical, user friendly, comfortable to navigate and provide a variety of materials and information for different groups with different needs.

[1] It is the subject of my doctoral dissertation: Museums, centres and galleries of contemporary art in Central Europe (1989-2009 and numerous conference papers and articles.

[2] Museum Kampa in Prague, FUTURA Centre for Contemporary Art in Prague, DOX Centrum současného umění in Prague, MeetFactory in Prague, Wannieck Gallery in Brno.

[3] National Gallery Veletržní Palace in Prague, Muzeum moderního umění in Olomouc.

[4] Centre of Contemporary Art Znaki Czasu in Toruń, Museum of Modern Art in Warsaw – operates in a temporary building until the new edifice is ready (opening planned for 2015), Muzeum Sztuki – ms² n Łódź, Instytut Sztuki Wyspa in Gdańsk.

[5] Museum of Contemporary Art in Krakow, Museum of Contemporaneity in Wrocław, Specjalna Strefa Sztuki in Łódź, Tadeusz Kantor Museum and Cricoteca in Krakow.

[6] Muzeum Śląskie in Katowice.

[7] Mazowieckie Centrum Sztuki Współczesnej Elektrownia in Radom.

[8] Múzeum moderného umenia Danubiana in Cunovo near Bratislava, Múzeum Milana Dobeša in Bratislava.

[9] Ludwig Museum Budapest – Museum of Contemporary Art in Budapest, Kogart in Budapest, MEO in Budapest – closed in 2007, MODEM Modern és Kortárs Művészeti Központ in Debrecen.

[10] Situation on 24.10.2010.

[11] Cocarta: http://www.csw.torun.pl/aktualnosci/cocarta (accessed: 24.10.2010).