It doesn’t matter what sector you work in, or what stage of the ‘journey’ you are on (it’s not unlike X Factor), digital entails transforming your products and services in a way that can sometimes feel antithetical.

Whether it’s newspapers increasing their prices, travel companies investing in new technology, or art galleries removing copyright.

That’s exactly what the Rijksmuseum did in 2012, when it put a lot of its collection online and created the Rijksstudio, allowing the public to curate, purchase, download and rework bona fide masterpieces.

Building on this work, Rijksstudio has just announced the winners of its ‘Make Your Own Masterpiece’ competition, with entrants using the collection to design something of their own.

Let’s take a look at this very Dutch and very admirable project.

The problem for museums

The question of scale and profitability for museums has been pressing for decades. How to increase visitor numbers beyond the capacity of a gallery, how to charge monies and still get people in?

In fact, museum attendances haven’t changed much over the years.

Many projects are afoot to try to increase the public’s engagement with art, and allow everyone to access and engage with resources they feel will advance their wellbeing.

The GLAM (galleries, libraries, archives and museums) Wiki project is worth a look to see what is ongoing.

I covered this topic of scale at museums in this post on mobile and the arts. I’ll touch on some of its themes as we look at the Rijksmuseum.

Customer expectation and experience

The fact is the public doesn’t quite understand why it should pay to enter an exhibition and then be told off for taking a snap on a camera phone.

If music and films can be streamed with a subscription charge, why can’t art be ‘leased’, too?

The Rijksmuseum understands this dynamic. Nearly 150,000 people have already registered and created their own Rijksstudio online.

Here’s my small effort.



150,000 Rijksstudios means 150,000 email addresses or Facebook profiles that the museum has collected.

That’s a sizeable market to advertise merchandise and events to.



One thing the public can now be trusted to do is share. Smart GLAMs will capitalise on this as best they can.

Think Tate Connect and MoMA on Tumblr.

The Rijksmuseum’s Rijksstudio offers plenty of opportunity to share work, either from the website, or by downloading the artwork in question. There’s also a healthy Pinterest ecosystem of the Rijksmuseum’s work. All of it will help the museum increase visitors to website and gallery site, and will increase revenue.

Divesting ownership

By allowing everyone to own digital reproductions of its collection, the Rijksmuseum hands a responsibility on to the public. Responsibility creates interest, engagement and demand.

This is the basis for the Rijksstudio Award, ‘Make Your Own Masterpiece’.

We’re … proud of all the amazing creations that users have made based on our collection, and we want to showcase the most beautiful and surprising of these to the public at large and put them on display them in the Rijksmuseum atelier. What’s more, we’d also like to include them in our shops if possible. As such, the Rijksmuseum is organising the competition Make your own Masterpiece. The best design wins the Rijksstudio Award.

Here’s the concept explained:

And a little piece on the winners:

Opening up an institution to the public can yield surprising results. The National Library of Australia created an API to allow anyone to access its sheet music.

The result was Forte, an iPad app built by a member of the public, who came into the library and handed it over. The library has since worked with the creator to develop the app further.

Digital transformation

The refurbishment of the Rijskmuseum’s galleries, finished in April 2013, gave the opportunity for the redesign of digital assets.

The digital collection of 125,000 objects was launched late in 2012, and would not have been possible in such as short space of time if the galleries hadn’t been closed.

It’s important to realise that digitally transforming an organisation needs significant investment and long-term effort, but recognising opportunities to change is just as important. Stakeholders must take the bull by the horns at the right moment.

Tablet-first website

One of the changes to the Rijksmuseum’s website that will assist in its placing within education is its tablet-first design. Optimised for affordable and portable devices, the site can then be enjoyed anywhere on site and in the classroom.

There’s no point in making an archive available if the website can’t display pictures properly.

Mobile is used well in the Rijksmuseum. Using a museum device or an app, visitors can favourite art works to be added to their Rijksstudio and these choices will sync with the web version.

Monetising the collection

Prints can be ordered from the Rijksmuseum collection online, directly from viewing an artwork. Giving away copyright and making money can go hand in hand. It’s all about increasing the size of the funnel.