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The Blockchain Museum — Letting go of the block and loosening the chain

Photo by Hitesh Choudhary on Unsplash

“If what I say now seems to be very reasonable, then I will have failed completely. Only if what I tell appears absolutely unreasonable have we any chance of visualising the future as it really will happen.” — Arthur C Clarke

Let me get the record straight. I am no prophet and was never one. Predicting the future is fraught with pitfalls and unknown variables. Acknowledged predictions can be frowned upon as ridiculously conservative over time and yet, those proved right in the future can seem so far fetched now as to be laughed and scorned upon. What type of future may the 21st century museum have and what predictions may we consider?

I stand by the ambition that the future museum institution can and may aspire to be:

  • led by a curator or a museum director who negotiates rather than sets the yardstick for meaning. He/she would explore a bottom up approach to the programming and collections management strategies while trying to bridge with a broad range of identities which together make up his communities.
  • embrace a co-creative approach to programming and reach out to various strata of the communities. By acknowledging his/her communities as co-creative peers he/she shall strive to create a polyphony of identities that go beyond the needs of history and the nation.
  • a co-owned museum space run thanks to a shared management model where museum audiences have a voice and “own” the museum institution. This would truly mean that the new museum institution becomes polyphonic and a powerful, effective tool for social cohesion.

Where does blockchain technology come into all this? What predictions may we explore for blockchain technology and its application in the museum world? How and in what ways may blockchain technology impact the sector and how can this change the sector’s landscape?

Photo by Sergei Akulich on Unsplash

Blockchain technology is undoubtedly the next revolution for the museum world. Possibilities are being explored and potential uses considered, particularly in response to the financial needs and obligations required for museums to run smoothly and develop effective programming. The bigger, universal museums seem to be eyeing the platform with anticipation. Less is known as to where the smaller museums stand.

I consider the smaller museum to be much more strategically posited to take full advantage of blockchain technology given their less cumbersome management and operational models. There are two ambitions to consider when in search for a blockchain-friendly culture in the museum world.

The first is Orhan Pamuk’s A Modest Manifesto for Museums published in recent times. Pamuk positively asserts the potential ambitions of smaller museums which, according to Pamuk himself, ought to present the stories of mankind to reveal the humanity of individuals. Such neo-humanist institutions can certainly benefit from the intelligent application of blockchain technology. Indeed, Pamuk’s vision holds the potential to inform, shape and define the museum of the future and there is much in his manifesto that shares common ground with blockchain. Pahmuk’s insistence on the ‘stories of individuals’ as being ‘much better suited to displaying the depths of our humanity’, his underscoring the challenge of museums to tell ‘the stories of the individual human beings’ and to ‘recreate the world of single human beings’ underpins a humanocentric institution that values the singular within a collective which has much in common with the value of the singular irrespective of his or her net worth, in blockchain technology.

Photo by iSAW Company on Unsplash

The second goes beyond Pamuk’s manifesto. It is all about shifting the axis of the museum institution towards a participatory, public space and that is best explained through such contributions as Nina Simon’s The Participatory Museum. This concept has common ground with the ways and means how blockchain empowers individual members of a community to act, process and create assets, be they financial or data driven. In the case of participatory museums these assets can generate knowledge and inspiration thanks to participatory and co-created projects, audience empowerment and the rethinking of the museum as a public space for social debate. The vision has now morphed into the OF/BY/FOR/ALL movement launched by the Santa Cruz Museum of Art & History, previously also led by Nina Simon, over the past months. Incidentally, among the twenty-one museum institutions to join the first wave of the movement’s research programme, there is only one European museum. The Americans carry the day at this point even though European museums are better posited in the second wave.

Adam Husted via

These latest developments are in essence, participatory, and explore the ways and means how assets and resources can be shared or acknowledged as owned by a collective. Much in line with how blockchain technology has been developing since its inception in 2008, shared ownership is the model to counter rather a central authority set on defining value to be then accepted and acknowledged by one and all in a seemingly dogmatic way, albeit grounded in knowledge and connoisseurship.

It is highly likely that institutions embracing Orhan Pamuk’s ethos with management models inspired by Nina Simon’s Participatory Museum will be the ones that can best maximise on the use, development and application of blockchain technology. These would be able to do so not only for funding purposes but would find it relatively easier than the bigger museums to develop blockchain management management processes and decision making tools for the 21st-century Humanist Museum.

This contribution was first published by Vastari on the kind invitation of my amazing colleague and friend Bernadine.



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Sandro Debono

Sandro Debono


Museum thinker | Curious mind | Pragmatic dreamer — not necessarily in that order.