The mission of the National Geographic Society is ’to increase and diffuse geographic knowledge while promoting the conservation of the world’s cultural, historical, and natural resources.’
This mission could easily be that of a museum, and the ambition of the National Geographic Society to take their message to the world is one which I think could be an example to museums.
Just nine months after the society was founded in 1888, the first National Geographic magazine was published. This publication with its iconic yellow frame delivered knowledge about places, animals and peoples which most of us would never see. 123 years later the magazine is published in thirty-four languages and had a global circulation of 8.2 million in 2011.
The success of the magazine is impressive, with the Louvre being the only museum in the world to attract more visitors annually than the National Geographic has readers. However, it is the societies expansion into television and film which really interests me.
In September 1997, National Geographic Channel was launched in the UK, Europe and Australia. Today the channel is available in 143 countries, in 160 million homes and in 25 languages.
Museums as broadcasters
The Walker Art Center relaunched their website in December 2011, and in doing so, they moved from a format which could be described as a traditional ’museum’ website which focused on the institutions programmes to offering a broader view of contemporary art.
The Walker Art Center describe this new website as an ’idea hub’, but it is really just a very interesting website for anyone interested in contemporary art, even those who might never visit their physical venue.
This concept of the museum as a publisher is perhaps nothing new, afterall the Walker Art Center has published a magazine for a number of years as do many other institutions, but while one suspects that most museum publications are more about revenue or giving members something which feels worth their annual fee, this feels more like the institution using online publishing as a tool to reach more people and to fulfill its mission.
The Walker Art Center website has become a destination for those interested in contemporary art and having increase their reach with a 40% increase in traffic to their website. I am sure that many other institutions are thinking about how they can use publishing to reach new audiences and fulfill their missions.
Personally I would love to see a science museum website which went beyond telling me about exhibitions and also got me interested in science. After all, is the mission of these institutions to grow their visitor figures or to educate people about the subjects which they cover.
Ultimately why isn’t their a museum which is doing what the National Geographic Society has done, taking the subject which they are passionate about beyond the walls of an institution and into the homes of millions of people?
With the convergence of television and the internet, the barrier to entry in launching a ’television channel’ is about to fall dramatically. I wonder which museum will be the first to grasp this great opportunity to go beyond their walls and fulfill their mission on a global scale?