When you have world-class collections such as we have at the Art Museums of Colonial Williamsburg (known individually as the Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Folk Art Museum, now celebrating its 60th anniversary year, and the DeWitt Wallace Decorative Arts Museum), you want to share them with as broad an audience as possible beyond the visitors who already come through our doors.
One wonderful way in which we are able to share our exhibitions and collections to a larger, international audience is through the Sotheby’s Museum Network. Launched less than a year ago with more than 150 videos from 18 prestigious museums including The Metropolitan Museum of Art and Met Breuer in New York City, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Tate and the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, Grand Palais in Paris, Ullens Center for Contemporary Art in Beijing, Garage Museum of Contemporary Art in Moscow, Museo Tamayo in Mexico City and The Peggy Guggenheim Collection in Venice, it’s an august group of institutions to be among. The site now has nearly 50 cultural institutions participating and plans to grow to include more than 100.
This online destination makes videos from the participating institutions accessible to a vast global audience. Millions of people can see the content through Sotheby’s digital platforms, which include its own website (museumnetwork.sothebys.com) and Sotheby’s AppleTV app. Amazon Fire and Samsung Smart TV now also carry the network to their customers.
The Art Museums select and post their video content on the site based on recent events and exhibitions. Presently, this includes Printed Fashions: Textiles for Clothing and Home, From Forge and Furnace: A Celebration of Early American Iron, German Toys in America, A Century of African-American Quilts, Architectural Clues to 18th-Century Williamsburg and much more. (The German Toys in America and Architectural Clues to 18th-Century Williamsburg videos have been the most popular to date.) As new video content is produced in conjunction with future exhibitions, it will be shared through the Sotheby’s Museum Network as it also will be on Colonial Williamsburg’s YouTube channel and other Colonial Williamsburg social media and digital platforms, which currently offer content from the museums.
In a growing age of bringing cultural treasures to new viewers—either in person or remotely—art museums must adapt with the times. Our two museums, which already enjoy growing attendance for the past four consecutive years, will only gain greater recognition from near and far through new initiatives such as the Sotheby’s Museums Network in addition to other educational digital partnerships in which the Art Museums engage including the Google Art Project, eMuseum Network (both since 2013) and Artstor (since 2016).
We expect that the Art Museums’ participation in this platform will gain even more exposure when the Museum Network launches a redesigned site in August. The new version will be a fully searchable website aiming to become the ultimate destination for art lovers with listings, images and other content from more than 500 leading institutions, designed to encourage engagement and visitorship.
Hurst is Colonial Williamsburg’s Carlisle H. Humelsine chief curator and vice president of collections, conservation and museums.