In Indonesia, a group of friends is taking matters into their own hands to make cultural heritage accessible to a wider public. Disappointed with the poor marketing and dated websites of most Indonesian museums, the photographer Riefa started something he calls "The Museum Project."
Their website shows 360° panoramic photos of local museums. So far the list only includes 5 museums, but the site is supposed to grow and act as umbrella page for Indonesian museums, on which interested visitors can get a first impression, and find information about location, opening hours and ticket prices.
I caught up with Riefa to chat about his project, the use of technology in museums and museum marketing.
I bet you know them all, so tell us: which is your favorite museum in Jakarta?
The Bank Indonesia Museum is currently the best museum. The layout is good and the collection is properly labeled. You can rent an audio guide. It’s the only museum in Jakarta that uses that device.
But I like one small museum in Menteng, near Taman Suropati, most: Museum Naskah Proklamasi. It is inside a small, cozy old house. It is not yet part of the Museum Project website but I already have the permission to shoot. I just haven’t found the right time.
How do you go about finding your next museum to shoot for the Museum Project?
I just call them one by one and try to find the person in charge. I do it for free and tell them this is an opportunity to promote themselves. Still it is not easy to find museums willing to cooperate. The first to welcome my idea was a museum in Bandung, the Asian-African Conference Museum.
Some of the museums told me they were afraid that if I put the photos online, visitors don't want to come anymore because they have already seen it. I explain to them that my goal is not to make a complete tour but to give a first impression. The photos aren’t very detailed; you can’t zoom in and see everything.
What about the technical aspect of your photo shoots: What camera do you use, how do you plan the shots?
For the 360 photos I use a regular Canon DSLR. It’s not about the camera, but how you take the photos using a panoramic tripod head. You mount the camera there and shoot four images; front, left, right and back. Then you stitch them together using a computer program.
For a big museum such as the Bank Indonesia Museum I shot 41 spots. The effect is like walking around in it. First I explore the museum, I decide which panoramas are interesting. Some of the museums have “bad corners,” you know, broken televisions and such. I try to hide those in my photos.
Have you ever tried to apply for a government fund or any other external funding to support your project?
No. The Museum Project is supported by a group of private people, my friends. I haven't tried to apply for government support because this involves a lot of bureaucracy. Once we ask the government for money, things will get complicated.
But we have received some funding from Dell computers. Their PR company got in touch after they found out about us via Twitter. They have supported an event and the website maintenance.
Is there any museum you know in other parts of the world that uses technology in a good way?
I haven’t traveled much, but I hear from friends who have visited museums outside of Indonesia. I think the main thing technology in museums can deliver is a playful, interactive approach. For example, something that just looks like a block of wood, you could put it on a digital table and have information pop up around it like videos. There’s the real collection, with its objects, but they are enhanced digitally to tell appealing stories.
In Indonesia, only the Indonesia Kaya Gallery built by Djarum in Grand Indonesia Mall is experimenting with this kind of digital interactivity.
My dream is that I can convince all the museums, at least in Jakarta, to participate. There are 65 museums in Jakarta alone. If I can get up to 20 or 30 people to be aware of it, the project would run itself.
Since 2013 the project has moved beyond just a photography. We now also have offline activities. We use twitter to gather people to go to the museums together. We might meet on Sunday morning at one museum and ask a guide to show us around. Really, we just want more people to visit museums.
An app version of the museum project is also in progress, just keep an eye out for the announcement on twitter.