DIGITAL TRANSFORMATION: An Assessment of Grants Supporting Digital Staff in Museums (Έκδοση του Knight Foundation)Γιάννης Κουκουλάς
An Assessment of Grants Supporting
Digital Staff in Museums
Sarah Lutman, Principal, 8 Bridges Workshop
Koven J. Smith, Koven J. Smith Consulting
Greta Rudolph, Associate, 8 Bridges Workshop
Μια έκδοση του Knight Foundation
Knight Foundation believes that the digital space holds significant opportunities for cultural
institutions, and in recent years has intensified its work to help organizations create
valuable digital content. Museums that do not invest in digital capabilities and offerings
will miss important connections with potential audiences. This deficiency also seems likely
to erode the relevance of the arts in society as audiences spend increasing amounts of
In early 2018, Knight Foundation approved $970,000 in grants that aimed to raise the
digital profiles of eight museums by supporting the costs of positions dedicated to digital
and technology work. These digital positions would conceive, plan, and implement digital
strategies that improve the visitor experience and expand audiences. Seven of the initial
eight grantees proceeded to hire their digital positions; four of the museums’ hires remain
in their positions as of this writing.
The grant period presented a series of unprecedented challenges for museums and for
society at large. The COVID-19 pandemic forced many museums to close their physical
spaces, pivot to remote work and add more digital programming. The racial justice
movement accelerated in 2020, which itself caused a reckoning with museums’ histories of
Eurocentrism and lack of staff and board diversity.
All seven grantees showed growth in digital capacity during the grant period. And, though
the grantees differed significantly in their budget sizes and in the scope of their digital
programs, several themes surfaced repeatedly during the research: • Size and capacity: Neither the budget nor staff size of the museum was
correlated with an increase in capacity or success in delivering high-impact
• Audience impact: The grants supported the creation of audience-facing digital
initiatives at all seven museums. Though this report includes examples of such
projects, these projects should not overshadow the significant but less visible
contributions to digital capacity made by the hires.
• Strong hires: The digital hires from this set of grants were universally capable,
and all were adaptable to shifting responsibilities and requirements. All the hires
reported that the positions provided opportunities for career growth.
• Role-scoping: The digital hires performed significant work not captured in their
• Salary challenges: Paying market-rate salaries for these positions was a
struggle for all seven grantees, even with Knight’s grant support. Each museum
addressed the challenge in its own way.
• Executive leadership: Sustained digital capacity-building was correlated with
Digital Transformation: An Assessment of Grants Supporting Digital Staff in Museums
a highly involved executive leader and/or leadership team who were invested in
the new hire’s success.
• Technical infrastructure: A majority of the grantees’ technical infrastructures
were not adequate to support the stated goals of the hired positions. The need
to address this infrastructure gap before pivoting to public-facing initiatives was
not always well understood by the museums’ leadership teams.
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