The worlds of technology, culture and entrepreneurship have never been more connected. Success in any of the aforementioned disciplines requires not just a significant knowledge but a reverence for a diverse range of topics that were once thought unrelated. Building a new mobile banking software application? It’s necessary to know how your market is engaging with technology culturally. In light of this focus on intersections of topics, London-based Culture Label’s upcoming NYC edition of its REMIX Summit is a must for those looking to make moves in tech, business and cultural pursuits. We’re proud to be a media partner for the NYC event, during which over three days (17-19 September 2014) leaders in a range of fields will share their knowledge, experience and wisdom aimed at macro issues. In anticipation of the summit, we met with one of those leaders, Sree Sreenivasan. The Metropolitan Museum of Art‘s first Chief Digital Officer and leading thinker in digital journalism, Sreenivasan recently spoke with us about balancing technology with art in the museum space.
Can you tell me a bit about how you came into your current role as Chief Digital Officer at the Met?
When I came to New York at the age of nine, I spent four years living very close to the Met and I went to school one block away from the Met. I had what I call a 30-year one-way love affair with the world’s greatest museum. So when I had an opportunity to come work here, I completely embraced it and was so delighted to come and work with so many interesting people in such a wonderful institution.
My work is to lead a team of world-class experts on everything from the web to social to gallery interactives to collections information to social media—and to think about ways in which the museum can be smarter in its use of digital technology and to connect the physical as well as the online experience, the in-person and the digital. It’s been exactly a year since I started and I’ve learned so much about the world of art and culture and about myself in the process.
You’re the first person to hold this role. Is that correct?
Yes, the position was created last year and that’s how I ended up coming here from Columbia University where I was also the first Chief Digital Officer. My work is different every day. There are, of course, meetings as there are in any institution, but there are also opportunities to talk outside of meetings [with] smart people who care so passionately about the art in the building and art around the world and to share ideas about where the world of culture is going.
We do it all while walking to meetings or walking through all this wonderful art. That’s how I make sure that every day is different. It’s a building that brings in over six million visitors a year, so getting a chance to talk to some of those people is absolutely wonderful—getting to see their joy as they interact with our art. Hundreds of thousands of students who come through the programs, kids all ages…it’s a fascinating place.
We’re not interested in putting technology everywhere—not putting screens everywhere—but finding ways in which to use technology when it makes sense to improve that experience.
Are museums embracing digital art and creativity?
Museums absolutely understand that the digital world is the future. But we also know that there is something magical about being in a gallery with a piece of art and just interacting with it in the old, traditional way of looking, of absorbing, of asking yourself questions. We’re not interested in putting technology everywhere—not putting screens everywhere—but finding ways in which to use technology when it makes sense to improve that experience.
Is this your first time at REMIX? Who are you looking forward to hearing?
This is the first time I’m speaking at REMIX and I’m extremely grateful for the opportunity. There are so many wonderful people at the conference. Everybody from Mayor Mike Bloomberg to the director of MoMA Glenn Lowry, Amit Sood from the Google Cultural Institute, Jim Roberts from Mashable—there are just so many people who are going to be speaking who I’ve learned from and admired sometimes from afar but also been in meetings with and in touch and getting to talk to them is going to be exciting. Anita Contini for example from Bloomberg Philanthropies is helping change the world of museums and we have been in meetings but I’ve never heard her speak in a more formal way, so hearing that point of view is going to be exciting. Allegra Burnette who is one of our colleagues in the museum space, she was sort of my counterpart at MoMA, is now at Forrester Research and to see how she’s adjusted to her in life is going to be exciting. Overall it’s going to be a wonderful three days.
Every industry can learn from other industries and that’s extremely important.
What does REMIX bring to the tech community?
There are a lot of conferences, but I believe that this conference is different because it’s combining the idea of looking at the combination of culture, technology and entrepreneurship, and to do it all in New York makes it all very special. I think it gives you a chance to meet people from different walks of life and from different parts of the world. Getting a chance to learn from them is very important. Every industry can learn from other industries and that’s extremely important.
Can you tell us a bit about what you’ll be covering?
My lecture is going to be about lessons I’ve learned about the future of art, culture from thinking about journalism, education and technology—and what lessons we can learn from each of those worlds.
Sree Sreenivasan is Chief Digital Officer at the Metropolitan Museum. Catch him and 80 other innovators at the 2014 NYC REMIX Summit from 17-19 September 2014.
Portrait by Joseph Lin, additional imagery courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art