What is Museum 3.0?

Main Image Credit: AI Selfie I, John Phillips generated using DALL-E

What is Museum 3.0? Is it an idea, a place, a possibility?

I began by asking ChatGPT

Image Credit: AI Selfie I, John Phillips generated using DALL-E

ChatGPT replied with an explanation of the differences between Museum 1.0, with its emphasis on ‘artifact-focused’ collecting, display, and interpretation; Museum 2.0 which sought to broaden audience engagement and participation before explaining that; ‘Museum 3.0 recognizes the importance of making museums more accessible and relevant to diverse audiences, including those who may never physically visit the museum. It’s about leveraging technology and new media to create dynamic, interactive, and immersive experiences that extend beyond the physical walls of the institution.’

The AI’s response proposed harnessing technology to extend beyond a museum’s physical walls yet entirely overlooked the political and social world that might be encountered there. Perhaps the old adage: ‘to a cobbler the world is made of leather’, applies equally to our AI companions.

Perhaps too, the use of numerically sequenced naming (Museum 3.0) fosters technological rather than social associations. Nevertheless, two distinct camps, one technological, the other political lay claim to Museum 3.0 and neither appears eager to bridge the divide.

In May 2023 the Musée d’Angoulême in southwest France launched an experimental program entitled Musée 3.0. This initiative employed augmented reality, animated 3D graphics, and various digital tools to breathe life into the inanimate objects in its collection. Neanderthals awaken to ponder the confines of their display cases, ancient bison age and decay before viewers’ eyes, and unassuming display labels transform as if overdosed on steroids. An earlier experiment also under the banner of Musée 3.0 saw Le Museum d’Histoire Naturelle de La Rochelle and Musée Sainte Croix de Poitiers develop child-friendly robot guides to interact with younger visitors.

While not specifically badged as Museum 3.0, many major institutions are exploring augmented reality technologies, interactive displays, and the multiple possibilities of the Metaverse to ‘enhance’ their visitors’ experience. Here are two example videos promoting initiatives by the Met and National Geographic.

Whatever their contribution as tools to extend engagement such spectacles alone do little to address the inequalities of cultural capital and power that lay at the heart of all museums rooted in practices of colonial acquisition.  And debates around ownership, significance and interpretation of collections and their objects are central to the social, as opposed to technological, school of Museum 3.0

In his text Toward a Lexicon of Usership Stephen Wright explores the idea of Museum 3.0 as a space predicated on usership. Users he suggests ‘are not owners. Nor are they spectators. But what if the museum made way for usership, actually embedding it in its modus operandi? A museum where usership, not spectatorship, is the key form of relationality; where the content and value it engenders are mutualised for the community of users themselves? Where the usership of museums, like that of languages, produces their meaning’. The idea of the ‘museum’ with active social agency embracing ‘usership’ and utilizing its collections and resources to facilitate debate and creative reimagining within its communities is further explored in this interview with Alistair Hudson and TED Talk by Nina Simon.

Museum 3.0

Participatory Museum

Museum 3.0 is a term frequently employed with reference to the change within the museum world. Yet its advocates are seemingly addressing two entirely different projects. Is a synthesis possible? After mildly chastising ChatGPT for its emphasis on technology in defining Museum 3.0. I asked it to identify how AI might contribute to the social activist museum. Here is its reply.

Artificial Intelligence (AI) has the potential to contribute positively to the changes proposed in museum activism, particularly in addressing power relationships related to race, class, and gender. Here’s an exploration of how AI can play a role in this context:

Diverse Representation in Collections:

AI-powered algorithms can assist museums in diversifying their collections. By analyzing gaps in representation, AI can help curators identify historically marginalized groups or artists who have been underrepresented.

Enhanced Interpretation:

AI can provide visitors with more in-depth and inclusive interpretations of museum exhibits. For instance, AI-powered interactive kiosks can offer multilingual explanations, ensuring that a broader audience can engage with the content.

Data-Driven Decision-Making:

AI can help museums collect and analyze data about visitor demographics and preferences. This information can guide curatorial decisions to ensure exhibitions resonate with diverse audiences and challenge power dynamics effectively.

Virtual Reality (VR) and Augmented Reality (AR):

AI can enhance the immersive experience of museum-goers. VR and AR applications powered by AI can create virtual exhibitions that allow visitors to explore historical contexts and gain deeper insights into power relationships.

Content Personalization:

AI-driven recommendation systems can tailor the museum experience to individual preferences. Visitors can receive personalized tours or content suggestions, which can be especially useful for engaging with exhibits related to race, class, and gender.


AI can improve accessibility for all visitors. For example, AI-driven captioning and sign language interpretation can make exhibitions more inclusive for people with disabilities, including those with hearing impairments.

Content Curation and Storytelling:

AI algorithms can assist in curating content that tells a more comprehensive and diverse story. This includes highlighting contributions from historically marginalized groups and providing a broader narrative context.

Language Translation:

AI-powered translation tools can break down language barriers, making museum content accessible to a global audience. Visitors can experience exhibitions in their preferred language, fostering cross-cultural understanding.

Facilitating Research:

AI can support researchers by analyzing vast collections of data, including historical documents and artifacts. This can lead to new insights and perspectives on power dynamics throughout history.

Crowdsourced Content:

AI can facilitate crowdsourcing initiatives, enabling museums to gather community-contributed stories and experiences related to race, class, and gender. This ensures that multiple voices are heard and represented.

Addressing Bias

AI can be used to identify and rectify biases within museum collections or interpretive materials. Algorithms can flag problematic content and provide recommendations for more balanced narratives.

Visitor Feedback Analysis:

AI-powered sentiment analysis can help museums gauge visitor reactions and feedback, allowing for continuous improvement in addressing power dynamics and inclusivity.

Evaluating AI

It’s important to note that while AI offers significant benefits, it also raises ethical considerations, including bias in AI algorithms. Museum professionals must be vigilant in ensuring that AI technologies are used responsibly and that they do not perpetuate existing inequalities. Additionally, museums should actively involve diverse voices in the development and implementation of AI initiatives to avoid reinforcing power imbalances. By harnessing AI’s potential while addressing these challenges, museums can amplify their impact in promoting positive change in society.