Skip to content

The Future of Museums Is Open

Open Culture

ICOM’s International Museum Day 2021 poster

It’s International Museum Day and at Creative Commons (CC) we are thrilled to once again  celebrate the institutions that acquire, conserve, research, communicate, and exhibit the world’s heritage for education, study, and enjoyment. This year’s theme is The Future of Museums: Recover and Reimagine and in this blog post, we imagine a future where museums are empowered to freely and openly share their collections online in participatory, interactive, sustainable, ethical, and equitable ways —  we imagine a world of better sharing for a brighter future for all museums and the communities that they serve.


2020 was a really challenging year for museums alongside other GLAMs (galleries, libraries, archives, and museums) and for the cultural sector as a whole. The COVID-19 pandemic forced many institutions to close their doors, lay off staff, and draw deep on their resources to find resilience in the face of abrupt and unsettling changes. An April 2021 UNESCO report states that: “in 2020, museums were closed for an average of 155 days, and since the beginning of 2021, many of them have again had to shut their doors, resulting, on average, in a 70% drop in attendance and a 40-60% decline in revenue compared to 2019.”

At the same time, this crisis was a spark that (re)kindled the fire of open access to cultural heritage. Lockdown measures meant that when the world swiftly moved online, so too did museums. According to an ICOM survey published in November 2020, many museums started or continued to enhance their digital activities and to engage with the public remotely. More than a year into this global health crisis, museums are at a pivotal moment and must lead the change to recover and reimagine our common future. 

At CC, the future we envision for museums is one where the public has greater and better access to museums’ collections on a global level. 

Where the public can experience and interpret those collections in order to enrich and bring new perspectives to their contexts and narratives.   

Where museums and their audiences can get closer together online in fresh and innovative ways based on a supportive and sustainable digital infrastructure. 

Where museums move into the post-COVID era, healed, mended, and equipped with the knowledge and know-how to meaningfully share their collections, unencumbered by unnecessary legal, technical, or financial barriers. 

Where the threats of global challenges such as climate change have been addressed and where future generations are continuously able to enjoy our shared cultural heritage. 

At CC, we want to help make that future happen.

Through advocacy for legal and policy change, infrastructure innovation, capacity building to accompany institutions on their digital transformation journey, and community engagement, Creative Commons aims to lead a global effort to ensure access, use, and reuse of cultural heritage is not hampered by unnecessary constraints.

In terms of policy, we want to strengthen the open ecosystem to support GLAMs and their public interest mission, as we did in front of the Mexican senate in September 2020. We will continue to be supportive of museums in the copyright arena, in particular, by pushing for strong, clear, and effective exceptions and limitations for, among others, preservation, research and education, and text-and-data mining. We will also continue to advocate that digitized public domain works must remain in the public domain and generally drive change to ensure the legal framework is apt for the digital environment, especially in areas such as artificial intelligence.  

We want to build a reliable legal, technical, and social infrastructure around our CC licenses and tools, and build capacity within institutions to help them shift from closed to open by releasing their online collections into the public domain. We also want to bring closer together members of the Open GLAM community, whose energy and enthusiasm are poised to unlock the museum sector’s immense potential to create a brighter, more equitable future.

Museums deserve to be celebrated all year round and we’re proud to support them the world over through our Open GLAM efforts. Interested in learning more? Get in touch:!

Posted 18 May 2021