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Broken Link: Sree Sreenivasan, Metropolitan Museum’s Chief Digital Officer, to Depart

This bombshell (in the form of an internal memo) has just been dropped by Thomas Campbell and Daniel Weiss, director and president, respectively, of the Metropolitan Museum. (Photos, text in italics and links are mine, not theirs):

We wanted to share the news that Sree Sreenivasan will be leaving his position at the Met after three years serving as the Museum’s first chief digital officer. This decision has been made in the context of the recentering of the Museum’s work and our current financial restructuring.

Sree Sreenivasan

Sree Sreenivasan

In his time with us, Sree has introduced new audiences to the power and relevance of the Met and helped redefine what digital means to museums. He has overseen a number of important initiatives, including The Met App, #MetKids, The Artist Project [now in its sixth and final season] and Facebook 360 immersive videos. Our website was refreshed and optimized for mobile; our social media following increased exponentially; the online collection has been expanded; and we developed new connections with technology companies and individuals worldwide.

Sree also led our engagement with platforms like Facebook Live and China’s WeChat and Weibo and expanded our MediaLab’s pioneering work. During his tenure, he was named one of Fast Company’s 100 Most Creative People in Business in 2015.

Sree will be an ongoing advocate for the Met as he continues his career as a groundbreaking leader in the digital world. His last day will be June 30, after which he will serve as a consultant to The Met for the next six months. He will also be consulting for the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation’s Arts program while working on a book about embracing change in institutions and in our professional and personal lives.

We are pleased that Loic Tallon, deputy chief of digital, will serve as interim chief digital officer. [Tallon played a leading role in developing the Met’s new app.]

Loic Tallon Photo by Lee Rosenbaum

Loic Tallon
Photo by Lee Rosenbaum

Please join us in thanking Sree for his outstanding work for the Met.

I knew and liked Sree, who, for better or worse, inspired me to start this blog when I attended an alumni weekend at the Columbia University School of Journalism. He was then an associate professor, after which he served as Columbia University’s dean of student affairs and, briefly, as its chief digital officer. But as Sreenivasan readily admitted, he arrived at the Met with little knowledge of art. Partly for that reason, I never thought he was a good fit.

As I said in this post (in which I recoiled at Sree’s enthusiasm for using the Blippar app to animate a Met-owned van Gogh):

Some of those whom museums have tapped to lead their digital initiatives have a lot more tech savvy than art smarts. Enamored of cool bells and whistles, they seem oblivious of the disservice they’re doing to the art.

Two simple, under-the-radar innovations that I admired on Sree’s watch (not mentioned in the Met’s termination memo) were the assignment of hashtags to Met exhibitions on introductory wall texts (to facilitate social-media conversations) and the free access on smartphones to the Met’s audio guides—a no-cost alternative to renting the museum’s own equipment and headsets.

It seems clear from the language of the Met’s memo (which Sree has posted on his Facebook page) that the impetus for his departure came from the Met, not from him. (“This decision has been made in the context of the recentering of the Museum’s work and our current financial restructuring.“)

My guess is that this “recentering” may involve refocusing attention and resources towards the core mission and away from tech toys like Blippar and 3D mashups of masterpieces. The Met’s “current financial restructuring” may create a salutary back-to-basics imperative.

When it comes to staffing, great curators, in my view, are, and always will be, the “basics.”

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