The ViMM Definition of a Virtual Museum

A museum is defined by the International Council of Museums (ICOM)  as a  ‘non-profit, permanent institution in the service of society and its development, open to the public, which acquires, conserves, researches, communicates and exhibits the tangible and intangible heritage of humanity and its environment for the purposes of education, study and enjoyment’.

A virtual museum (VM) is a digital entity that draws on the characteristics of a museum, in order to complement, enhance, or augment the museum through personalization, interactivity, user experience and richness of content.

Both the ‘physical’ museum (PhM) and the VM share a common commitment to the institutional validation of content and quality of experience through curatorial process, inherent in the ICOM definition.


VMs perform as the digital footprint of a PhM or act independently and are committed to the public access to knowledge systems, the long-term preservation of collections and the delivery of exceptional experiences.  In addition, the VM provides new opportunities for the public in ways not previously viable through the modification, experimentation and combination of collections based on the digital iteration of the analog original. Users actively participate in novel ways such as through enhanced ‘presence’, immersive experiences, multidirectional communication, and interactive storytelling.

A variety of actors are now welcome into the VM ecosystem where end-users interact with the museum; sharing, and remixing primary and secondary resources for their own consumption and production.  As user generated contributions, and new methods of co-curation evolve, appropriate sets of practices develop, managed under the umbrella of the museum as endorsed by ICOM. Traditional guidelines of validation, professional integrity and recognition of copyright are extended to sustain new kinds of creativity, while procedures are adopted to preserve both originals, and reproductions in novel curatorial scenarios.

Enabled by technical innovation, this kind of direct engagement with content changes the paradigm of the way we experience a museum.  Collections are opened up for creative appropriation, shared and sharable content flows in and beyond the museum walls, and new opportunities for creative production extend the museum mandate from the pre-visit, during the on-site experience, as well as over post-visit narratives.   The VM opens up compelling opportunities for inclusion and accessibility, and extends the museum encounter through personal advocacy in new scenarios for life-long learning, inspiration and creativity.

Furthermore, a VM:

  • can retrieve and deliver collections to end-users in limitless, simultaneous and remote locations.
  • provide access to content that is otherwise inaccessible (in storage, lost, in private collections).
  • combine objects across geographical distances from sister institutions or sites: in situ in remote locations, archaeological excavations, public sites and monuments.
  • showcase objects that have no physical presence and are born digital.


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Featured photo

Screenshot of the “Virtual Museum Valentino Garavani” (2011) 

Source: Inexhibit