Setting Up Digital to Tell Stories to a Global Audience

As the first Chief Digital Officer for the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, Sree Sreenivasan leads the charge in managing and producing digital content — which means storytelling for a global audience. “My job is to tell a million-plus stories about a million-plus pieces of art to a billion-plus people,” he says.

Sree Sreenivasan has one of the plum jobs in the intersection of digital technology and the creative arts: He is tasked with bringing the works of the world that are housed at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City to a truly global audience.

In the 2013 press release that introduced Sreenivasan as the first Chief Digital Officer for the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the museum’s director and CEO, Thomas P. Campbell, noted that Sreenivasan’s “work in traditional journalism, his role as a commentator on technology and media issues, and his expertise in websites and social media will all be key to the Museum’s work in the digital space.” The big goal, said Campbell: “Leverage mobile, in-gallery, and online platforms for the Met’s collections.”

Sreenivasan came to the Met from a 21-year career as professor of digital journalism at Columbia Graduate School of Journalism. He also served as Columbia’s first Chief Digital Officer and as Dean of Student Affairs. He is cofounder of the South Asian Journalists Association, a networking and resource forum for journalists of South Asian origin based in the U.S. and Canada.

In a conversation with Gerald C. (Jerry) Kane, an associate professor of information systems at the Carroll School of Management at Boston College and guest editor for MIT Sloan Management Review’s Social Business Big Idea Initiative, Sreenivasan talked about the ways that digital business and social business tools are disrupting the museum industry, and what directions the Met is heading.

My first question is, why does an art museum need a chief digital officer? What does your work look like?

It’s a very good question, and people ask me that all the time. I look at my work in a couple of different ways. One is to build what I call a virtual circle, connecting the physical and the digital, the in-person and the online.