Museums and Instagram

There is no contest when it comes to my favorite social media platform. I am undeniably obsessed with Instagram and with its new addition of the “story” feature it is practically making Snapchat obsolete (if you ask me). I follow over 3,000 accounts, a staggering number even to me, and I have carefully curated my feed to consist mainly of food, yoga, clothes, museums, and artists. I generally only post photos along the lines of the same themes, and it is very rare that a real person is actually featured in my posts. I am not sure when this obsession began, but here we are.

Because of my chosen course of academic study and career aspirations, it only makes sense that I utilize Instagram to follow, interact with, and document my museum experience. Anyone who uses a social media platform as an expression of themselves would do the same. In class we have discussed the idea of looking at the world in a different way, because we are searching for ways to document a moment for social media. I must admit, I am completely guilty of this practice. Every meal I eat, every trip I take, every exhibit I attend, is constantly rated for the “Instagram-ability” if you will. Many of my close friends know not to eat until I’ve taken a photo (none of them resent me for it – hopefully). And I don’t think it takes away from my experience in the present. In fact, I had never thought of it as something strange or different until we started to discuss it in class. To me, it is exciting because I can end up with photos like this –

Life imitates art in one of my proudest Instagram accomplishments, taken this weekend in the newly renovated East Building of the National Gallery of Art

But, as I mentioned in a previous blog post appropriately titled Stream of Consciousness, the thought that visiting museums could be deemed unnecessary with the increased used of Instagram and other digital initiatives is horrifying to me! When I find museums and galleries on Instagram, I use it as a way to learn about exhibits, see new acquisitions, have a glimpse into all the places I miss from my studies in Paris. While my obsession with Instagram is real, it certainly would never replace the in person experience of seeing a work of art in person.

My freshman year of college, I took a course called “Picasso and Matisse: Friends or Foes?” and we had the opportunity to go to NYC for a weekend full of museum and gallery hoping (really set the bar high for the rest of college). For the entire semester, we talked about the definition of “modernity” and the importance of Picasso’s Les Desmoiselles d’Avignon (1907) to the modern art movement.


We talked about this painting for what seemed like the entire semester. But, truly, nothing compared to when I saw it in person at the Museum of Modern Art. The colors, the size, the detail, was nothing like what we had seen in books and online. There’s nothing that can take that thrill away than actually seeing it in person (if you ask me).

As I was researching this post and reading all types of articles I could find regarding “museums and Instagram” and I came across this article titled “Millennial’s Are Discovering Art by Ditching Museums for Instagram and Pinterest”. The title is misleading however, because they article actually cites a study that details millennials are more likely to purchase art online than in a traditional auction setting. Does this speak to the fact that social media is pushing art to millennials, or to the fact that practically everything is available to shop online via Amazon or otherwise? To me, whether purchasing art, looking at art, discussing art, and anything else related, while I am Instagram-obsessed there is nothing better than the in-person experience.


Week 9




“Toto, I have a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore…”

On Monday the Smithsonian Institution launched their second Kickstarter campaign, with a fundraising goal of $300,000 to conserve Dorothy’s Ruby Red Slippers, made for the 1939 musical production of MGM’s The Wizard of Oz. Judy Garland wore these shoes as she convinced people around the world that there’s “no place like home”. These shoes are in possession by the National Museum of American History, but the Campaign is under the larger Smithsonian Institution. As of this evening, the campaign is funded over 50% of the way, with $182,246 pledged by 3,285 backers (to donate, and keep up with the campaign see their Kickstarter page here).

“Are museums allowed to have a Kickstarter?”

For those (in my wide audience) that are not familiar with a Kickstarter campaign even is, I will give a brief description. Kickstarter is a crowdfunding platform – allowing someone (or some institution in this case) to create a campaign, allowing the general public to pledge money to reach their goal. There is a wide range of campaigns that are put up to be funded, raising money for an invention, for a restaurant, for a special project, just a few examples. Included in campaigns are different “rewards”, giving incentives at varying giving levels, often promising previews, limited edition merchandise, exclusive access, etc.

This is not the first time that the Smithsonian has launched a Kickstarter campaign – they are now seasoned professionals because this is their second campaign. I kid of course, because I can’t imagine they feel anywhere near experienced at this point. Last year, the National Air and Space Museum successfully funded a campaign to #RebootTheSuit, raising money to conserve, digitize, and display Neil Armstrong’s spacesuit for the 50th anniversary of the moon landing in 2019. This campaign was wildly successful, as their original goal was to raise $500,000 and they ended with over $700,000.

I was asked this week if museums were “allowed” to have a Kickstarter campaign. Interesting question I thought, and my immediate answer “Well, why wouldn’t they be?” I think this question stemmed from the fact that it is quite an untraditional fundraising route for a museum – and generally speaking crowdfunding is a pretty new concept. I recognize that the Smithsonian is a tricky situation as well, because they are a federal entity, and the general publics understanding is that “our taxes pay for the Smithsonian”. This is not true, but I understand how this could be considered true, and I also understand how the public would expect items like the slippers to be protected and conserved no matter what, without the help of outside funding. The discussion of Smithsonian funding could be an entire post on its own, so I will stop there. What is important is the new approach to fundraising, using digital initiatives and crowdfunding

Kickstarter as it relates to social media

There is a very clear relationship between Kickstarter and social media, being that is how the campaign will be shared. While there are many different channels of communication, and many different ways to share information, the easiest way to share a website is on the internet. Advertising the campaign on the museum’s website, as well as all social media channels is the best way to reach the most people in my opinion (as American History is doing herehere, and here).

There is another relation between a Kickstarter campaign and social media that I see too, and that is the planning and decision making that goes into choosing an object and launching the campaign. Many of the same principles are at play, such as content, audience, and engagement. In Air and Space’s case, they had a one of a kind object, tied to an important American event, and anniversary dates on their side. American History has a piece of American popular culture, but it has been pointed out that there are many pairs of ruby slippers, and they are not operating within anniversary dates. While every campaign does not have to be the same to be successful, these are factors to take into account. Similarly to when a museum is planning the content to be shared via social media, they pull from different repositories of content, all the while keeping mindful of their audience, and the goal of engagement.

Finally…what’s in a name?

How do we feel about the #KeepThemRuby hashtag? Choosing a hashtag for a national campaign like this is a big deal, but I can’t help but think they could have done something with sparkle, home, Oz, etc?

Week 8

Image from:

The “Institutional Voice”?

Last week in class we discussed the merits of a museum’s social media accounts having an “institutional voice” and whether or not that was necessary. On the one hand, museums are considered credible places of knowledge, that should speak with authority. I think that many people would consider an authoritative voice to be formal and academic. But when it comes to social media, there is little that is formal or academic. So the question arises – what voice will your social media presence have?

With the majority of social media users being of a younger generation, I think the best choice would be a move away from a formal voice. I do not believe, however, that moving way from a formal voice will move away from authority. Social media is merely one form of communication between the museum and the outside world. There are many other forms of communication coming from within the museum walls that will present the authoritative voice – publications, exhibition catalogs, and blog posts for example. I think if the museum is considering audience, a relatable voice is ideal.

Having a relatable voice does not mean that the institutions social media feeds will turn into never ending streams of memes and pop culture references. The content that is shared will still demonstrate the expertise of the museum, it is just the delivery of said information that is different. In class we ranked different museums social media posts on different scales relating tone. Tone is part of what effects the voice of any type of communication. The level of humor, the level of authority, are all things that effect how a message is received. As we were completing this exercise, a couple question came to mind.

The first being, who decides what the institutional voice will sound like? As mentioned above, there are many different forms of communication that come from a museum – much of which comes from the communication, marketing, or public relation department. That team of people will decide what all formal communication to the public sounds like. But it has been my experience that in the fundraising department, they format the copy of the acknowledgement letters, either with the help of a consulting company or on their own. And, as a social media manager is becoming a more common position, that is one person who has total control over social media accounts, crafting the voice. Say you are a museum visitor that reads a press release, receives an acknowledgement letter after a donation, and follows the museum on Twitter. They are being exposed to three different voices – is it possible to create a cohesive  voice?

The second question, relating specifically to the social media manager, what happens to that voice when the social media manager leaves? If it is just one individual, their personal voice probably seeps through more than they think. And they have a huge hand in crafting the museums online presence (it is their job after all). Take Emily Graslie at the Field Museum for example. As the “Chief Curiosity Correspondent” she runs their blog/video portion of their site – The Brain Scoop. I understand that she already had some parts of this personal brand created before she was hired by the Field Museum, but now it has become integral to the museum’s online presence. What will happen to The Brain Scoop as her career progresses? Should museums consider training multiple social media staff members? Should they lean away from a distinct voice that might have an expiration date?

I am beginning to think that blogging is just shouting questions into the abyss that is the internet.

Week 7

Stream of Consciousness

This morning I found a GREAT article in the Atlantic, titled “Please Turn On Your Phone in the Museum”  by Sophie Gilbert. It is split into four different sections, and the reason I believe this article is worthy of great in all capital letters, is because I had around 5 different reactions. There were multiple instances I thought “Interesting, I could write a blog about that”. I am now in a predicament, because I don’t know what to write about. Should I write a post that is basically my stream of consciousness as I review each section? Should I choose one thought and really develop it for this post? Should I create a multi-part SERIES of blog posts around this one article? Or maybe I just leave it here because I am clearly overwhelmed.

Just kidding, I have been mandated to write over 600 words a week, so that option is thrown out. Recently I have been both enamored and challenged by this blogging exercise, and I think I will take a chance and go with the stream of consciousness option. These blogs have been a massive step outside of my academic training when it comes to writing, and to be honest it has been difficult for me. Gone are the days when I had one, final, 20 page paper due at the end of the semester that I had spent weeks outlining, drafting, and editing before turning it in. This is one of the first times in my academic career that I am writing without outlining, and it is liberating.

But, that is not one of the many points I wanted to make in reference to the article, so I will save my ramblings on academic writing for later.

Gilbert has written an article for the Atlantic that opens with a pretty surface level assessment of museums and social media. The subtitle “Cultural institutions learn to love selfies, tailor-made apps, and social media.” actually made me groan a little, because I feel like we have been listening to that same broken record all semester, and for the past year to be honest. I am waiting for more depth of analysis to come, there are so many articles written that hit on all of the key words such as “millennial” “selfies” “museums” “Instagram” and make the point that basically, if you can’t beat em, join em. In my opinion, it is general knowledge that any cultural institution that resists social media will be doing themselves a great disservice in the long run.

Her first section “Curating for Instagram” echoes these sentiments, as it discusses immersive exhibits that are perfect for Instagram posts (see the popularity of the Renwick’s Wonder exhibit). Yes, I have fallen into that trap in any museum I visit, I absolutely immortalize my experience on my Instagram feed. Gilbert also recognizes that more and more museums are discussing the use of GPS and Bluetooth technology to create a better visitor experience, which has been a conversation happening for a while. Who will be the first to roll it out? Is there someone using it that I am not aware of?

The second section “History and Art, Augmented” discusses aspects of technology in museums that reach outside of simply creating social media accounts and developing an informational app. She points to technology used to augment reality by virtually adding skin to dinosaur bones, create holograms, and recreate the experience of finding an artifact. These ideas are fresh and new, and also push the envelope of what a “traditional” museum experience should be. As I was searching for the above link to the Wonder exhibit, I came across this article that came out today in the Washingtonian titled “The Smithsonian Just Released a VR App of “Wonder,” and It’s Beautiful”. I had no idea they were planning this, and I think it is a great idea considering the beauty and popularity of the exhibit. Until, the author wrote the following:

“The silver lining is that if museums keep making apps this compelling, we’ll never have to go again.”

And I actually gasped out loud in this coffeeshop – because why would you ever say such a thing?! Of course, I am sensitive to this because I have voluntarily devoted my academic studies and future career to the museum sector. But, it is a real fear that museums are actively grappling with today, will digitizing collections and exhibits drive down museum attendance?

Well, Gilbert, the smart lady that she is, addresses this very question in her next section: “Museums in Your Pocket”. She quotes Dana Miller (“director of the collection” at the Whitney in New York City) as explaining that digitizing the collection has led to an increase in visitors. While there is no data linked to this statement, if true it is promising. Gilbert also refers to the Google Art Project, an initiative I have previously written about in my blog post On Digitization.

The final section “Art Will Adapt to the Viewer” is expanding on different uses of technology in art and the museum experience. Virtual reality is brought up again, as she highlights exhibits around the world that respond to the visitors presence. Whether producing a video of the visitors taken on hidden cameras, collecting data used as visitors opt into the public Wi-Fi network, these ideas make me question levels of privacy. Similar to an app that allows a museum to track a visitors path using Bluetooth, what are the implications of this technology? Will there be backlash from visitors that feel it is an invasion of privacy? What is the difference between technology tracking a visitor and a security guard taking notes? I think this is an interesting question that will certainly be discussed as these technologies become reality.

SO, there it is. My stream of consciousness around an article that, while brief, brings up thought-provoking subjects surrounding museums, social media, technology. While this furious writing of all of my thoughts and feelings was freeing, it was tiring and next week I think I will go back to my structured practice of writing.

Week 6