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

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Can we create a culture of philanthropy?

After two semesters in the Museum Studies program, I realized that I was to follow the “museum management” course of study, and ultimately pursue a career in museum fundraising. (In case you missed it, you can read more about my background here!) Paired with the museum-focused courses, I also take courses in the public policy school, as I am working towards a certificate in nonprofit management as well. The focus of many of my courses is (unsurprisingly) fundraising and philanthropy in the nonprofit sector. It would be impossible for me to take these courses, and not reflect on the philanthropic giving that is closest to me, being my own.

We discuss different generations of donors in my courses, and it is recognized that my (millennial) generation is up against many factors that might not make us the most philanthropic. Many of us have massive amounts of student debt, that is not going to be repaid anytime soon because entry level job salaries are often times laughable. Especially if you aspire to work in the nonprofit sector (like me!). But, there is also an understood desire to give back, and desire to support groups that we care about. Personally, while it does seem a little bit aggressive for my undergraduate college to be calling for donations very soon after graduation, I plan on giving as soon as I am done with school and I have a steady income. Before I started taking these courses and studying the field, I don’t think I would’ve been so eager to give.

The wonderful Nina Simon related similar sentiments in this blog post, titled “Can we talk about money?”. She details that once she became a museum director and had to start soliciting donors (a MAJOR part of a directors job) she and her husband began thinking of their own giving. She also describes the anxiety inducing moment of actually asking for money, something that I frequently consider as I look towards my goals of being a major gift officer and later a fundraising director. I imagine how awkward the situation must be, or how embarrassing it would be to be shut down. But I had a professor once tell the class, philanthropic-minded people were always going to give, it is just a matter of convincing them to support your organization. That changed my frame of thinking, rather than begging for money, you are making your case for support.

Simon also brings up the fact that “…not everyone is comfortable talking about philanthropy, or about money. When we do so in our field, we’re often focused on pay inequities for the work that we do. But pay and philanthropy are two separate topics. We should be willing to talk about both.” This is baffling that philanthropy and fundraising is not discussed more in the museum/nonprofit field because it is necessary to survive! The number of people who believe that because the Smithsonian Institution is a federal entity they don’t need to seek outside funding is is significantly higher than I expected. Even within the museum field, it should be recognized that in order for all departments to function, collections, exhibits, curation, etc. they need to be funded. Luckily museums are reacting to this necessity and fundraising departments are growing, and hiring more experts to help grow funding. But I think there needs to be much wider spread education concerning philanthropy and philanthropic giving, because there is a deficit and misconception, and the nonprofits we all know and love need to be funded!

And with that, I leave you with this – bfd

Week 5

On Digitization

Last month marks one year since I enrolled in the Museum Studies program, and in almost every class I have taken we have discussed the subject of collection digitization. This is (generally) the practice of photographing the collection objects, and putting them online to be accessible to audiences around the world. While the practice sounds easy enough, and one can think of many positives of increased access, there are many hurdles that must be surpassed for a museum to even think about starting the process of digitizing a collection.

The reason this subject came to mind this week is because I came across this article from Hyperallergic concerning the  Museum of Modern Art digitizing more than 3,500 exhibition archives. Available on public domain GitHub the museum has provided access to “Primary documents such as press releases, annotated image checklists, installation shots, and even entire catalogs…”. From the founding of the museum in 1929 all the way through present day, this initiative is quite impressive and I am sure will prove to be a great resource.

At the opening of this post, I detailed that I believed digitization to be the practice of photographing the collection objects and increasing access to them online. But, MoMA has provided access to archives that provide all different types of information in forms other than images, and important pieces of the collection that aren’t necessarily objects. This is a subject that we have not covered in class, and a practice that I think if widely implemented, could be invaluable to other museums. While it is interesting to have access to MoMA exhibition catalogs from the 1930s and 1940s, to have access to planning documents could help other institutions learn from their mistakes and successes.

So, this brings me understand that there are benefits to digitization that go beyond the sharing of collection images, and reach further than external audiences. Museum staff can benefit from the digitization and sharing of the millions of documents that support the end product that is the exhibition. Because, as we know, there is so much more that goes into exhibitions than what ends up in the gallery spaces.

I have seen other museums joining MoMA in this practice, such as the Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Starting about two years ago, they have uploaded a Digital Strategy Repository to GitHub, and are continuing to update it as their practices, and technology, changes. I lived in Pittsburgh for 4 years during my undergraduate studies, and the Warhol was always one of my favorite museums. The then-director Eric Shiner was innovative and truly a visionary, leading amazing change in the institution.

While promising and exciting, archival and internal digitization has not been as quick or as widespread as the digitization of museum collections. The Google Art and Culture Project has made huge strides in digitizing museum collections all over the world, partnering with more than 1,100 institutions to produce images and museum tours. They even have an app! I will leave you with this short video demonstrating the beauty and detail that this program provides:

 

And of course, all of this digitization can be easily and successfully shared by social media managers in museums around the world.

Week 4

 

The Guggenheim and Social Media

This week we are tasked to question and observe how museums use social media. I have decided to step out of the confines of Washington, DC and take a look at the Guggenheim‘s use of social media. This is a museum in New York City that I have visited many times, that I personally love. They are a prime candidate to greatly benefit from social media, as a museum “devoted to the art of the 20th century and beyond”, they have optimal chances to present captivating and beautiful images across platforms. Below you will find a quick analysis of all of the platforms I could find.

Twitter

screen-shot-2016-09-14-at-10-53-53-am

  • 1.93M followers
  • Joined January 2008

This is the social media platform that has the largest following (potentially because of it’s age?). While at first I was surprised, because I previously mentioned I thought the museum would benefit from visual forms of social media, but upon closer analysis, the Guggenheim always tweets a photo with their text. Covering topics from objects, events, blogs, and historical posts, the Twitter feed is varied but interesting. They include links to the website for more information, as well as hashtags that are related to exhibitions and community conversations. I can see the Guggenheim’s Twitter as being a catch-all destination for audiences around the world. Whether they are New York City residents looking for more exhibit information, scholars looking for more academic information, or someone on the other side of the world without access to the museum space, there is a little bit of something for everyone.

Instagram

Screen Shot 2016-09-14 at 10.59.50 AM.png

  • 1M followers

My personal favorite, the layout of the Instagram interface is one that is entirely focused on images. But – when comparing to their Twitter feed – the museum posts the same content! It appears that Twitter is slightly more frequent, and they will give more information concerning events in New York. But the posts that you see above are also shared on Twitter identically. It makes sense when one considers the time it takes for someone to manage many social media platforms, and also has me rethinking Twitter and its ability to convey information through images.

Facebook

screen-shot-2016-09-14-at-11-21-47-am

  • 757,471 Likes
  • 258,584 Check Ins
  • 4.6 out of 5 Stars

At risk of sounding redundant, I will just say that the Facebook page echoes posts on the Twitter and Instagram. While it is not identical, there is similar content across the platforms. I was surprised that the number of “Likes” is so much lower than the two first platforms, considering our class discussion that Facebook is the most accessible as well as understood platform. One audience I see the Facebook page greatly benefitting is tourists and drop in visitors. Facebook pages for businesses have the capacity to post reviews, hours, directions, etc. These things are lacking from the Twitter and Instagram, and provide helpful and necessary information to digital audiences.

Blogs

The Guggenheim website has a blog section that is very extensive and robust. Posting almost once a week there posts coming from experts from inside the museum. This is an opportunity for the museum to expand its communication with the audience, and really show the expertise that the museum staff embody.

Finally….Snapchat

  • No account that I could find 😦

All in all, the Guggenheim has a very extensive and well developed social media presence! While there is crossover between platforms, that is to be expected and there is enough new content on each page that it does not become repetitive. Analyzing the Guggenheim’s use of Twitter has made me change my initial thoughts about the use of Twitter and images, but I am disappointed they don’t have a Snapchat!

Week 3

Welcome!

Hello! Welcome to my blog, where I will be discussing all things related to the museum world and social media. This semester for my course “Museums and Social Media” I have been tasked with writing weekly blogs relating to the course material, and anything related that inspires us.

Before I get into those posts, let me formally introduce myself! I am in my second year of the masters of Museum Studies program at the George Washington University. I am following a “museum management” track, with an additional certificate in nonprofit management. The pairing of these two academic studies will help me as I work towards my goal of a career in museum fundraising.

Since moving to Washington DC in August 2015 I have had two internships in fundraising – one at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum, and one at the National Portrait Gallery. This fall I am very excited to be back at the Air and Space Museum, working with the membership group the National Air and Space Society.

Before arriving in the District I earned my undergraduate degree from Carnegie Mellon University, majoring in Global Studies and French. While in Pittsburgh I was a member of the varsity swim team, and I also had an internship at the Carnegie Museum of Art. Originally from Chapel Hill, North Carolina, Pittsburgh was my first experience in city living, as well as “real” snowy winters! During my junior year I studied abroad in Paris, and fell in love with the city and the culture.

I am so excited to be taking this course this semester. I am Instagram-obsessed, and I really see the value and potential in using social media in a museum setting. While I am not particularly looking for a career in communications or social media, I think this knowledge is invaluable for any museum staff member to know. This is my first ever try at a blog, so we’ll see how it goes!

Week 2