Do you remember what it’s like to live without internet? Playing in the grass, swimming in rivers, sending letters to your friends? Spending your days outdoors? Neither do I really. Like most people, we live in a city and spend a large chunk of our day online or looking at a screen. I surround myself with devices that I feel dependent on and without them I feel disconnected from the world at large.
In this day and age, more people now “discover” art through the social media platforms Instagram and Pinterest than they do by visiting galleries. Meanwhile, 84 percent of Americans visit art galleries or museums less than once a year, and 15 percent say they never go at all. If our places of culture are going to attract a new—and bigger—audience, they need to embrace at least some aspects of social media.
Also in The Participatory Museum, Nina Simon argues that the new social web has changed the way that people relate to one another and the world, and makes a case for introducing participatory design to cultural institutions. Now we’ve found that more and more museums have spent times trying to shake off their stuffy image, instead to create the sense that they are open and inclusive. It was a small change but part of a larger revolution.
The most ephemeral of social media channels, Snapchat, is being used to pair pop lyrics with images of centuries-old paintings or artifacts. The images last on a device for up to 10 seconds.
If it seems incongruous to juxtapose an ancient objet d’art with an image that disappears in a blink of an eye, but that’s exactly what the Los Angeles County Museum of Art has been doing. Last spring, its Snapchat account won a Webby Award, an internet honour from the International Academy of Digital Arts and Sciences, a judging body with more than 2,000 members.
This emoji-oriented app, aimed at millennials and teenagers, is bringing a prominent collection front and center for a new generation. “Our strategy is to appeal to the younger audience to get the word out there about Lacma,” Lucy Redoglia, the museum’s social media manager, said, using the museum’s acronym. “These are people who may not be interested in art right away, but might find a connection through something that we post.”
At other museums, the uptick in social media audiences is also noteworthy.
“The Bedroom” by Vincent Van Gogh, left, is recreated for an Airbnb location by the Art Institute of Chicago. Credit The Art Institute of Chicago.
In February, its social media outlets lit up when the museum decided to promote the exhibition “Van Gogh’s Bedrooms” by creating a model of the artist’s bedroom in the Yellow House in Arles, France. The room was recreated in an apartment in the River North section of Chicago, and people could reserve a night’s stay via Airbnb and get two tickets to the show. Robby Sexton, 35, the Art Institute’s social media manager, stayed overnight in the bedroom on Feb. 14 to kick-start the offer and posted about it on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter.
Paris’ municipal museums are looking to increase their foot traffic by asking famous social media figures to promote its collections through a series of museum Instagrams.
To do so, the museums asked a total of 10 carefully chosen social media gurus to reinterpret famous works of arts for themselves. The majority of the results are comical, however all work to appeal to a Millennial audience and encourage the young generation to take the time to check out their local museums. Paris’ municipal museums hope that others in the museum Instagrams as well, asking them to post their own pictures along with the hashtag #ParallelesParisMusées.
Pokémon Go, a super popular game of this year, has caused headaches for institutions like the Holocaust Memorial Museum, which had to ask visitors to refrain from playing. But the game also points to how technology can enhance in-person experiences rather than simply drawing people further into their various devices.
In museums, augmented reality might mean an app that brings paintings or artifacts to life via your phone’s camera, or that encourages visitors to learn about history by competing to “collect” artifacts or experiences. The Royal Ontario Museum has experimented with using augmented reality to add flesh and skin to dinosaur bones, and with using a scanner to project images of animated beasts that follow visitors through galleries.
Virtual reality promises to become part of the museum-going experience. The British Museum has experimented with using virtual-reality headsets to let visitors explore a Bronze Age home, or see what the Parthenon might have looked like thousands of years ago. At the Smithsonian’s new National Museum of African American History and Culture, visitors can use virtual reality to feel what it was like to be a diver who helped recover a slave ship. “It’s about helping people remember that what they’re experiencing was actually real,” says Lonnie Bunch, the museum’s director.
The social medias have changed everyone’s life, but at the same time, the social media platforms themselves are being changed and replaced so rapidly, we don’t know what App will burst in tomorrow. The social media learning curve is ever-changing, for the museums it’s hard to keep up with it, but it’s worth a try.
1. Nina Simon, The partecipatory Museum, 2010. Santa Cruz: Museum 2.0