Museums represent all that is classical, time-honored, and stable in a world of worthy f flux and fad. These institutions are made up of the spaces, curators, and scholars who house, protect, and advocate for what is worthy of inclusion in the collection.
Yet some museums are keeping that ethos while also engaging in the latest social media to bring audiences into the processes: giving them behind-the-scenes looks at restoration or early-bird opportunities to view new acquisitions, or even having a say of what gets shown.
Last month The New York Times had a story about how two museums in the city, one in Indianapolis, and one in San Francisco are finding creative ways to bring people to the museums’ activities and collections, even if those people do not go to the museums themselves. What seems to work to engage people in these virtual collections?
Shelley Bernstein of The Brooklyn Museum states that the success her organization has had comes from engaging people in their spaces to appreciate the possibilities within her museum’s space:
It’s less about technology and more about what the visitor can bring to the equation. In the end, we want people to feel ownership of this museum. We ask them to tell us what they think. They can give us a bad review; when we make a mistake they can come to our rescue. We want to engage with our community.
Engagement among museums and their constituents (now around the world) involved offering opportunities to post video projects in competitions about the museums’ collections or giving audiences a sense of place where classic pieces of art were first created.
Challenges included how to get networking technologies into older buildings and how not to get caught up in a fad and lose sight of the classic mission of the museum. Thomas P. Campbell, director of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, noted in the article, “Everyone had a pogo stick and a scooter, now everyone is tweeting…We’ve got to keep people in a heads-up mode, to make sure they are looking at art.”
That balance is important for every institution and organization looking to broaden its appeal through social media. The engagement must be real and consistent and open, but not so open ended that people forget why they came to your outreach in the first place. Check out the article, and then perhaps check out the lovely projects the museums featured have been working on.