Tag Archives: museums

artists break rules

I’m on my way up to Boston in a little while to lead a workshop on Getting the Word Out for artists at a conference organized by my friend Kathy Bitetti, executive director of the Artists Foundation.  I’m pretty excited about it — it’s my favorite thing to do, work one-on-one with artists and arts organizations who are feeling their way around social media, trying to build relationships, broaden audiences, and generally raise their visibility.

So I was thinking, trying to come up with recent examples of how an artist or arts organization had succeeded in galvanizing me to come see a show, buy some art, or show my support in some other tangible way, and I only had to think back a few nights, to last Friday.

I had gotten home from school, pretty tired after my long commute, but excited about the long weekend ahead.  Sitting in front of my computer, catching up on the blogs and the twitter streams of my friends, when I received a quick and short little email from the theater down the street.

It was a reminder about the terrific review they had just received from the local paper for their current production, The Invisible Man.  It also reminded me how much I had wanted to see that show before it closed.

End result? I closed my computer five minutes later and headed down the street to see the show. Why is this worth remarking on? Well, it struck me that this email I received broke some classic advice about “effective online marketing.”

Who sends an email promo out at 7:00 pm on a Friday night? Anyone will tell you that it’s sure to be overlooked in Monday’s flood of competing emails, meetings, and crises.

But it was the right thing for the theater to do, because they got me at exactly the right time to make a decision.

Also, that email didn’t have a prominent Call To Action like it was supposed to.  It just pointed me to information I was interested in — how this local reviewer felt about the show — and let me take it from there.

In these harder economic times, we may be tempted to get a little harder about the sell in our online communications, try to push for more returns, more revenue, because that’s what it’s all about, right?

But the social web runs on relationships.  It runs on quirky, and it thrives on rule-breaking.

This is especially true for artists and arts organizations, and it reminds me why we need special gatherings like today’s conference in Boston, just for the arts community.  There’s a lot of advice out there for how to use social media for business, but some of it doesn’t apply to artists, or to cultural organizations.

Lots of it does — especially the basics, which always apply: Be Real, Be Honest, Be Helpful.

But the implementation might vary significantly for you if you’re an artist, a theater, a museum.

Artists, as we all know, are different.

And isn’t that one of the best things about them?

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Photo by Avolore

Photo by Avolore

Some of you, not a lot of you, but some of you know already that I’ve gone back to school full-time.  I’m now fully immersed in getting an MBA from the Simmons School of Management in Boston, and yes, that means I am commuting by bus, about an hour each way, from my home on Cape Cod.

I’m working as a graduate research assistant with one of the faculty at Simmons, Dr. Jill Avery, on some seriously engrossing research about branding, consumer-brand relationships, and web 2.0.  I’m also doing some projects on looking at effective new media marketing of cultural organizations, especially museums.

So the work I’m doing now is very much a logical extension of what I’ve been doing here on Small Dots, and I’m not going to stop doing it here, but I thought you’d like to know the direction I’m going in with my focus and my thinking, and the tools of analysis I’m getting down and dirty with these days.

If you’re like me and always wished there was more quantifiable stuff behind all this web 2.0 nonsense, more verifiable research, and more research we could be doing in the first place, then you’ll probably enjoy what I’ll be doing for the next little while.

Of course, the MBA program is pretty intensive, so my posting schedule is bound to change somewhat, as in fact it already has.  But I’m spending my days in a very exciting and energizing place these days, swapping ideas with some very interesting and clever people, and I’ll be bringing some of that home to you.

If you’re in Boston, and want to meet up for coffee, now that I’m there every day, drop me a line.  If you’re interested to see what happens next, as I am, stick around.

It’s going to be an interesting ride.

co-curating the museum brand

Museums are among my favorite things in the world. When I travel, that’s what I look for first: the museums.

While I’m intensively partial to the classic fine arts model, I also very much enjoy a good science museum, and am frankly plain nuts for historical homes and preserved sites.

I love museums because they are some of the most fascinating, complex, and revealing instruments we use to tell ourselves stories about ourselves. How we choose to tell those stories, and which stories we choose to tell, is endlessly interesting to me. (Also, this book basically spells out my central childhood fantasy for all to see.)

I spent some time this weekend at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum and the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, and it helped me pick up the threads of a conversation I’ve been having with myself since last fall, when I went to the Technology in the Arts conference in Pittsburgh and saw Jake Barton give a keynote on how he was working with museums to design truly interactive exhibits and exhibit space.

Some museums are in the forefront of exploring how social media can help make their storytelling more inclusive, more democratic, more reflective of the many voices rather than the few — all of which either leads to a richer and deeper story, or to a narrative that is confusing and nonlinear to the point of distraction, depending on how successfully it is executed.

Some are holding tightly to the traditional model of storytelling, keeping it in the hands of the few, the specialized, the elite.

So I’ve been thinking about branding, and how cultural institutions like museums go about creating and managing their brands, especially in the changing dynamics of today’s distributed, interactive, co-created world.

How does a museum, with a (presumably) carefully constructed brand, often based largely on its carefully curated collection (whatever that may be), invite its patrons to co-curate that brand? Is that even a desirable goal? Does it depend on the museum, or the type of museum?

How are other museums besides the ones I mentioned here going about answering, or not answering, these questions?

What do you think social media can, or should do, to transform how museums tell our collective story, how they hold their individual mirrors up to ourselves?

I am still having this conversation with myself, but I thought I’d open the floor for discussion. What do you think?

Washington slept here, and so did I.

I’m still in New York City on vacation, although it’s a bit of a busman’s holiday, what with all the museum-ing and theater-going I’m spending all my time doing.  That, and remembering how to use the NYC subways to do something besides get to Yankee Stadium.

We went to the Transit Museum this morning, practically right next to my hotel in Brooklyn.  It was an interesting study in a certain type of museum, one that tells a story with lots of blown-up archival pictures with white text overlaid on the photos, or alongside on the wall.  There were a few attempts to make the exhibits interactive, mostly aimed at teaching kids lessons about the science of combustion engines, and the impact of exhaust on global warming, but for the most part it was pretty static. 

And don’t get me wrong — I loved it.  Especially walking in and out of and sitting down in and holding the leather straps of the different trains from 1914 on up to the present day.   I am nothing if not a sucker for history.  But it made me think about the growing movement to build museum exhibits in ways that engage the audience not just as recipients of information, but as information generators as well, building a conversation that the museum doesn’t necessarily orchestrate and define as much as facilitate and encourage participation in.

 It’s funny how when you start thinking in terms of social networks and user-generated content, you just see the potential applications everywhere you look all of a sudden.  It’s like that time when I bought a Volvo station wagon and suddenly it seemed like the streets were just filthy with Volvo station wagons, and how had I never noticed that before?

A museum dedicated to the New York City mass transit system would be a no-brainer for this kind of approach, it seems to me.  As we walked through the exhibits, my husband and I remarked on different token and train designs, saying this one is the one I remember from visiting my grandfather in Queens when I was growing up or this is the type of train I rode when I visited my first serious boyfriend, who lived in Brooklyn…

This made me think about the presentation I recently saw Jake Barton give at TiTA.  He gave a quick overview of a project his company did called Memory Maps, which involved a large blow-up of the New York City street map, and simply giving viewers small scraps of paper to write brief messages onto, which they could then post on the location where that memory happened.  Really low-tech, and really powerful in how it gives the power of storytelling back to the people.

It struck me then that this was a sort of micro-history telling — the slips of paper were necessarily small, so people had to choose their words well.   And, of course, one is presumably able to be as cryptic as one wants — you can either write my mother died in a car accident at this intersection and I haven’t walked through that block in the twenty years since or simply Mary, rest in peace.

Not sure where that came from.  Being in the city these last few days have suddenly revived the fiction writer in me.  Haven’t heard from her in a long time.

I wonder if you could do something online with a mash-up of twitter and Google maps, with the result a series of maps — on a neighbohood scale, I suppose — with mouse-overs that gave little-ups of micro-stories.  If you wanted, you could write the whole thing out in a longer post that the micro-post could link to. 

This is like a collaborative version of the tour of my hometown I have given countless boyfriends and houseguests over the years — I have a habit of driving people around saying things like and this is where I took ballet until the teacher said I was too heavy for pointe shoes and this is where my brother wrecked my mother’s car the night before my high school graduation and other fascinating tidbits.

And I imagine that everybody has these little guided tours in their heads, even if we never share them with others.  They make up part of our inner monologue, or serve as a faint, thrumming soundtrack to our daily lives. 

How great would it be to share those?  Or at least the edited, the funny, the universal? 

How great would it be to go on vacation, like I am on vacation now in Brooklyn, and be able to open up a map of the neighborhood and hover my mouse over a nearby streetcorner and see what happened there?  Not on a bronze plaque, but on a personal note, told by the person who remembers it best?

Or what if I wanted to enter a search term, and see where the most proposals of marriage happened in this borough?  And where did the most break-ups happen?  And how has that changed over time? 

Because we all have these superimposed layers to the places we’ve lived and the places we’ve been that utterly transform the way we see places, like those transparencies that biology books have to show you first the skeletal system, and then the muscular system, and then the nervous system, and so on, until we are a fully fleshed human being with a protective, but frighteningly permeable outer skin.