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Museums Embrace Connectivity

It’s hard to imagine a world without social media. For most people under 40, it’s hard to remember a time before we could spend significant portions of our day trolling the Facebook photos of people we haven’t talked to in 10 years or watching YouTube videos of a baby giving Beyoncé a run for her money while dancing to “Single Ladies.—

There’s no arguing the endless benefits of the instant connections of social media, but for some creative industries, it’s also presented a bit of a conundrum: how to use these popular sites to announce your Web-savvy presence, and — even more importantly — how to do it well.

That question has presented some interesting opportunities in the art world.

From artists to bloggers to those marketing shows and exhibits, social media tools have opened a new world of engaging and connecting with an audience. Whether it’s an amateur with a passing interest or a connoisseur of the fine arts, different forms of media give people an opportunity to not only experience the art, but to share their personal take on it.

In Washington, two of the leaders in this area are the Phillips Collection and the Hirshhorn Museum. Both museums maintain Facebook pages and Twitter feeds, updating their fans and followers on exhibits, artist talks and special events.

Philippa Hughes, who runs the Pink Line Project, which fosters creative projects around D.C., and maintains hoogrrl.com, a blog devoted to art openings and events, said she believes the Phillips has really been the leader in this area, particularly the D.C. art scene.

“They very intelligently have several people who get [social media] working on it, people who get that it’s a tool, not just spending time on Facebook,— Hughes said.

The Phillips Facebook page includes multiple videos of artist interviews and conversations with different curators.

The Smithsonian also has a particularly lively Facebook fan page, with numerous “fans— sharing their thoughts on everything from music videos to events to favorite memories of childhood trips to the Washington institution. For instance, one fan, commenting on a video of a Central Asian musical group called the Bardic Divas, wrote: “Thanks! This is great! I wish I could travel all over the world and hear all different kinds of music. But since I can’t, thank you for bringing it to me at home!—

This tactic has also proved useful for the Hirshhorn, Webmaster and eCommunications Director Jennifer Rossi said. Folks who have moved away from the District but remain fans of the museum keep up with events and weigh in on different topics via the Facebook page.

“It’s just another avenue for them to stay connected with us,— Rossi said.

The Hirshhorn has also made a big push for podcasts, producing numerous free downloads of artist interviews and listening tours. The museum put out 34 new programs this year. Its shows were ranked among the top 100 visual arts podcasts by the Apple iTunes Store, according to Erin Baysden, a communications and marketing specialist for the Hirshhorn.

But having a Facebook page, Twitter feed or podcasts isn’t exactly ground-breaking. Simply being on the sites or producing some form of multimedia content isn’t enough. The key is to use the tools in a smart way, not just to announce events or repeat information widely available, but to add context to the conversation.

“What they really ought to do is ask a provocative question,— Hughes said. “There’s got to be some way to give it some personality and life.—

Rossi said the Hirshhorn is developing a plan for taking the museum’s outreach to that next level, beyond simply posting information to the sites.

“We want to start creating more of a national and global dialogue about contemporary art,— she said. This could include hosting Twitter and Facebook events, in which guests can chat or tweet live with artists or curators. She said they will likely post more articles from the art world, even those unrelated to the Hirshhorn, and pose questions to get their fans talking about different issues.

And where galleries and museums might still be working to figure out exactly how to do this, Hughes is more than making up for it with her blog and with the Pink Line Project. Hughes’ site includes videos and interviews with artists and creative types from a range of media and genres. And she puts a twist on the presentation, as is the case in the site’s first “PONGterview,— in which two artists discuss art and creativity while playing a game of pingpong. The site is fun and refreshing and speaks to Hughes’ thoughts on how to bring art to the wider world.

“I’m really, really interested in drawing people into the experience,— she said. “It’s not just a passive viewing, which is what we’re kind of used to.—

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