Social Media and Museums

Instagram for Museums Posted by Digital Pathways.

Social Media for Museums: An Overview Posted by Digital Pathways. 

Should Museums Have a Personality By Russell Dornan.

The Ultimate Guide to Instagram Hashtags in 2020 By Benjamin Chacon. 

This week’s readings provided a guide for strategizing how to transfer a museum’s image onto social media platforms. These authors interpret ‘image’ as a museum’s mission, the culture of the institution. With a focus on Instagram, these articles collectively offer a multilayered introduction to the many advantages of branding your organization on this platform. These readings brought forth some of the most fundamental lessons in public history in extending the ethics of traditional methods of community outreach, networking within the profession, and producing original work. Furthermore, these readings also capture the importance of using the platform to strengthen interpersonal relationships between the museum and the people they serve.

Instagram for Museums and Social Media for Museums: An Overview, both published on Digital Pathways (unknown individual author) serve as a more general overview for museum employees in taking the first step of starting an Instagram page. I felt that the objective of these two articles were to persuade museum employees to take the first step of signing up on this platforms. By breaking down Instagram’s usability and promotional advantages, these articles highlight Instagram as a simple, accessible, and effective tool for growing a museum’s community. ‘Community’ refers to the professional and local community of which museums are situated in. One thing that I really like from Social Media for Museums: An Overview is the attention to audience and inclusivity. I think it’s important to highlight the history of exclusion of certain demographic groups, and to recognize the outreach that could be achieved through social media. 

Russell Dornan’s Should Museums Have a Personality and Benjamin Chacon’s The Ultimate Guide to Instagram Hashtags in 2020 provide more minute details for maintaining your museum’s Instagram profile. Dornan, I feel, focuses more on the creativity aspect of producing content and writing captions across various social media platforms. I think this article serves as a lesson in consistency and appropriate language. Two very important factors in conducting public history that are applicable to digital platforms. Chacon’s article, on the other hand, is a more analytical approach to using Instagram to grow your following. Chacon offers probably  the most ‘advanced’ or in depth approach to growing your following, and keeping track of your museum’s social media activity. I really like how Chacon pulls back the curtain of average Instagram posts and captions to dissect how to take advantage of Instagram’s algorithm. Both of these authors do a very good job at providing an example of each of their methods. These authors provide readers with a new perspective to the simplest functions by sharing their approach for using the most common features across social media (Twitter threads, the explore page, hashtags, etc). I think this makes readers feel that they too can maintain an effective profile. 

I really like how all four authors stress that social media is not just about marketing. Each article highlights that maintaining an element of ‘fun’ in effort to ‘humanize’ museums, and maintain memorable social media presence. Each article recognizes that there are actual people behind the accounts that follow, or could potentially follow, the museum. While social media is great for establishing first impressions, this activity should continue this effort with real world interactions.

The Best Museum That is Not a Museum.

Medieval European technology is shown off for a modern audience.

There is a place where you can walk among history, or at least a facsimile of it.  A place where you can see a Gutenberg printing press in use, or see how people long ago turned wool into yarn.  Blacksmiths and glass blowers work their crafts just down the path from the weapons master holding school for both young and old.  Musicians playing timeless music can be heard about the grounds as barkers alert you to the start of a comedy show or a Shakespeare reciting Nubian who is about to perform.  Weapons, armor, and clothing of all kinds are on display for admiring or purchase.  Chandlers and soap makers display their products next to shops selling foods from all over the world.   This is the world of the Texas Renaissance Festival.   Part carnival, part living history, part street market, and part party the Texas Renaissance Festival, or Ren Fest to its fans, is considered by many to be the top Renaissance Festival in the country.  Although it was created for entertainment purposes, there are educational opportunities when you walk through the gate.  I have been to Ren Fest many times, but this time I wanted to look at it as if it were a museum.  Does the museum label fit, and if so how does it compare to serious collecting institutions?

History for Entertainment Purposes

A craftsman working on his latest piece of pottery.

At its core the Ren Fest is an entertainment event, there is no denying that.  However, just because its main purpose is to entertain does not mean there is no educational value there.  A museum educates by telling the stories of the artifacts it has collected over the years.  At Ren Fest the exhibits are not artifacts, but craftsmen and women who will gladly chat with you about the skills they apply to their work.  There are people displaying all kinds of skills.  With a short walk you can find potters, chandlers (candle makers), printers, leather workers, glass blowers, and weavers.  You can see first hand how they apply their trade.  For most of the day they are demonstrating how they work.  They are also open to answering any questions that you have.

Spinning wool into thread to be woven into cloth.

For those who are really interested  they will take you step by step through the process.  They are not just making these items for display.  Festival goers have the chance to purchase the items they are making.  This is a wonderful opportunity for anyone who is interested in these craft works.  If trade crafts are not your thing there are still other things to learn.  For those who are looking for something more physical the Ren Fest has something for you too.  


Swords, Bells, and Bagpipes

For people who need a little more action in their learning experience, Ren Fest has you covered.  Visitors can learn the art of sword fighting from the

Oskar Hasslehoff giving a sword fighting lesson.

weapons master Oskar Hasslehoff.  Four times a day he instructs adults and children in the class art of sword fighting.  Observers can see demonstrations of a wide variety of swords.  He gives lessons for everything from 2-handers to rapiers.  He is a great source of historical sword fighting, often pointing out how Hollywood gets it wrong.  For something less violent there are many musical acts to be enjoyed.

The drum and bagpipe experience of Tartanic.

You are not going to find any rock bands or line dancing here.  Lutes, drums, and bagpipes are the instruments of choice here.   The music here is played in a historic style.  Regulars have their favorites, but all musicians are quality acts.  This is a great chance to hear music played on instruments that you might not be able to hear in a regular setting.  The most unusual being the Carillon played by a performer called Cast in Bronze.  Imagine a piano made of bells instead of strings.  It produces a very distinct

Cast in Bronze is the only act in the world that features the Carillon.

sound you won’t find anywhere else.  You can also catch dancers who perform in old world styles, but these are more entertaining than educational.    

A Museum or not a Museum, you be the Judge

You are not going to find a mission statement at the Texas Renaissance Fair.  No big idea will be disseminated on exhibit labels hanging next to well preserved artifacts.  What you will find is a chance to immerse yourself in history, or what people believe history to be.  The biggest resemblance to a museum that you will see is in the people who visit.  There are people who come to be refreshed, there are people who come to learn a thing or two, and there are people who come as a family outing.  Yes, it is more entertainment than history, and it’s not a place where I would come to do historical research.  However, it does have the ability to inspire people to learn more or to take up a hobby they may not have known about before their trip, and isn’t that the goal of any good museum?



Fluxus: A Recipe for Art

Traditionally, the common person explores art through experimentation and schooling– one may take an art class in high school, or draw in the margins of their notebooks during a less than engaging lecture. What if, instead, you could read a recipe for art, and create art based on what was written? If you did, this would be called Fluxus.

The Fluxus movement took place from the last dregs of the 50’s to the late 70’s, primarily in New York City, and was facilitated by artists that believed fine art belonged to everyone. Museums and art dealers had made art a subject for the elites, only those with “good taste” and “finer sensibilities”. What resulted was an art movement for the masses, the viewer being encouraged to participate in the enactment of the art. A Fluxus artwork commonly had an “event score” which dictated what the individual or group should do in order to create a specific piece (though chance and spontaneity were also encouraged). There was no single method for creating Fluxus art, and its goal was to make art accessible to anyone, experienced and created by any common person.

Mieko Shiomi. Event for the Midday (In the Sunlight). 1963. Event Score.

The fun came to an end with the death of the Fluxus movement leader, George Maciunas. His “Fluxfuneral” was marked by several Fluxus performances, and a “Fluxfeast and Wake”, in which all food was purple, black, and white– very fitting. Fluxus was intended to be avant-garde, subversive, and even silly at times. It’s abrupt end begs the question– What would Fluxus look like in today’s world?

There is still art created using a type of event score– art created by Artificial Intelligence. One particular work, “Edmond de Belamy, from La Famille de Belamy” made the news as a work of art created by AI and signed with the algorithm used to produce the final image, the technology for which has been around since 2015. This particular work was created by a machine imitating thousands of portraits over several centuries. The event score is the algorithm, but is this art? Is the algorithm the artist, or are the programmers the artists? And just as importantly, does the AI creation of art grow the chasm between fine art and the common person, or does it make art more accessible to everyone?

Personally, the traditional style of Fluxus speaks more to me– the idea of anyone at all picking up a recipe for art and making it. Whether it be pouring water into a Tuba as its being played, or arranging for a public viewing of a “No Smoking” sign (both of which have event scores), Fluxus encourages us to interact with the people around us, and do outlandishly silly things for the sake of the performance. That, I can appreciate. To learn more about Fluxus in a lovely video format, check out the Art Assignment’s video on the topic, and I challenge you to perform one Fluxus artwork from this Fluxus Performance Workbook. Let me know in the comments which artwork you chose!

Is a Culturally Specific Museum Just Another Box?

When it comes to museum exhibits and collections, diversity is not always key — in one sense of the word. While it is important that we see all groups have a space to explore their history and identity among peers and the rest of the public, the most effective collections are not always a mix of many different art pieces or artifacts from all over the globe. Many times, ephemera of the same or similar origin will be displayed together in order to show a more thorough and cohesive story of a particular culture. However, when we select one identity to be the basis of our exhibit and museum construction, are we actually placing these groups into a box, or miniaturizing their personhood in order to emphasize just one of their many idenitities? Are culturally specific museums a good thing?

Reader, if I asked you to describe yourself as a person, what would you start with? Would you say that you are an American? That you are Catholic, or Jewish, or Muslim? Or would you say that you enjoy sports, or reading history blogs? Most of all, would you say just one of these things, and stop there? That is where some Culturally Specific museums and exhibits fall short. By supporting a familiar narrative about a particular group, the museum-goer doesn’t come away with anything they didn’t already bring with them.

However, when a Culturally Specific museum is done well, it can show the diversity and complexity of both history and identity that a group can have. One particular Museum that I feel does this well is the Contemporary Jewish Museum in San Francisco. By presenting the many talents and identities encompassed within being Jewish, we are able to have a conversation about how the identity has changed, and shaped around the modern era. The CJM is not just for Jewish people, it is for all people to learn and be able to converse intelligently about what they may not have known, or simply may have assumed.

Maximilíano Durón writes that “cultural institutions are social institutions”, and I wholly believe this to be true. When we are able to walk into a museum and explore an identity that we do not apply to ourselves, our understanding and empathy for other human beings expands, and our minds can begin to conceive of what it may be like to exist as this other person, with their other identity. Even when something appears uncomfortable to the viewer, or controversial, we are able to ask why this artifact or display causes us discomfort, or why we don’t talk more freely about its subject matter.

All this to say, the Culturally Specific museum is able to both close our minds and open them, put us in boxes and allow us to escape them. It is up to the many hard-working museum staff and organizers that we see liberation rather than shackles. As for whether or not the Culturally Specific museum is just another box to put people in? It doesn’t have to be.

Technology and It’s Impact on the Future of Museums.

Photo by Chris Nguyen on Unsplash

Modern Technology

Technology can be a wonderful thing by bringing ease and comfort to our lives.  Medical advances have helped people live longer, communication devices allow people the ability to talk with each other on opposite sides of the planet, and people find entertainment from images that do not really exist. Technology has influenced the education field also. Educators can take their students on virtual field trips, primary source documents are at their fingertips, and even lectures at different learning levels can be watched in the classroom or even while riding the bus to or from school. Thanks to smart phone technology and the internet people literally hold the complete sum of human knowledge in their hands. For museums, this can be a blessing and a curse.

Photo by Erik Lucatero on Unsplash


Museums Benefit 

Technology has been a big benefit to museums in the gallery and behind the scenes.  The museum’s research mission receives a big boost from modern advancements in technology.  High tech scanners that use x-rays and magnetic spectrum imaging have allowed researchers to study objects in new ways.  As a result, researchers are able to gather more information that was previously impossible to uncover by using the old imaging methods.  This helps to give historians a clearer picture of the history  they are attempting to convey to the public.  Knowing the chemical makeup of a piece of pottery allows archaeologist to be able to trace its origins and learn how far the piece traveled when it was in use.  This information will aid researchers in recreating trade routes or migration patterns with less speculation and guess work.  In addition, the museum can preserve and restore pieces better than ever before by making use of modern technology.  New developments in areas like cooling and handling of materials will allow curators to preserve objects longer and keep them in better condition.  Being able to analyze materials allows a more authentic restoration of deteriorating items allowing the objects to survive longer.  The gallery can also make use of technology to give a better experience to visitors.  The use of tablets will allow guests to interact with the exhibits in ways that were impossible 20 years ago.  Enhanced reality allows peaks back in time for a clearer understanding of artifacts.  Enhancements like these bring the public in the door; however, there are problems that technology presents.

Museum Hindrances

The biggest drawback to incorporating technology in an existing museum is the cost.  Improving the museum and updating the infrastructure takes large amounts of money.  This can affect the museum in two ways.  The first being that there is not enough money to acquire new pieces for display.  In this situation, the director must make a decision between the ability to grow and enhance the collection or improving the experience for the guests.  The second is that the museum would be required to increase fundraising initiatives or find new sources of capital.  Technology will not work without proper financial support, and this could be a bigger problem for museums that are smaller and local.  These smaller museums do not have the resources for more advanced technologies like building a VR experience into their gallery.  Often museums will turn to corporate partners to be able to afford the improvements.  This approach does bring in the money, but walking through the Walmart Hall of Early Man does not bring an academic feel to the place.

Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash

Finally, museums also have to compete with home technology.  People are able to access photographs and in some cases virtual reality right from their couches.  Museums must be able to offer an experience that goes beyond what people can view at home.  Museums must continue to promote their collections and make them enticing enough to get people to log off and walk in.

The Incluseum: Rethinking technology in a museum

Technology in a museum is not a new thing.  Virtual Van Gogh, smart phones to enhance exhibits or screens that let you step into the exhibit and be a part of it.  Interaction is becoming more and more of a step many museums are using to draw a technologically advanced generation into these spaces.  But there is another group who can benefit from the use of technology in museums.

Courtesy of iStock

Let’s rethink technology for a minute.  Can it be used to help those whose abilities may be differing in some areas? Assistive technologies can and should be brought into museums.  Many museum have a device that gives explanations of the exhibit for people to hear, which is a start, but it is only one sense and visiting a museum should be so much more.  For example, the “Eye See” is a laser helmet that can “see” items and describe them to the person wearing it. Or, there is another item called a “Brain Port” that allows the visually impaired person to wear a pair of glasses with a mouth piece attached that allows the “vision” from the glasses to be turned into pixels on the tongue that allows the user to “see” the object with their mouth.

Even just simple iPads can bring accessibilities to the museum that were not once there.  In my personal experience, I have seen what iPads can do for people in an educational realm.  They have allowed people with dyslexia to help with reading, people with impaired motor-skills for communication and audible books and even elderly being able to read with adjustable font.  With grants to enhance the lives of people with disabilites , even the smallest of museums are able to accommodate everyone to their exhibits.

Courtesy of Tiffany Gonzalez
My friend, Tori, at a museum using her iPad

Some may believe technology does not go with museums because it is not traditional in the museum sense. But lets take a few steps back to think about  who the museum is for.  Museums should be for everyone. One can not simply say that a museum is not for people with disabilities. Museums have an obligation to provide for the public. Not just the literate.  Not just the wealthy.  Not just one select group of people.  

Courtesy of National Endowment of the Arts

On the conservation side, I understand the museum may face other issues.  Many museums are in historic buildings, which are usually not wheelchair or other disability accessible.  The museum is aware a certain group of people are excluded from the museum however keeping the integrity of the historic building is something the museum must consider.  They can provide a statement that says it is not accessible.

So what is the next step?

This is a tough question that I do not know how to answer nor do others.  I do not believe there is one right answer.  I do believe that even just thinking about accessibility, from space in exhibits to going through the front door,  is the first step to rethink technology in museums.   Technology doesn’t have to be just for the up and coming generations, it is for everyone.  Although there are many more ideas of privilege to think about, this is one step closer to decolonizing and rethinking the accessibility of museums.  

Check out this link to see what some museums are working on for accessibility and technology in museums!!!

The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly — Past, Present, and Future

Finding your love for your hometown is something that you gently fall into. When you’re there, its easy to hate it — you can see up close the flaws and shortcomings that you learn to live with. It seems often that things will not change. That every weekend, there will be nothing to do, that the construction will never end yet the roads will never be fixed. My hometown, Corpus Christi, is precisely like this. And yet, after taking a walk in San Antonio’s historic West Side, I began to reflect on the historical architecture present in Corpus, and it is in this reflection that I realized how little I knew. Thus, I began to dig a bit deeper into the architectural monuments I so easily took for granted.

Heritage Park

Just as the name would suggest, Heritage Park showcases twelve Corpus Christi homes of historical significance, dating all the way back to 1851 (The Merriman‐Bobys House). Between them, one can see architecture ranging from Victorian to Colonial, speaking to the diversity not only of the structures themselves, but the long-gone inhabitants that are a testament to the diversity of the Bay Area. Members of the NAACP, co-founders of LULAC, Mexican-Americans, Irish-Americans, African-Americans… the whole array can be seen represented in Heritage Park, not for the superficial reason of ‘inclusion’, but because the original owners of these homes made their mark in the coastal bend community.

What pains me about Heritage Park is that very little work has been done in terms of bringing this fascinating history to the public. A quick search for ‘Heritage Park’ reveals that the historic site has no website, no social media — hardly a trace! It is only within the last few days that I learned the park itself was used for anything other than special events. Sure, most Corpus Christians know of the historical site, but of its history? What a tragedy! Most of the online reviews are about the types of pokemon you can find there on Pokemon Go! All this to say, taking this Public History course has allowed me to appreciate Heritage Park much more, and additionally it has allowed me to realize how desperately it is in need of a good public historian.

The Art Museum of South Texas

Any art museum houses hundreds of individual pieces of breathtaking art. But can the building itself be called art? Only naturally. At the Art Museum of South Texas much care has been put into the architecture of the two buildings — one from 1972, one from 2006. The original building, crafted by Philip Johnson is a love letter to the region, constructed of shells, sand, and concrete (a.k.a. shellcrete) and fashioned into a castle reminiscent of adobe style homes, perfect for keeping the sticky heat and humidity away from the precious pieces within. Much of this I knew, as my mother was once obsessed with the structure of the museum, pulling out her little architecture book and flipping to the page that featured our hometown museum any time it would come up in conversation with our guests.

South texas Museum of Art
The two buildings of the South Texas Art Museum coexisting!
In 2006, Mexican architect Ricardo Legorreta was brought in to design a new addition to the museum, and that, he certainly did. Where the original building was old school adobe, the new building was the definition of modern, complete with black pyramids on the roof and a hot pink accent at the entrance. My mother was livid, but I personally think the two styles compliment one another, the old and the new, the rounded and the decidedly sharp. If you pay the museum a visit now, you’ll be able to see the two together, and appreciate each artist’s input. Don’t worry, student entry is a measly $4!

The Harbor Bridge

Of all the interesting and historic architecture in Corpus, however, there is one thing that stands apart — the iconic Harbor Bridge, and its skeleton-like silhouette. Finished in 1959, it stands at 243 ft. tall. (You can see more specs here. ) But despite its iconic status and sixty years of service, the end is nigh for this beloved Corpus Christi monument. My grandmother would describe how she used to take a ferry boat across the channel that the Harbor Bridge connects, and that the bridge brought that era to an end. Nowadays it seems as though the bridge will now be left in the dust, a plan for a new bridge already being put into action, its completion expected in 2021.

Corpus Christi Harbor bridge, lit up in rainbow LEDs
The CC Harbor Bridge, lit up for pride month. Captured by my awful camera
Ordinarily, I am very much “out with the old and in with the new”, but there is something uniquely nostalgic about crossing the bridge to go to the beach or the Texas State Aquarium. Ask any resident, and they’ll express their sorrow about the loss of the bridge, although it may be for the best. The new bridge will be significantly higher, allowing cruise ships and larger shipping vessels to enter the Port of Corpus Christi. I do hope I’ll be in town when its time to say our final goodbyes, but if not, I’ll know its in a better place — bridge heaven.

In conclusion, I prompt my readers to think about the architecture of their hometown, wherever that may be. There’s no town too small or city too big not to have key buildings that made an impression on you, whether you hung around them very much or not. Leave a comment telling me where you’re from and which buildings remind you most of your life growing up, or which you consider ‘classic hometown’.