Museum Curator v. Insta Curator

Written by: Sydney Wilburn

When the National Building Museum opened up their interactive art exhibit, “The Beach,” it seemed to have been created with Instagram in mind. Museum-goers could dive into an “ocean” of almost a million translucent plastic balls. Instagram users documented their artsy adventure on the “waves,” the colors of their clothes and hair striking against the grey-white patterned background, the “splashing” balls frozen in motion.


“The Beach” interactive art exhibit at the National Building Museum. 
Instagram photo posted by Natalie Sum (@nutellasum) 

In the past, museum-goers have been politely warned from the moment they walk in the front doors that photography is not allowed. Museum officials were worried that if people take photos of artwork and post them online, others won’t want to come in person to visit the exhibits.

But in today’s increasingly-competitive entertainment environment, many museum officials realized they needed to modernize their exhibits and the overall environment of their museum. Their competition isn’t other museums– it’s “Netflix and Candy Crush.” For many, this began by taking down those pesky, ever-watching “No Photography Allowed” signs from many of their works. They realized that many museum-goers who wanted a photo of a piece in the museum’s collection would snap one regardless of the entreating signs. And when they did post the photos, something amazing happened– in many cases, museum attendance increased. These posts acted as free advertising for museums with a Insta-friendly policy. Their attendants would snap, filter, and share photos that said to their friends Art is cool! Look at me in front of this cool art! You can be cool too!

“Wonder” exhibit at the Smithsonian American Art Museum.

“Instagrammable” art exhibits are attracting a more diverse crowd, and when museums encourage attendants to engage with and participate in the exhibits, people will come. Nicholas Bell’s exhibit titled “Wonder” drew in 732,000 viewer in eight months. Before the exhibit, annual attendance was about 150,000.

Allowing–and even encouraging– museum-goers to snap an artsy photo of themselves in front of a piece they connect with is simply another way of engaging with art. While some may wander silently among the paintings, stopping to gaze and contemplate at some pieces at a safe distance, others may feel like they need to photograph the piece to appreciate and even participate in the art-making process. This practice could open the world of art to younger generations who are used to engaging with more tech-centered entertainment.

“A lot of people feel intimidated by the art world and think that you need to be a millionaire to engage,” said Stephanie Kelly, director of the Affordable Art Fair. “People are now starting to believe they can be part of that tribe.”




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UNT Eagle Strategies

Class members of the social media class in the Mayborn School of Journalism