The idea of the museum as a dusty old repository of long-forgotten and obscure objects is an outdated concept that itself belongs in a glass case. Many institutions have brought both innovation and technology to the design of their collections, while in recent years opening them up to millions via the internet, further encouraging discovery and interaction through a variety of social media channels.
Museums have embraced platforms like Twitter and Instagram as a way of sharing their content – enticing visitors to experience it first-hand of course – and the sector has become particularly adept at engaging with its audiences in this way, with initiatives such as @52Museums and #MuseumWeek receiving a level of traction that many companies can only dream of.
As the instigator of several of these types of projects, the Pennsylvania-born and Shropshire-based Mar Dixon is at the centre of a unique social/cultural movement – and sums up the nature of her job with tweet-like brevity: “I call myself a troublemaker or advocate,” she says. “I work with museums to try and make them more people friendly”.
Instagram post from Mar Dixons’ @52museums project
Dixon was active on Twitter for two years before it changed her life. On January 16 2011, having read an article on the future of UK libraries, she tweeted ‘“I love libraries because _____” Fill in the blank and RT! #savelibraries’ (and went back to doing her laundry). Meanwhile, over 5,000 users had reacted to her appeal, including writers Neil Gaiman and Margaret Atwood, and the hashtag began to trend worldwide.
This, she later wrote on her blog, was her “first experience at seeing the power of social media” – and since then she has harnessed this power to help museums from all over the world. “People shared so many passionate stories about the impact of their own local library – and many went beyond the books, though they are vital,” she says. “I was thrown into the spotlight with the media and it got me thinking how the impact could help culture”.
Dixon’s twitter post about the @52Museums project
Similarly, the rise of social media has also enabled museum visitors to engage with institutions in a more direct way. Dixon recalls visiting several museums in the UK with her young daughter: “I would talk to front of house and other visitors and found that there were really creative things they could be doing, but that those in power weren’t being told the feedback,” she says. “I basically started asking for meetings and this is where social media helped. Before, you’d have to go through a secretary or PA who wanted to know what the meeting was about and why I wanted time from the ‘big important person’. But with social media, I could just reach out with a tweet. Soon they were requesting meetings!”
Following a trip to Paris in the summer of 2011, Dixon posted about how certain French museums were beginning to engage on social. The Musée de Cluny (@museecluny), Musée des Arts et Metiers (@ArtetMetiers) and Chateau de Versailles (who were also using augmented reality in their gardens) were singled out as institutions that were using it to their advantage – while larger places that perhaps didn’t think they needed to engage their audiences in this way (The Louvre, the Musée d’Orsay) lagged behind online.
@52Musuems on Instagram
“Those that do