The 1st September was noteworthy in the museum world for an innovative initiative promoted by the untiring Jim Richardson, Ask a Curator. In short: 343 museums from 23 countries from all over the world put their curators at the disposal of the questions users wanted to ask them through Twitter.
The figure alone for the amount of participation is significant in itself. More than 9.000 tweets have been recorded. But I would like to highlight some other interesting factors.
For the users of museums and/or Twitter this signified putting within their reach hundreds of museums who were disposed to satisfy their curiosity, to explain the most unknown facts, and to give the point of view of professionals, the curators, who by definition due to their work tend to be in little direct contact with the public, both onsite or online.
For the museums this signified an extraordinary diffusion, given that throughout the day the museums, their practices and their collections became the star attraction of one of the most widely reaching social networks. The topic #askacurator was yesterday’s trendy topic all over the world, the number 1 topic of the day on Twitter. Museums have never before achieved such virtual popularity.
Museums showed a good disposition for an open attitude, and to be accessible and transparent, something that is coherent with the practices many are developing on the social media, but throughout the day reached all corners of the institution.
Internally, this also meant a greater awareness-building within the museum itself with regard to the reach and effect of Twitter in the world. For some this meant the discovery of a network they didn’t know, and for others the chance to understand better the potential of communication, of networking, of sharing and of outreach. Also, people and centres interesting to follow in Twitter have been discovered.
In terms of diffusion, the museums have moreover gained in numbers of followers of Twitter, and also of other social media they may have used as platforms for the event, as well as more visits to their official websites.
For the Museu Picasso, the day was active and interesting. We used the social networks in the following way:
· Twitter: to receive and respond to everything. In the language in which the question was asked.
· Blog: to speak about the initiative beforehand and afterwards (now) to carry out an evaluation.
· Facebook: on the days prior to the event, to spread the activity, and during the day itself, to broaden the responses that required more space than 140 characters of Twitter.
· Questions received at @museupicasso: 20
· Comments and feedback of the users to the museum’s answers: 13
· Information and questions answered by the museum (including the replies to some of the questions asked generically to all the museums): 28
· New followers: 23 (the daily average tends to be about 10). Total number of followers at the end of the day: 2,185
Some of the questions received by our museum:
· How does the idea of a temporary exhibition emerge?
· How do the new technologies influence the work of the curator?
· Do you collaborate with other Picasso Museums (Malaga, Paris)?
· Picasso was a friend of poets (Apollinaire, Max Jacob), did he write poetry?
· What’s the most difficult challenge for a curator?
· What percentage of works do you have in the permanent exhibition and in the storeroom?
· What are the benefits for the institution of working on social media?
The answers can be found in the Twitter of the Picasso Museum
Nobody, however, asked: why is it that Barcelona has a Picasso Museum? So we asked ourselves the question on Twitter, linking directly to the answer.
With regard to the technology, I’d like to point out two factors. First of all, to regret the amount of spam. So as to neutralise it, as well as denouncing its sender, the hashtag (the key word for identifying all the messages around a topic) was changed from #askacurator to #askcurators. And secondly to comment on the well-known lack of usability of Twitter for certain functions. Although it is true that it allows you to identify specific topics of interest within an ocean of messages, and the fact of being able to see the tweets that refer to a specific museum, however, when gathering together the questions-answers, this has to be done manually (does anyone have any clues to doing this?). Furthermore the stream of previous messages can suddenly become unavailable at any moment.
Some final thoughts
·There exists an authentic interest by the public to know more about museums.
· It is worth highlighting the interest to know processes more than results: how an idea for an exhibition emerges, how the works for the permanent exhibition are selected, how technologies affect the work of the museum etc.
· Maybe museums don’t explain well or effectively enough the work we do. This seems to be the conclusion when so many users ask what a curator does.
· As nowadays we have so many social channels, with Facebook at the forefront, it’s surprising the success of the event in terms of participation: on any day of the year, at any moment, users can ask any questions they want, and museums need to be able to respond in an agile way.
· Maybe the most positive thing of the day was the encounter, sort of a meeting point where the public have discovered open and dialoguing museums, and curators have come into direct contact with the public (and with Twitter).
We would like to pass on our gratitude for the interest of all the participants, for those who asked questions, and for those who read the flow of messages. Thanks also go very specially to the curators and technical staff of the museum who were ready all day long and answered in greater detail when the topic so required: Eduard Vallès, Anna Fàbregas, Isabel Cendoya and Anna Vélez.
If you participated by asking a question to any museum, the organisers would be grateful if you could fill in a brief feedback questionnaire. If you are a participant museum, here you’ll find the evaluation form for institutions.
A similar initiative in the near future, to be done in a few months time so not saturate the social space, could be #askadirector 🙂 Maybe on 1st September 2011?
Did you have any more questions you wanted to ask? What else would you like to know about museums in general or the Museu Picasso particular?