Editor’s Note: As I near the end of my second year as Director of Education & Public Programs here at the Portland Art Museum, I find myself more interested than ever in how a museum can connect with its community and its place. Even before I arrived, the Museum was already envisioning itself as a platform for community dialogues, conversation, engagement, and critical thinking in relation to its collection and exhibitions (this certainly was something that drew me out here). And in the past couple years, the team here at the Portland Art Museum has continued to work with the Portland community in new and unique ways to be a museum of its place, not just a museum in its place. The following post by Kristin Bayans and Justin Meyer describes our current project entitled #captureParklandia, designed as a way to spark thinking about parks, gardens, and experiences with green spaces in our own community — in conjunction with the stunning exhibition Art of the Louvre’s Tuileries Garden about the art, design, evolution, and experience of Paris’ most famous garden. Through this social media photography project, museum visitors and the public community are encouraged to share their park experiences and memories, but also to discover new park spaces and think about them in a new light through the lens of the Tuileries. With art serving as a catalyst, projects such as #captureParklandia — in addition to our robust series of programming this summer — allow the museum to serve as a platform for public engagement and community dialogue around issues relevant to the life of our city and its region. While there have been recent questions about the validity of a project like this for an art museum, I firmly stand behind the success of this experimental project in social media and place-based digital engagement. Please add your voice below in the Comments section, as it is always important to have an open dialogue about these issues as we face them in the ever-changing landscape of museums in the 21st century.
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Written by Kristin Bayans, Interpretive Media Specialist at the Portland Art Museum, and Justin Meyer, Portland Art Museum Education Intern and PhD Candidate at the University of Michigan
#captureParklandia is the Portland Art Museum’s most recent dive into a large-scale social media project. Created in tandem with the special exhibition The Art of the Louvre’s Tuileries Gardens, Portland Parks and Recreation, and the Portland Parks Foundation, #captureParklandia is both an online and in-gallery experience. #captureParklandia’s pie-in-the-sky goal is to get Portlanders to play with the museum and connect in new ways. Through this playful interaction, Portlanders will begin to think of PAM as their museum, not just a museum.
#captureParklandia Works Like This
Anyone with Instagram can tag their photo of a park in Portland with our hashtag (the project’s name). All of these photos are displayed on both an up-to-date feed, as well as geolocated on a map of Portland via the Museum’s webpage for this project. In the exhibition gallery, particularly captivating hashtagged Instagram photos are displayed digitally in a dynamic web application, Slidely. Twelve unique photos, selected by our partners from the thousands of tagged submissions on Instagram, were printed as one of twelve individual “Portland Park” trading cards (120,000 cards were printed in total). Trading cards have the project’s hashtag, advertise the work of Portland Parks and Recreation, and give visitors to the in-gallery experience something to take with them.
Go Forth and Get’em
Perhaps the most important step to putting this project together was recruiting members of InstaPDX (Portland’s Instagram social club) in-person during one of their pub meet-ups. It was a bit awkward at first; we were essentially speed-dating with members of the group, going from one person to another describing the project and asking for their participation. Within 24 hours of our pub appearance, the project received hundreds of Instagram tags! Shelley Bernstein, Vice Director of Digital Engagement & Technology at the Brooklyn Museum was 100% correct about the power of seeking out audiences within their own communities, when she stated “… after all, why should we expect them (web based communities) to come to us?” (Bautista 178).
It was clear that by no means were we going to be “besties” with InstaPDX, but at least we might be relegated to “cool relative” status (the one you are jazzed to hang out with once in a while). Sadly, this is one of the plights of being an authoritarian figure institution; (cue dramatic music) the…“Museum.” Firm in our desire to cultivate a relationship of mutual respect, we invited members of the InstaPDX community to the press preview of Art of the Louvre’s Tuileries Garden. In addition, we chose a handful of InstaPDX members’ #captureParklandia images to be printed on our park trading cards, working in conjunction with Portland Parks and Recreation. This infuses our project with more crowd-sourced content, exposes museum visitors to the talent of community photographers, and validates the work of artists outside the museum.
#captureParklandia is part of the Portland Art Museum’s ongoing strategies to engage audiences. Like us, several museums have been experimenting with crowd-sourced tagging and picture sharing platforms since the early 2000s. What is revolutionary about these approaches is that they are powered by the kind of community engagement Shelley Bernstein was talking about: seeking out audiences on their own turf and on their own terms. Institutionally, there is power in demonstrating a different and effective way of communicating with Portlanders, as well as discovering that some Portlanders who don’t traditionally interact with the museum welcome the opportunity. As Ed Rodley, Associate Director of Integrated Media at Peabody Essex Museum, has said — this is an actual way to have a rich varied relationship with people over time.
#captureParklandia draws upon what Susan Smith Bautista describes in her new book Museums in the Digital Age as a place/experience, or a way of seeing the world through interconnected networks of space and time. With projects that expand the traditional experience of a single, in-person visit to a gallery, the Portland Art Museum can become more than a building or a collection of objects. The Portland Art Museum can become a part of someone’s learned experience and their lives.
#captureParklandia is still afoot. We have been gathering social media analytics and in-gallery observations, which have all been pointing to the success of this project via the digital engagement (high levels of participation in the hashtag as well as enormous outreach via social media) as well as the analog ways in which people can interact (with a large mural-sized in-gallery map of 200+ Portland parks, as well as through the trading cards that visitors can take with them). So far it has been AMAZING, but is it still a little too safe? Social media is busy, multifaceted, and opinionated. The Portland Art Museum’s in-gallery presentation is very streamline and curated at a certain level.
“Museums are empowering their visitors with new digital experiments that allow common voices to be heard in the same space as curators.… The empowerment is bracketed within a deeply hierarchical space where the museum retains final authority over curation, installation, didactics, acquisitions of works, and more.” (Bautista 229).
Does this actually matter to our visitors? Is creating a platform enough? Does this keep us at arm’s length from our visitors, continually relegating us to “cool relative” status? Koven Smith of Kinetic Museums gave this some thought. We’d love to hear your thoughts about these issues.
From August to September we are hosting a weekly themed #captureParklandia Instagram contest. Please email email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org if you are interested in what happens next. The exhibition The Art of the Louvre’s Tuileries Gardens is on view at the Portland Art Museum through September 21, 2014. If you are not in Portland, check out #captureParklandia online or watch our series of public programs that continue to address the art, history, design, and future thinking around parks, gardens, and green spaces all summer long.
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KRISTIN BAYANS: Interpretive Media Specialist at the Portland Art Museum where she produces interpretive media learning experiences — mobile, web, and in-gallery — for the Object Stories project, special exhibitions, and the Museum’s permanent collection; and curates exhibitions for the Object Stories gallery. Most recently, she served as Senior Educator for the Vernier Technology Lab for the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry and as an Assistant Educator for the Smithsonian’s Mobile Learning Institute. She holds an M.A. in Museum Studies from The George Washington University and an M.A. in Art History from the Courtauld Institute of Art. Outside of work she chases her dog Felix around the park, sketches, “sings” karaoke, and plays board games. Kristin’s postings on this site are her own and do not necessarily represent the Portland Art Museum’s positions, strategies, or opinions.
JUSTIN MEYER: PhD candidate in Urban Planning at the University of Michigan, conducting research on the relationships between art museums, communities, and cities. Justin recently completed a certificate in Museum Studies at the University of Michigan, as well as a Masters Degree in Urban Planning as a Wallenberg Scholar. He also holds degrees in engineering and environmental design from Stanford University and the University of Cambridge, respectively. During the spring and summer 2014, Justin worked as a graduate student intern with the Education department at the Portland Art Museum. In his spare time, he freelances as a professional singer in the Portland area and volunteers at the Oregon Humane Society. Justin’s postings on this site are his own and do not necessarily represent the Portland Art Museum’s positions, strategies, or opinions.