Isabella Bulkeley snaps at the Museum of Fine Arts. PHOTO CREDIT: SOPHIA TANG

A Snap from the Past


By Sophia Tang

Centuries-old artwork meet 21st-century humor in Snapchat photos and videos from three Boston-based museums.

Last May, the Museum of Fine Arts, the Institute of Contemporary Art, and the Peabody Essex Museum took to the world’s fastest-growing media-sharing platform in order to bring their exhibitions to a wider audience.

“Exposing younger people to art museums is really crucial to developing and learning,” said Stephanie Yao, program manager for the Association of Art Museum Directors. “Art museums are just another way of learning that is more visual and more appealing. It lets you see the story in different angles.”

With over 150 million users, Snapchat has surpassed Twitter in daily active users and is rapidly growing in popularity, especially among the younger generations. According to Forbes magazine, over 60 percent of Americans between the ages of 13 and 38 are Snapchat users, with 37 percent of users falling between the ages of 18 and 24.

This age group has been notoriously absent in art and history museums nationwide. However, museums offer unique intellectual benefits and directors are increasingly pushing for more interaction between museums and teenagers through social media.

The Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) first explored the world of Snapchat in 2014 in order to target and expose art to a younger crowd. They gained recognition from major media outlets such as The Huffington Post, Vanity Fair, and the New York Observer. Since then, over 61 museums across the nation have followed suit.

The Snapchat video or photo stories featured by museums often include modern humor and pop culture references that intrigue teenagers. The Museum of Fine Arts (MFA) offers two days of Snapchat events each week: Emoji Art History Wednesday and Exhibition Tour Friday. While the emoji history tours are lighter and more carefree to appeal to the rapid-paced lives of teenagers, the Friday history tours offer more in-depth details and explanations for each piece of art that they feature.

Although they are short and straightforward, each Snapchat “story” requires extensive planning for narration and angle. “One of the challenges with Snapchat is that it’s really hard to preplan stuff because you can’t just upload it,” said Isabella Bulkeley, public relations associate at the Museum of Fine Arts. “It’s very time-consuming in that respect because you have to spend a lot of time upfront planning everything out so that it’s easier when you’re actually posting it.”

Although institutions have only recently implemented Snapchat, Yao and Bulkeley agreed that museums are already seeing positive responses from the under-25 crowd. Additionally, many young people have taken to museums’ other channels of social media, such as Facebook and Twitter, to voice their feedback for this new addition.

In a little over a month, the MFA has garnered over 2,000 followers on Snapchat. However, this is only the beginning. Museums are continuing to improve the effectiveness and reach of their “Snaps.” At the MFA, Bulkeley hopes to implement a permanent geofilter, a location mark that is only available when users are in the MFA.

“Part of the reason that we wanted to join Snapchat and that we wanted to get active on it is not just for people to follow us, and see what we’re doing, but to encourage them to share their experiences at the MFA with their communities,” said Bulkeley. “Having people act as advocates for us is even more effective than any post that we can do.”

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