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Campus Creatives

Student Submission: A Tale of Two Museums

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The Lobkowicz Collections and Museum at the Lobkowicz Palace in Prague. Photo courtesy the author.

No two cultural institutions are ever the same, but there are often many similarities waiting to be found just beneath the surface. In this short essay, one of our student ambassadors has crafted a case study which compares and contrasts The McMullen Museum to The Lobkowicz Palace in Prague.

By Ileana Lobkowicz

My family returned to Prague in the early 1990s to reclaim and restore a vast, centuries-old collection of objects and properties that were confiscated twice in the 20th century—first by the Nazis and later by the Communists. The Lobkowicz Palace Museum opened in 2007, featuring paintings by Canaletto, Pieter Breugel the Elder, and Velázquez; a collection of arms and armor, and ceramics. Also on view are musical instruments and original scores and manuscripts by many of the greatest composers of the 18th-19th centuries, including Haydn, Mozart, and Beethoven. A family-narrated audio guide leads visitors through the museum’s 22 galleries and offers a personal perspective into European history. 

The McMullen Museum of Art is the university art museum of Boston College, founded in 1993 under Director and Professor of Art History, Nancy Netzer. Since its founding, it has housed over 60 innovative exhibitions compiled by research teams of scholars and faculty worldwide. The museum recently moved to its newest Brighton Campus location, which opened in September of 2016, dwelling in what was the former residence of Boston’s cardinal archbishops. With the aim of fostering transdisciplinary collaboration, the new space has been brought to life with a number of student events, lectures, and conferences. 

The McMullen and The Lobkowicz Palace Museum are most comparable in their educational initiatives, serving not only as art institutions, but also as cultural centers for learning. The McMullen offers a number of educational opportunities, including weekly public docent tours, workshops, and tailored programs for school groups. To fortify its bond with Boston College, the museum serves as a resource to enhance the undergraduate experience for students and educators—bridging classroom curriculums with art. One of the McMullen’s most recent initiatives is the Student Ambassador Program, which employs undergraduate students to engage with and promote the museum’s efforts, from using technology to enhance visitor engagement to conducting research on the permanent exhibition. 

In addition to providing visitors with a free audio guide to learn about the history of the Collections, the Lobkowicz Palace Museum also offers specialized tours and programming for student groups to complement their areas of study. One such program is the annual Curator Challenge, an investigative project wherein students become “curators” tasked with discovering the purpose and provenance of uncatalogued objects from the Collections depository and Music Archive. In keeping with the mission of making the Collections accessible to the general public, the museum also hosts seminars and presentations on a wide range of topics—from music history to art restoration, prompting further discussion and interest for visitors. 

In the dawn of their existence, museums were only used to display art. But today, there is a growing movement to redefine their purpose—as multi-functional venues. Honoring the entire architectural landscape of the gallery spaces in both the McMullen and The Lobkowicz Palace, both museums host a number of events, be it alumni reunions, corporate meetings, receptions, or weddings. 

For example, the McMullen’s most popular student event series, Art After Dark, invites visitors for a night of food, dance performances, live music, crafts, and games—allowing people to interact with and explore the art housed within. The Lobkowicz Palace hosts a daily music concert in its Baroque concert hall, where those attending can take in its 17th-century frescoed ceilings while being musically accompanied by Mozart, Beethoven, and Dvořák

2101 Commonwealth Avenue, Brighton Campus, Boston College.
McMullen Museum of Art, Boston College. Photo courtesy Gary Wayne Gilbert.

While many cultural institutions share common goals and practices, there are differences that make each unique. One area where the McMullen and Lobkowicz Palace diverge is the frequency of their exhibitions. The McMullen changes its exhibits on a semester basis, where rotating temporary exhibitions define its curatorial programming. Months or even years of advanced preparation and research go into the installation process, which is just as quickly disassembled to prepare for the next exhibit. As each theme changes, so does everything involved in its assembly: light alterations, repainted walls, new catalogue designs. This quick transformation requires adaptability, attentiveness, and strategic planning in order to stay interesting and relevant as a museum—something the McMullen continues to do with great success. 

The Lobkowicz Palace, on the other hand, houses a permanent exhibition and thus demands a different approach to maintain its public interest. Since the museum remains largely unchanged (save for temporary exhibitions or occasional room expansions) the need to seek tools and creative ideas to enhance it is essential. The focus, then, is placed on developing new programming and opportunities around the exhibition to stay current, rather than physically changing the exhibition itself. The Lobkowicz Library and Archive serves as an endless well of knowledge and history, housing materials that haven’t been touched in decades or even hundreds of years—a catalyst for ongoing public enjoyment and scholarly enrichment. 

Both museums seem to share a mutual commitment to preserve the interest in and importance of their respective collections. Efforts are focused on cultivating sustainable educational programming and scholarly research. Both institutions strive to be ever evolving, finding ways to engage audiences both young and old. Creating such immersive environments allows people to discover the inextricable link between history, art, and humanity. 

My involvement at both the McMullen and the Lobkowicz Palace has provided equally enriching experiences—ones that underscore the creativity, dynamism, and vision that seems to form the core of a successful museum. 

Categories
Campus Creatives

Student Submission: Curating for the Digital Age

Instead of fighting the omnipresence of the smartphone, some institutions (including the Met, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, and Boston College’s McMullen Museum of Art, among others) are embracing social applications to convey the message that the museum can be highly compatible with the modern digital age.

By Faye Hubregsen


Around the world, museums have begun to harness social media to increase engagement and create new interactive experiences for visitors. The increasing importance of digital strategy represents a shift in the ways museums serve as trusted cultural networks, disseminate knowledge to the public, and perceive their role as stewards of educational content. This movement towards recontexualizing the museum experience through blogs, vlogs, virtual reality, and social networking provides an outlet for museums to engage people with their collections and ideally encourage a bilateral dialogue in which people can react in real-time and share information easily. As a consequence, museums directors and curators are forced to consider how technology changes the way people engage with exhibits. Instead of fighting the omnipresence of the smartphone, some institutions (including the Met, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, and Boston College’s McMullen Museum of Art, among others) are embracing social applications to convey the message that the museum can be highly compatible with the modern digital age.

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Museums offer unique exposure to a diverse set of collections and research, and social media has the power to capture content and render it more accessible. At the McMullen Museum, there is an entire committee dedicated to social media and the team has adopted not one, not two, but five social platforms (Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, and Blog) to serve as both exploratory resources and as a vehicle for spreading the word about events, programming, and exhibition highlights. Many museums (including the LA County Museum of Art, the Met, and the MFA Boston) find that Instagram, Twitter, and Snapchat are the primary ways to reach younger demographics particularly since 46.8% of Snapchat users are between the ages of 18 and 24 as of last December.

Skeptics could make the argument that to unite an object from antiquity that has stood the test of time with a photo that vanishes in less than 10 seconds seems contradictory, but this is the approach that several museums are taking. Los Angeles County Museum of Art created a Snapchat account that now has 160,000 followers and features images with humorous captions:

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Some Snapchat followers have gone as far as to praise LACMA via Twitter:

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Another recent Snapchat proselyte, the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, posts a weekly emoji art history lesson:

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As was the case with BC’s McMullen Museum last semester for the Medieval Manuscript exhibition, the Instagram profile was designed to communicate parts of the show that were not immediately discernible to the general public. Below is a screenshot of the winning word-bubble submission contest:

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This particular example served as a tool to help invite and engage with difficult-to-reach audiences and promote the image of the museum as an inclusive, inviting space. What’s more, social media allows museums to showcase stories of the behind the scenes curation and offer glimpses into exhibition development.

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So how can museums take steps to increase their reach?

Track the user – Measure the impact

In 2009, the Cleveland Museum of Art decided to use social media as a way to track and analyze visitors’ paths through its gallery. This led to the discovery that, rather than following the curators’ prescribed trajectory through the collection, visitors navigated the gallery randomly hopping from one piece to another, depending on what interested them. Going forward, incorporating GPS technology that would allow visitors to plot their journey through galleries–similar to how people plan their commute on Google Maps—could mark the end of getting lost in the Greco-Roman wing or flipping through the brochure in search of a particular Picasso portrait.

Generate Interactive Opportunities

At the National Gallery of Denmark (also known as the Statens Museum for Kunst –SMK), visitors were invited on “Instawalks” — small group gatherings at the museum before opening hours where people could capture and share photos tagged with #emptysmk.

The result provided photos that exposed different visual perspectives inside the museum:

Another step some museums have taken are selfie installations where visitors are encouraged to take selfies with the works of art. In 2013, the Pompidou in Paris granted guests to take photos of themselves seated on the lip-shaped sofa at the center of Salvador Dali’s re-creation of Mae West’s face.

Revise & Adapt the SM Game-Plan

The primary factor that sets well-adapted museums apart is their conscious effort to reflect on their experiences, and continuously acclimatize their social media strategy with the needs of visitors and the museum. Actions taken by the museums described above may not be universally effective across all institutions, but they provide an example for museums looking to increase reach and engagement.

Where are the implications for social media in museums going forward?

Endorsing the use of smartphones could mean that more art galleries will design and curate Instagram-friendly exhibitions. According to Dana Miller, the Director of the Whitney’s permanent collection,

“The ways in which people are interacting with works have changed, and so that changes, a little bit, the way we space the works.”

Despite the fact that social media can help advance museums in their efforts to nurture community involvement and public engagement, digital networks can pose various challenges. For example, user-fixation characteristic of the social media world feeds into a “customer is always right” mindset which can be a threat to the authority of scholarly insights in favor of visitor gratification. Due to the fact that social media involves different platforms of communication, this can be a challenge for the established authority of one single museum voice. Therefore, how to monitor, manage, and balance professional insight with public dialogue is an urgent managerial strategy to consider. According to a survey published by Invaluable, more people in the U.S. now discover art via Instagram and Pinterest than they do by actually visiting exhibitions. They found that 84% of Americans visit art galleries or museums less than once a year, and 15% claim they never go. If these cultural venues plan to attract a larger, more widespread audiences, they will need to embrace at least some facets of social media. Given that the social media learning curve operates as a moving target, museums with a reputation for being set in their ways will have to be mindful of the risks that come with delayed adaptation.

So, what do you think? Is social media likely to render brick and mortar venues for art obsolete? Are people going to opt to scroll through the Louvre’s Instagram feed instead of wandering through its galleries? Or could this be the start of an entirely new frontier for the role of museums in cultural exchange?

 

Categories
Museum Events

In Case You Missed It: Art After Dark January 2017

By Simar Juneja 
Photos by Alyssa Vaughn


The McMullen Museum of Art opened its doors to the students of Boston College on Thursday, January 26th. Visitors witnessed the work of Cuban painter Rafael Soriano and many festivities surrounding the Cuban culture.

Photo by Alyssa Vaughn

The members of the dynamic Latin dance team, Fuego, were spotted in the lobby and galleries of the museum, adding sparks to the evening with their culturally vibrant dance moves.

Photo by Alyssa Vaughn

While enjoying a buffet of Cuban delicacies, visitors were invited to exercise their artistic skills at a stained glass station and get competitive in Cuban games such as Cubilete. Others chose to sit back and relax at a screening of Havana Nights.

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Photo by Alyssa Vaughn

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The evening was a rich success as visitors celebrated the fusion of art and Cuban culture on BC’s campus.

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