Museums, listen up! It’s time to get with the 21st century and take advantage of the free publicity that social media can give you.
David Rau, Director of Education at the Florence Griswold Museum, recently posted a question on a museums blog in which he asked for input as to how museums were handling bloggers that wanted to take pictures for their blog posts. He knows museums struggle with image use, copyright, etc. and notes:
Indeed, the Florence Griswold Museum has seen artwork from our museum appear on several blogs with great images that were gathered without our knowledge. And the kind of positive publicity these blogs garner from specialty groups, i.e. homeschoolers, families looking for kid friendly outings, etc., has proven to be invaluable.
As a former museum curator and educator, I get the dilemma.
Museums want control over their images and to show them with the proper respect, which doesn’t always happen if people are given free reign with their cameras. Amateur photographers might snap unflattering images and, perhaps worst of all, fail to provide proper credit along with the images.
Museums can’t allow photography of art they don’t own. It’s simple, really. They don’t own the copyright, so they don’t have the right give permissions.
Many museums allow non-flash photography within their permanent collection (art they own) galleries. I’m all for this! Museums claim that intense light of flashes can–over time–damage a work. Whether or not this is true, I don’t want to see flash photography allowed in museums. Flashes are disruptive and I’d like to preserve the contemplative spaces within the museum galleries.
Yet museums that ban photography altogether are living in the past. They’re missing out on tons of free publicity from avid fans! The power blogs are well documented. The power of word of mouth is equally well documented. When a blogger recommends something to his or her readers, guess what? They are more likely to take action than if they had seen an ad somewhere. Ergo, make it easy for people to talk about the art you have.
How museums can accommodate bloggers
If you’re a museum who is against allowing photographs of your the art in your galleries, there’s still something you can do to help us put in a good word for you.
Create an online media room just for bloggers.
Here’s what that would consist of:
- Low-resolution images of works that are on view and a super-easy way to find them. Obviously, large museums can’t post images of every work in a separate media room. Maybe some highlights? Or, if you have low-res images of works in your collections pages, just link to those and tell us how to use them in your guidelines (see #3).
- Credit lines for each work.
- Your (brief!) guidelines for using the images. Please: No legalese here. Just tell us what you want and we’ll do it. The more barriers you erect and the longer your guidelines, the less likely we are to promote you. (See “people don’t read instructions” below.)
- Links to more details about each piece in case they would help us write a better blog post.
And here’s how you can handle it in the galleries.
Have business cards printed and make sure your museum guards have a stack of them. Instead of the guards telling people “I’m sorry, no photography allowed,” they can pull out a business card. Here’s a suggestion for text on that card:
I’m sorry we can’t allow photography in the museum galleries.
But because we want to help you share our art with others,
we’ve created a media room just for you!
Signs won’t do. People don’t read. More to the point, people don’t read instructions, if you haven’t learned by now. We need something we can take with us and look up easily when we get home.
Alternatively, you could take email addresses and email bloggers the link to your special media room. But you must do it ASAP. We’re usually a step ahead of you. I vote for the business cards.