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Arts / Museums

After Hours at the MFAH

How Instagram Is Changing Museums Forever — and Making Them Cool

BY Faith Nguyen // 11.12.15

Millennials are the largest age group in American history, and studies have shown they’re changing the face of marketing.

It seems that millennials seek authenticity over mere mindless content (contrary to Time’s “Me, Me, Me Generation” label), and if a brand engages with them through social media, it’s likely the generation will become loyal customers.

So in this dynamic age of marketing, we wondered: How do art institutions attract audiences through the web?

Recently, the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston — in collaboration with Houston-based photographer Dan Joyce organized an “InstaMeet” between the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston and local instagrammers. “I was inspired by my friend Dave Krugman’s #EmptyMET series,” Joyce says.

Krugman had sent a letter to the Metropolitan Museum of Art explaining how valuable Instagram was as a marketing tool. Krugman and the New York-based museum paired to create the concept #EmptyMET, whereby photographers took photos of the institution during non-operating hours. Soon after the photos were posted, the museum gained thousands of additional followers, and the #EmptyMet became a monthly event. Not long after the campaign, the Met was awarded a Webby Award for best Arts and Culture Social Marketing.

Instagram has become a remarkable platform and has gained more than 400 million users in the five years it’s been in existence, so it’s unsurprising that cultural institutions see it as a marketing platform. Concepts similar to #EmptyMet began have spread to other art institutions, including the Dallas Museum of Art (#DMANights), Tate Modern (#EmptyTate) and the Milwaukee Art Museum (#MAMAfterDark), and some feature offerings such as curated cocktails and live music and DJs.

Equipped with the knowledge of the campaign’s potential success, Joyce helped coordinate the #MFAHAfterHours event. “I love engaging the Houston creative community and am always looking for opportunities to create with and learn from some of the amazing creatives who call Houston home.”

42 Instagrammers attended the MFAH evening, each selected by the museum, with input from Joyce. “Because the event took place only days after the opening of the ‘Mark Rothko: A Retrospective’ exhibition,” Joyce says, “we were some of the first to share images from the installation in a grassroots-driven manner.” During the event, the photographers shared images through Instagram with the hashtag #MFAHAfterHours. (Joyce shared his with his 74,200 followers.)

“It was such a treat to be able to have uninhibited access to an arts institution … Not only did we get to create unique images as we interacted with the empty space, there were docents available to provide history and answer questions about the individual works of art,” Joyce says.

Click through our slider to see photos of the “empty museum” experience.

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