Breaking the Internet at LACMA: When Pop Culture and “High” Culture Collide

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By almost all accounts, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art’s (LACMA’s) 2014 leap into the then-new, ephemeral social media platform of Snapshot was a total slam dunk. Often hilarious and always hip, their memes followed a simple format: LACMA in red at the top and a full-screen photo of one of their pieces of art, overlaid with a simple strip of text that drew a connection between the artwork and a pop-culture sound bite. Rodin poses that echo Beyonce’s dance moves, classical paintings that evoke an Iggy Azalea-esque attitude, and artwork that seems to quote “Mean Girls,” LACMA’s social media manager Maritza Yoes created pairings that were both irreverent and brilliant at once and, in the process, created a buzz in the art world. Publications lauded the success of this thinly veiled marketing campaign with headlines such as, “You Need To Add This Art Museum On Snapchat Right Now!” (Buzzfeed), “LACMA Is Killing It On Snapchat” (LA List), “LACMA Snapchat Wins at Social Media” (ReDesign Report), and many many more equally hyperbolic titles of praise.

To my memorylacma,fetch, never has a traditional art museum managed to pull off something so downright, utterly, and entirely cool.

Seems like a win / win: LACMA proves it has 21st century cultural currency and the public’s laughter brings people right through LACMA’s front door as the museum experiences a rise in attendance.  Museum gets hip, people go to museum. Art world saved. #micdrop. That’s the whole story . . . amirite?

Not completely.

What interests me, and should interest all of us who are involved in both communications and art experiences such as museums, theaters, and the like is a subtext that runs subtly in many of the articles written about the LACMA Snapchat phenomenon. In not all, but some, of the coverage, questions such as the following were asked about the campaign:

“Did it devalue the original intention of the art works?” (Larouci, 2015).

“Is it innovative or another example of the dumbing down of culture?” (Jinman, 2015).

These questions are great ones to ask. And, certainly, this line of thinking is not new or lacma,bohemiansurprising. It springs from the age-old “high art” vs. “low art” debate, and I’ll leave it to you to decide where your opinions lie on the validity of this categorization. But, whether you believe that some art is sacred and pristine and other art is not, or you believe in the democratization and de-snobbifying of all artistic accomplishments, I think that it’s time that those of us who are in the business of marketing things we may consider to be “pure” acknowledged a central truth: our “pure” thing won’t continue to exist if people don’t participate in it.

As they say in the theater business: we need butts in the seats to have a show on the stage.

Art marketers, education marketers, and socially or environmentally driven cause marketers are frequently accused of “selling out” or cheapening” the product that they seek to promote. And, for sure, there certainly is value to being on the lookout for the type of packaging of art that reduces it to nothing but a cheap commodity. But, where do we draw the line?

LACMA’s social media manager decided to answer this question as such:

“My intention was to democratize the experience and make it accessible, showing
the creativity of the museum, rather than try to emulate the museum experience . . . You have to communicate in the voice of the Internet for sure, and also have to carry the weight of a very famous institution” (Larouci, 2015).  And, “Not only is Snapchat a great way to reach a younger audience, but it also provides us with a platform for play — a place where we can create stories and experiences around the museum, our collection, and our staff” (“Arty Snaps,” 2014).

Tlacma,fancyo me, such thoughtful responses reflect anything but a dumbing down of the art world and do not seem to
forebode museums’ death-by-Beyonce. What this sounds like is, rather, a celebration of art as a public, shared experience, a reminder that our revered museums have at least bit of room for our modern meme-loving, hash tagging moments of joy, and an example of  a success story that can perhaps provide a moment of reprieve for the oft-maligned profession of marketing and communication.  #wesellgoodstufftoo

References:

Arty Snaps (2014). Contagious. Retrieved from http://www.contagious.com/blogs/news-and-views/15274981-arty-snaps

Jinman, R. (2015, July 18). A Los Angeles art museum is turning classic works into memes and sharing them on Snapchat for youngsters to view. Independent. Retrieved from http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/art/news/a-los-angeles-art-museum-is-turning-classic-works-into-memes-and-sharing-them-on-snapchat-for-10399282.html

Larouci, S. (2015, September 11). Art History’s meme queen connects Monet with Nicki Minaj. Amuse. Retrieved from https://amuse-i-d.vice.com/lacma-snapchat/

Probus, J. (2014, August 21). You need to add this art museum on Snapchat right now. Buzzfeed. Retrieved from http://www.buzzfeed.com/jessicaprobus/this-museum-is-better-at-snapchat-than-you#.srMQVbO89K

Tabasi, S. (2014, August 22). This museum wins at social media. Redesign Report. Retrieved from http://redesignreport.com/lacma-snapchat/

Trinh, J. (2014, August 22). LACMA is killing it on Snapchat. LA List. Retrieved from http://laist.com/2014/08/22/lacma_is_killing_it_on_their_snapch.php

 

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6 Responses to Breaking the Internet at LACMA: When Pop Culture and “High” Culture Collide

  1. Elizabeth says:

    Jill –

    I, too, loved the brilliant Snapchat execution. As a fan of the platform, I have been following Snapchat trends, and this one definitely caught my eye. The Snapchat “museum trend” started long before LACMA’s usage, with users who posted these comedic pictures over the internet, most notably on Tumblr. It is clear LACMA caught on to the phenomenon and decided to partner with Snapchat and build off this growing trend. They were able to bring in new audiences, who would otherwise be uninterested in going to a museum, by using such a popular platform amongst younger generations. I personally think they are very funny, especially those that integrate pop culture in a unique way. Thank you for sharing!

  2. huanlin says:

    Thanks for sharing this interesting social media execution of LACMA. In my home country, the museums only use Facebook and Instagram as a way of marketing since those are the two most popular social media. However, your article made me realize that I should now be more aware of various social media trends and their applications. I think it is really creative for the museum to have the snapchat account because it would bring more audience and through the usage of the young, new rising platform, I think LACMA make art less serious and more interesting. I found the posts of LACMA really funny and interesting and I decided to follow the account. Thank you for the article again, it was really inspiring.

  3. fbajet says:

    Excellent, thoughtful post. I personally don’t use Snapchat (gave it up, actually) but it’s interesting to see how brands and organizations use it well, or not. I’m actually surprised that LACMA is making waves with it, and gaining a young and hip reputation in the process, because that’s totally not the vibe I got when I actually visited the museum for the first time last week. Besides the Rain Room, I felt the older exhibition buildings were definitely showing their age and stuffiness; it wasn’t as dynamic (in my opinion) as, say, The Broad (which I know just opened recently). It leads me to wonder how social media managers such as the one at LACMA balance their organization’s longstanding identity with more recent, more cutting edge technology. I think they’d have to be careful not to go too far in the latter direction or else I think it can potentially create misleading impressions among patrons.

  4. Lindsay says:

    Beautiful post Jill! I whole heartedly agree. The art & history enthusiast in me wishes people were interested in art & culture enough to want to go for the art itself. But we all cannot deny that museums and art galleries are struggling to attract young audiences, especially Millennials. So how do you appeal to them? Though this ad campaign was clever and used Millennial “speak” I think it still avoided the goal of what Millennial marketing should actually do to prompt change. It needs to convince that the art museum experience is low cost, is one you can do with friends, and is interactive.

    Furthermore, I was slightly disturbed that LACMA pulled off a campaign that has been popular among art & history academics for a while – combining pop culture and art/history for laughs and a distraction from studying the serious. Note the following blogs that have been around a while – I loved using these to get my high school students excited about class subjects:

    WTF Art History Tumblr -https://www.tumblr.com/search/wtf%20art%20history
    Art History Snap Tumblr – http://arthistorysnap.tumblr.com
    The European History Mean Girls – http://euromeangirls.tumblr.com

  5. Laquita says:

    This is brilliant and I wish I had thought of it. In this day and age it’s hard to imagine anyone using social media in a non-shallow way. It is interesting anyone would feel the art was being dumbed down. If anything there is more creativity involved in making the juxtaposition between modern times and the periods of these artworks. As far as selling out or cheapening the art, I do not view it that way. By targeting younger patrons, LACMA is helping bring a new audience to museum and perhaps new patrons. Thanks for sharing this! I just added LACMA to my Instagram account.

  6. Jennifer says:

    This was an awesome example of reaching the audience and speaking the language of the platform. It seems that LACMA had a firm understanding of the fact that even if these silly posts get people in ONLY so that they can create their own memes – there is a huge likelihood that they will walk away having learned SOMETHING.