A Space for Contemplation in the Instagram Age?

Today’s guest blog post is written by Jordan Simmons, Senior Account Executive, PatronManager. 

For several years now, every arts conference I have attended has held some sort of conversation on whether (and how) to integrate social media/mobile technology into performances and attendance. The consensus on the topic seems to be to “meet patrons where they are,” by providing specific social media-friendly opportunities for people to interact with. It makes a lot of sense in a way — organizations are now creating cool, new experiences that draw people in, and in turn, those people are sharing their experiences on their social networks, encouraging even more people to attend.

Prime examples of this kind of social media practice include companies such as Museum Hack, an irreverent “guerrilla” museum tour company that encourages live tweeting and photography during their tours. I’ve also heard of theatres putting on special “social media nights,” allowing (and encouraging) people to come and live-tweet performances. There is a new trend in traveling exhibitions as well, which in some ways harken back to Barnum’s American Museum; these types of exhibits are semi-educational, completely entertaining, and blur the line between art and selfie backdrops.

Organizations are doing their best to keep up with the demands and expectations of patrons in the mobile age, but at least some segment of arts professionals and patrons seem to be thinking about what is lost in all of the conversation and excitement. Given this backdrop, I found it interesting when I came across this article in the Washington Post regarding a newly-expanded museum in Maryland called Glenstone.

Glenstone is a contemporary art museum founded by wealthy collectors Emily and Mitch Rales, that aims to reimagine how visitors interact with art in the modern age: cellphones are not allowed in the galleries. According to the article:

It is self-consciously a museum built in the spirit of the nascent “slow art” movement, which is a reaction to larger forces afoot in the art market, democratic culture and the age of Instagrammable art. Emily Rales anticipates that Glenstone will accommodate about 400 people a day without compromising the contemplative sense of escape from the world that is fundamental to the founders’ vision.

This is staggering considering other museums such as the Hirshhorn bring in an average 2,500 visitors a day, or even bigger yet, the Metropolitan Museum’s three locations, which average an incredible 20,000 visitors a day.

The notion of creating a space where visitors can have a quieter, more personal experience with art is certainly a worthy one. I think most regular museum-goers have had a moment where they wished for “more quiet” when viewing art. You even see some museums recognizing this trend and experimenting with expanded hours for certain members or donors — like an “Adult Swim” for art — albeit at a premium. These member hours serve a dual purpose for museums; they allow those who want to see art privately to gain access to that privilege, and also presumably in return, that experience will deepen the member’s relationship to the museum and encourage them to renew or donate at a higher level.

It will be interesting to see how the limited-visitor concept evolves over time at Glenstone. Ironically, limiting visitors may also serve to create a sense of scarcity, which we know drives interest and traffic.

As the mobile age takes firm root, institutions must grapple with opposing forces — how to both democratize art and provide quiet spaces for reflection, keeping admission numbers high while allowing for individual contemplation. Glenstone, with its enviable financial independence due to the wealth of its founders and patrons, may serve as an interesting experiment in guiding visitors to a particular experience of art that is in somewhat short supply nowadays. The way the museum adapts over time to its audience will tell us a lot about how people in the 21st Century want to interact with art.

More on the Rales and Glenstone can be found in this article and on the museum’s website.

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