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Artists have always looked for a place to display their work. But in the widely-connected world of social media, expensive galleries to house paintings and a stage within a name-brand theatre aren’t the only ways for artists to show off their endeavors anymore. Free social media platforms that cater to visual imagery such as Instagram, YouTube and Pinterest are quickly becoming an important way for artists to showcase and sell their work. Diving into the theme of social media and the arts industry, this week I spoke to Kendra Ainsworth, a program assistant at the Burlington Arts Centre. So why is it important for artists to showcase their work online anyway?

Well, according to Ainsworth, it’s the much wider audience reach that is appealing, as well as the opportunity to easily collaborate with other artists. She said that Pinterest or Tumblr are two good examples – they allow artists to showcase images. If an artist has images on the web that can be re-blogged to those sites then that’s getting their aesthetic out there – and giving them credit.

Looking at how the industry uses social media from the arts institution’s point of view (those aforementioned theatres, galleries and museums) Ainsworth has seen how the industry has been using social media and has some good ideas on where it should be going.

Right now, according to Ainsworth, the arts industry has largely jumped on the social media bandwagon because it feels like it should, and not necessarily because it’s the best avenue to reach out to others. While the early adoption of social media by arts institutions was kind of slow, she said they “need to take the initiative and really engage others. They’re trying to, and need to, think outside of the box.”

So what does this mean? Ainsworth mentioned an example of the AGO – which has hired their own social media coordinator who runs a blog and Twitter account. The key for art institutions is to not only publicize their own exhibitions, but generate a buzz of publicity for arts in general, according to Ainsworth. If they AGO sees something interesting, they get out it out there to get people in engaged in the arts.

She said that institutions need to figure out how people are choosing to participate in the arts world through social media and why. Ainsworth mentioned that institutions need to look at the 90-9-1 one rule, which shows that out of 100 people who use web 2.0 applications, only one person is creating an original content, nine are commenting and 90 are passive readers. Personally, I think that’s an interesting concept for anyone (whether a blogger, a corporate company, or artistic institution) to apply to their social media strategy.

Ainsworth gave an example of a really innovative program at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. Several years ago, they created a program which spread art through mobile devices. Notable individuals like writers and actors could write their own responses to works of art in their collection. Anyone interested could download the writing in their handheld devices, and it “provided people with another interpretation of art.”

On that note, one example of a great artist who is taking advantage of social media is the YouTube star, HennessyYoungman, who creates critiques of contemporary art in an outlandish style. Ainsworth said his videos have gone relatively viral and “he’s now being invited to speak at art institutions. More traditional institutions are looking for innovators within social media to galvanize what they do.”

The key point of social media execution for the art institutions is in the planning stages of the institution’s own missions. “They have to see their social media strategy fits with their mission. It’s really from the ground up planning, audience research, what social media their target audience uses, how to reach out to them,” Ainsworth said, “they need to do advance research before they implement strategies.”

For further reading about arts and social media, check out Nina Simon’s book “The Participatory Museum,” which focuses on how cultural institutions can become more dynamic and relevant public spaces. Simon is also the author of the Museum 2.0 blog.

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