Mar Dixon is one of the leading social media evangelist in cultural field. She set up several hashtags like #museumselfie and #WhyILoveMuseum, too. But how are these actually effecting the museums or theatres?
How did you invent the ‘hashtag day’?
Culture Themes started about 5 years ago. The UK was just hit with funding cuts and as a visitor I thought I don’t want to go and see sad, depressed people in the museum. Culture Themes started thinking how museums could be positive: one thing what I always try to say is “to be positive, because if you are negative you shouldn’t go online”. We ran with #WhyILoveMuseums and it went trending. Soon people were wondering when and what the next hashtag was going to be. We decided that once a month we’d have a new hashtag: some were more popular than the others, some were more specific for theatre or libraries, but because I have been doing it for so long I have now connections who are always asking: what’s the next one?
I don’t want to plan and to organize but I try to give at least 3 weeks notice. Often museums and the public will contact me via e-mail, FB-message or twitter. They ask what’s going to be the next, ‘cause we will be with our family on the holiday, and we want to share a picture and want to know the hashtag to prepare for the day. That is why my e-mail address is accessible, I want people to contact me. I am traveling a lot, but I am very reachable and I am trying to get back to people.
Do you think that the hashtags are the new kind of event type?
I think it is something that the public is using, and we need to use it but more wisely. Museums are getting better of having exhibition as a hashtag or having a hashtag related to the exhibition. And what is good when the public comes in they see the hashtag then they think: oh, I am allowed to share this, or to do that and that: it is an automatic reaction how our social behavior has changed. When the museum has a poster with a hashtag it means we are allowed to share. Museums have to be ready to use it for non-marketing or PR-staff.
I used to be a lecturer, and before that, in the US, I was a network administrator. I have always been in contact with digital technology, so it wasn’t new for me. My degree is in computer science although I don’t know anything about it. I was always blogging and sharing and when social media came up, it was another way for me to share. I mainly started when I moved to the UK and had my daughter: I started to take her to the museums as there are a lot of museums for free. I considered those museum boring… I just talked to the museum if for example do you have a place where we can park our stroller, and is there a way to do this etc… And when my daughter got older, I started to think about teens in the museums ‘cause I recognized that there is nothing to do for her.
Can you tell me good example about teenager museum projects?
Yes, TeenInMuseums.com. It started when my daughter was 11. I realized that there was a gap in things to do at museums. We are good at providing things for very young kids, maybe up to 8-9 and there is nothing until they are in college. The idea for Teens in Museum was just to create a twitter and a website, and let the people share what they are doing with the young people. And people are writing blogs and sharing. I just share what is going on and people get inspiration from it. In Denmark I think there was a museum closed for two years, they gave over everything (the collection itself was locked up) to teens for a year, to make it sustainable. Young people came up with a campaign for the public and it was wonderful, it was focusing on diamonds: they went to a food shop and they were looking for anything that is diamond shaped, or toothpaste has a diamond on it. And another museum took that concept, when their museum closed they let that the young people take it over. Just to take it over, just to keep the museum live. As the staff doesn’t really have the inclination to research what the people/youngster wants, so why not hand it over to young people or the public. It worked out wonderful. Once a month they wrote a blogpost for the website.
And when you started were you always approached by museums?
No, they contact me now. I was already established on the Culture Themes and it was already popular.
What is CultureThemes actually?
Culture Themes is that monthly theme and website that I do: #AskAcurator, #LoveTheatreDay on one account and there is one more account that is @mardixon. I split in two when I wanted to start to do this teenage thing.
So you created this microblog system that is working for you and you are tweeting.
I add no content to it, ‘cause I actually don’t work in a museum, so I won’t have content. I am always relying on people to share. A lot of times they don’t have the platform to share, or they are sharing on their website, but let’s be honest, who is going to museum websites. This is like a second voice.
How do you see the future of the museums?
I think if they don’t change their attitude they are not gonna survive to 2020. We live in a society where we get bored very quickly ‘cause we have everything at the touch of the fingers. So let’s start to reflect. Some museums are still so snobby they won’t actually take the time to look at a new way to engage and some museums might think ‘we don’t want you in the museum’. (and I’ve had this said to me before.) My retort is ‘Be careful…’ The person you’re talking to could be the link to 2-3 generations. That person might become a mom and grandma and she might not be interested in any of the museums.
This is the way we do things: our behavior has shifted since the iPhones came out and I don’t know if museums have respected that enough, they mock people, who are looking at their phone and not at the art. But what about maybe they are researching? Or they are looking at more information? This is how we live now, our calendars are on there, our family is on there. So if we want to use our phones in a museum, the museum should facilitate that conversation and that behavior, not just with an app. Maybe it’s like they give us close up of things to google, or to use different sources…I worry that we are really going to hurt ourselves, if we don’t start looking at trends. The future plans seem to be to survive but there is no actual plan for survival yet. We have to do something different. Stop and look at your community that surrounds you, look at what you could do to bring local or international people in there. I know in Hungary, social media (Twitter) isn’t that strong, but we can talk to international people who are visiting and wanting to use Twitter just by having an account.
Twitter is not that strong, but Facebook and Instagram are.
It’s the same with Brazil and Russia, but they have recognized it. Because people who are traveling and going to different countries: they tweet. It’s kind of counterproductive to not be there.
It was also interesting at the We are Museum (2015 – Berlin) conference, when the presenter from the Versailles Museum was speaking about how they entered to the Chinese market.
Yes and actually they had to hire someone who was speaking Chinese. They recognized that the public is coming from China and they need to get on to that platform. I don’t think lot of museums do that. People might think that they have a lot of money, but actually they don’t get a lot of government funding. The last what they are doing to get people to buy tickets. I think that later it will be too late for some museum to recognize only then the importance of social media. It is true. Things you can do, that don’t cost a lot of money, maybe sometimes it costs you time here and there. But sometimes the museums are like: “this is not for us”, “this is not for our collection”, but that is for everybody. People who are working in the museums often forget that they are the public. Like did they ever ask themselves ‘could your mom read that?’ No? Then neither can I. Cause they speak a different language, and they don’t understand that the public doesn’t speak that language. They are sometimes speaking at such a level that makes us feel stupid. We want more emotion not only just facts and figures.
What is the most funniest question when it was the #AskACurator?
Usually it is like: “how did you became a curator?”, “how do you do this or that?” but there is: “what happens when lights go out at night?” because of the movie ‘Museums at Night’: people want that to be true.
The questions are wonderful. We have two schools, one is in the US, every year they have a day at the school that they ask questions to curators. And they ask questions from different countries and different types of museums. The teacher documents it and shares it. We had a couple of schools, primary schools, who stopped one day for this, just for the #AskACurator. And when the public starts to see that kids are there, they change: they are very sarcastic and funny on Twitter, so questions are asked in a cheeky way. But once they find that kids are there, they scale it down and it got to be normal again. That is what I like: there is a community who I don’t always know, but they recognize kids and they chill out. And it brings new people in the show…
It would be interesting to do this in Hungary!
#AskACurator day is for everybody. And it uses your own language, Russia uses its own language. We English speaking community just translate it. It is a great thing because museums don’t get specific questions, they go to timeline and they say I’m going to answer that one. But you don’t know who is asking the question, and maybe next time they are going to recommend you only because you answered the question.
What about #LoveTheatreDay?
This started last year. As September is always the time for #AskACurator, The Guardian (newspaper) was to run a piece about it. I was waiting for it, but they didn’t publish it. I asked them why and they responded that they just have something about funding cuts in theatres, they cannot publish something about how museums go well and then the very next day run a piece on cuts in theatres. I agreed and then finished the call with ‘Ok, let’s run a #LoveTheatreDay!’. Matt Caines from The Guardian thought it was a great idea. I then contacted a friend at Twitter UK who agreed to partner with us.
Being honest, we truly thought it was going to be for and about UK theatres. What we did for the theatres provided them three subhashtags. 1. #backstage, 2. #askatheatre 3. #showtime. Throughout the day they got three subhashtags and they could get involved in it. If a theatre had pantomime or having a show for Christmas they could do all 3. But if a theatre that was closed until January they could still get involved.
Then we asked theatres to sign up. We had a couple of hundred, but later so many took part that we are now expecting to be world trending. We just thought that we are going to run this again. So on November 18 it is happening. We have a sign up form and if you go to the Culture Themes you can see more. The public got involved, and I’d like to emphasize that the amateurs’ dramatic groups got in too, which is important as they mean a lot in a community. Amateur dramatic groups don’t make money, but the passion and love for that, is what is important.
How did you publish and promote #LoveTheatreDay? Did you just publish on your Twitter and on Culture Themes?
Yes, and because I partnered up with The Guardian, they wrote about this and then Twitter UK was also supporting us. Most of the things what I do are on CultureThemes, if someone publishes an article for me it is not a paid PR. Like I said in my talk with #MuseumSocks I don’t ask them to show their socks, but they do it and the hashtags blossom. But the museums, were encouraging them and even the curators. And it turned into a lovely story. But the important thing is that people were using hashtags and they saw the museum as a fun thing not as a stiff. They know they don’t have to have an academic degree to go in to the museum, they can go in and show their socks (or take a #MuseumSelfie). So it is about letting the public lead the conversation. I am trying to facilitate this conversation and I got to listen what the public say. And you as a museum should be quiet and listen to the public. And when the public come in, see what they are doing, how are they reacting and then take the license and do something about that.
How do you see the future of performing arts?
Performing art is… if you go back in history there were these 8-9 hour long performances, but you could have gone out and come back during the performance. But I think theatre and people who are into acting aren’t going to let it die. There is a sort of difference with museums there. Because it is actually public led, and we should get people in the museums ‘cause other way it is going to die. We are always saying that the theatres and museums are elitist and what the theaters have is the cost of the ticket but the cost of the production is also high. The theaters have a risk of closing, because they are competing with movies, and the cost of that is so much, plus we are not going to the theatre as we used too. I don’t know sometimes how to behave, when to clap in theatre. There is a protocol that is there.
There is also in museum?
But theaters do have that fun atmosphere. I went to see a play at the Shakespeare Globe that was fun for me because you are allowed to go out and come back in during the production. I think that the public that gets involved in amateur dramatic act in the theatre world absolutely love it. I think that is going to keep them strong, but I don’t know how many buildings are going to survive. And that is going to be the hard thing.
I see it otherwise. For me museum are institutions that started to think forward…
Yes many theatre professionals are contacting me with the question “what should I do, I am not on twitter, I am not on Facebook”, and I tell them: get on Twitter and get on Facebook. How are people contacting you? “Via our website”. But no one is going to your website anymore. But if I can tweet or Facebook somebody that is good.