The Uffizi was one of the first museums in Europe, together with the Prado in Madrid, to open on 28 April 2020 a channel on TikTok (@uffizigalleries). This social network was used with the intention of hosting very short videos devoted to ballets, comedy and tutorials, with the aim of attracting an increasingly younger and larger audience, thereby transforming the museum into a living institution, geared towards the public of the future rather than towards contemplation of the past.
Our aim is to capture the attention and curiosity, which are key elements to starting a long-lasting relationship of trust with the public.
As Ilde Forgione, head of the TikTok creative team at the Uffizi, explains, “the changing pace of communication has not only affected this museum in Florence, but has also been introduced by other international museums, such as the Metropolitan Museum of Art (MET) in New York, the Van Gogh Museum and Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, and has also been followed by some smaller museums, such as the National Archaeological Museum (MArTa) in Taranto.
In fact, museums in Vienna – including the Leopold Museum and the Albertina – have opened accounts on OnlyFans in protest against the censorship of nudes applied by other social networks.”
Building a relationship of trust with the public
Ilde Forgione has been included by The Art Newspaper publication among the best social media managers in the world for the management of museum accounts during the pandemic, together with Adam Koszary of the Royal Academy of Arts, Claire Lanier of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and Boudewien Chalmers Hoynck van Papendrecht of the Van Gogh Museum. These professionals – who, incidentally, don’t come from the world of communication but from a variety of backgrounds (Forgione is a legal expert at the University of Pisa) – have begun to combine traditional means of communication with more innovative means of communication to involve followers in a way which presents the museum as a reality resembling their daily lives, a place (physical and virtual) where they can enjoy spending their leisure time.
“We don’t adopt a traditionally ‘educational’ approach to the works, the authors or the reference period: the guides and schools are already there to perform this function. Our aim is to capture the attention and curiosity, which are key elements to starting a long-lasting relationship of trust with the public.”
An innovative strategy adopted around the world
Here are some examples. The Met launched a competition inviting people to reproduce the museum’s works at home, which saw a very high level of participation and unleashed people’s creativity, giving rise to surprising results. “This experience of the Met shows that the level of commitment increases when people are involved, inviting them to interpret art from a personal perspective, thereby making it something familiar.”
Other museums have played around with some classics from the social networks, such as cats, creating a fun and irreverent mix, but at the same time inviting you to take another look and pay attention to a particular work. “The Van Gogh Museum has done a brilliant job with a post on Caturday where a great deal of graphic work is combined with a brilliant idea: having fun with cats and Van Gogh together.”
And it’s not only museums that have moved in this direction. “It is not uncommon, in fact, to find corps de ballet and classical dancers on TikTok performing dance steps, once again, combining high- and lowbrow culture, going behind the scenes, showing the effects, the mistakes, the empathy between the dancers, which brings classical dance closer to “ordinary” people and to an audience which does not actually attend opera houses.”
Also in their case – continues Ilde Forgione – this new approach has profoundly affected the relationship between individuals and the institutions, acting as a conduit for public policies, thereby promoting involvement and empathy towards the activity of public subjects (public engagement) since the sharing of content involves a chain reaction (of shared experiences) and an increase in interest in the institution, which probably turns into an increase in the number of visitors and in revenues, and allows the level of appreciation to be shown to it that is desirable.
Uffizi highlight: upsurge of interest in Petrarch’s courtship of Laura
In the case of the Uffizi in Florence, “making culture more popular and closer to ordinary people is a priority goal for museums, encouraging a move towards the democratisation of culture, in keeping with the provisions of Article 9 of our Constitution. This is one of the reasons why culture can also live on TikTok,” Ilde Forgione emphasises.
Bringing art closer to a younger audience had also been the aim of collaborations with highly followed celebrities, as shown by the Uffizi with Chiara Ferragni, the Louvre with Beyoncé and the Egyptian Museum of Turin with Mahmood. “And the results weren’t long in coming, both in terms of increasing followers on social media and of the appreciation shown in the comments about the initiatives undertaken, and of the number of admissions to the museum.” In the case of the Uffizi, for example, ticket sales have shown, following the cooperation with influencers and creators, a significant increase in admissions in the 19-25 age group (which benefits from a specially reduced ticket): from 6% in 2019 to 14.3% in 2020, marking an increase of 134.4%.
The video in which the Three Graces by Francesco Morandini, known as Poppi, dance to the hit “Coincidance” (by Handsome Dancer), has received about 260,000 views.
Apollo and the muses of Baldassarre Peruzzi also found themselves dancing to the tune of “Better” by Valentino Khan & Wuki. The video showing Petrarch, painted by Andrea del Castagno, attempting to attract the attention of his divine Laura, portrayed by Pietro Saltini has received more than 400,000 views.
The results weren’t long in coming: when the Uffizi opened its doors again on 21 January 2021, half of the visitors were under the age of 25 and, even nowadays, the number of visitors to the Gallery under 25 accounts for more than a third of the total (34.6%).
The communication strategy appears very simple, only on the surface: “in reality, to interpret the paintings and statues from a ‘pop’ perspective,” says Ilde Forgione, “you need to have an in-depth knowledge of myths, art and history. But also of the present.” In her work, Ilde smartly combines high- and lowbrow culture in a fun way, taking inspiration from literature, law, films and many cartoons, in particular Robin Hood (as shown in the video above), The Emperor’s New Groove, Family Guy, Shrek and Ice Age. Several working days are also required to make 15-second videos. “Sometimes ideas crop up at random, other times they have a long conception period. In some cases, we start from the desire to enhance a specific work; in others it is a piece of music, the dialogue from a film or a trend that is viral at that moment, which is used to stimulate the imagination. It is about always keeping an ear out for what is going on in the world, and this also applies to the demands for inclusion and civil rights.”
Search for connections
The pandemic has been instrumental in accelerating change. In fact, as can be seen from the study “Digital communication from Museums during the time of COVID-19” promoted by ICOM – International Council of Museums – in Italy, social channels (mainly Facebook) were previously used almost exclusively to post reminders of special dates for visits, events, anniversaries, conferences. While they have been closed to the public, the collections have started competing with each other in terms of providing insights (generic and/or thematic), fun facts, special features, quizzes, etc. This new trend suggests that storytelling, immersiveness, emotional evocation, playful participation and interactivity will actually be the tools used to guide and determine the creation of the new “museums of the future“.
Impact on fundraising
“Social” commitment is not a matter of “vanity”, but also has direct repercussions on the fundraising activities of cultural institutions. As highlighted by Artribune, with the support of its “Become a patron” campaign, the Louvre has, for instance, financed the restoration of the Winged Victory of Samothrace thanks to 6,700 donors who paid the million euros needed to reach the necessary sum, while another 4,700 made it possible to purchase the Teschen Table also, in this case, contributing to the EUR 12.5 million paid to the seller. Both of these campaigns have had a fundamental driving force from the social networks, especially on Facebook.