Mart Museum of Rovereto: When The Museum Plans Its Website, Social and Strategy

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Introducing the Mart is very simple, if only because everyone knows it (is it really necessary to say that is the Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art of Trento and Rovereto?) and associates it with a ‘positive’ idea of museum.

The Institution was formed in two stages, first in 1987 and again in 2002, in its new venue in Rovereto designed by Mario Botta. On the Museum’s web-site, in the section dedicated to its vision, Cristiana Collu – the Mart Director – cites David Thorp and his definition of ‘museum’:

“I expect and art institution of the 21st century to be flexible, sincere, democratic, multicultural, contradictory and bold. Splendid when it is rich, heroic when it has no money. It must have its head in the clouds, function in an exemplary manner, have team spirit, its feet on the ground and a heart as big as may be. I expect it to love artists, take care of the public, tolerate smoke and remain open until late.”

A high notion of the museum, and one that the Mart is doing its best to accomplish. Starting from its homepage, the Mart web-site clearly indicates  – through a variety of sections – its attitude: accessibility, clarity of information, connection with the tourism in its territory, opening to business, and attention to everyone (just think that there is a braille version of their brochures, and they organize visits for the deaf and tactile experiences for the blind).

Smoke permission aside (see Thorp’s quotation),  the Mart is proving capable of taking care of its public, whom – it must be noted – is allowed to take photos inside the Museum’s space, taking advantage of the free wi-fi and the Museum’s invite to share everything on-line.

The Mart is social in all respects, with its own Youtube channel, a Facebook page followed by 52,000 people, a Twitter account with 14,000 followers and more, including profiles on Google+, LinkedIn, Pinterest and Flickr. Moreover, on the occasion of special projects – such as The Food Project – the Museum proved to be able of going beyond and blending the various platforms into an ideal mix of exchange and content co-creation for its public.

There’s only one question that comes to my mind now: how do they do it? We asked it to Luca Melchionna, Digital Engagement Manager at the Mart, and here’s what he told us. We hope, as usual, that you’ll find his answers useful, so enjoy the reading and #svegliamuseo!

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1. Why  Should a Museum Pay Attention to Its Website?

F. The new Mart website, launched around a year ago, has been conceived as “a fundamental communication and promotion tool, continually updated” (Report 2012). The website is great – it looks like a Pinterest board and you pay a lot of attention to graphic and usability. I’m certain it must have entailed an important investment of money and of museum identity. On the contrary, the majority of Italian museums still doesn’t have its own website,  or it is using websites so obsolete (with antiquate designs and scarce information) that they could be in a museum themselves.

Do you personally think that investing on the website would repay a museum in terms of visibility, visits, faithful users and public image? What are the reasons behind your choice to follow this path? Would you suggest it to other museums?

L. I must start by saying that a museum website is as real as an exhibition, a convention, a didactic workshop, an artist’s house. It does not only have the same  level of reality but it also occupies the same space (not a physical, but an experience space, a priority for whoever is interested in knowledge). If we accept this precondition, then we must expect the same return on investment from a website as from an exhibition, or the quality of the texts in a catalogue. The work of writing a scholarly essay requires different skills from the ones necessary to develop a website but that doesn’t mean that the second project shouldn’t have  the same goals as the first– that is, the fulfillment of the museum mission and its vision.

Furthermore, even if the web activities require different skills from those expected from other museum professionals, that doesn’t mean they deserve  lower budgets, or to be managed  by employees with less responsibility  and dignity than their colleagues.

The new editorial project for the Mart website was committed to Susanna Legrenzi, who has worked with all the museum workers, while the graphic-design was curated by Maurizio Maselli/Art Work Web. The goal has been to develop our mission and communication plans underlining some key points: user experience, ‘tablet responsive’, simplification of the navigation tree, sustainability of editorial routine. I suggest investing in these things now because they are going to be much more expensive in ten years, when parts of your institution might be put under the administration of an external commissioner.

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2. Be Open to  Foreigners? “Not Doing So Is a Madness”

F. On the same subject (your website): you are officially the first Italian museum “Chinese friendly” and only last December you won an official reward from the Italy China Friendly Association. This choice shows your foresight in attracting tourists from the East, a strong, emerging (if not emerged already) economic power. The Mart website is entirely translated in English, and some contents can even be found in German and Chinese – while a lot of Italian museums  continue to speak only Italian. In your opinion,  how important is it nowadays to be open to foreigners – off- and on-line – for Italian museums?

L. We are actually re-thinking the German translation. Until a short time ago we used to translate everything. Now we are following a more sustainable model based on: whole English translation (although we are not there yet!), German translation of the main contents and a key page with general information in Chinese and – perhaps – other languages in the future.

On our social networks we use Italian and English as needed. When we consider that some content might allow us to gain new public  – if correctly described and tagged – we also use  other languages  (e.g., a few Chinese words). It’s incredible how much value just a bit of investment in this direction can generate. Even without investing in training, should we have some nice images of our heritage to share on the web, we can use Google Translate to write the word ‘#Italia’ and have it translated in Chinese, Russian or Korean. It only takes  five minutes. Not doing so is a madness.

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3. Social Networking Must Be a Choice

F. Let’s talk about social networks. The results that you are obtaining on social platforms are impressive and you are one of the best examples of social communication in Italy. A lot of museums think they don’t have the necessary economic resources or staff for a suitable social network management, often considered as subsidiary and not truly useful to the museum.

How many employees manage your social platforms? Are they professionals or – quoting your bio on Twitter – every museum employees gives  his/her own contribution?

L. We didn’t have any budget or workers on social networks before last year, when there has been a turnover in the Museum Direction – nonetheless, we have been working with them since 2007. Any goal in the museum mission can be reached if you truly want to – and money follows the ideas. Italian museums  – in other fields – are  full of great examples of  profs reaching impossible goals even if completely lacking any economic or human resource. If no results are coming in this sector it probably depends on specific choices. They might not be explicit choices, but they remain such – choices.

The Mart has a web team of 9 people coming from all departments and contributing in various ways to putting online the contents produced by the museum. We tried to avoid creating a separation between the Institution and its digital communication. Why go fast on the web if inside the museum you are stuck with unproductive practices?

Our web people post  works of art from our collection on Facebook, create blogs on Tumblr regarding the new archive and library acquisitions, show the work of our Education department on Pinterest, and they share live press conferences as well as other essential moments from our calendar of activities.  They also shoot, edit and upload videos on YouTube whit interviews to artists, curators and visitors, together with videos documenting  the installation of exhibitions.

We have a yearly editorial plan which doesn’t contemplate precisely scheduled themes but allows the professionals in our web team to make their job visible. For example, an operator in our Collection department is independently developing a board on Pinterest about Food design, the theme of an exhibition in 2013. His goal is to engage the community of enthusiasts on this subject, searching and pinning images by other users next to the ones taken from the exhibition.

From a marketing  point of view, the strategy is to engage new public, pick some influential people and turn them into  promoters for our Museum by offering them the chance to co-curate our contents. But these are  ‘internal affairs’. What does really count is that everyone working here finds it normal – pleasant, rather – to showcase his/her own work on the web, in his/her own way but with the Museum mission and guidelines always in mind.

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4. The Future Is Now

F. One of the ‘hot topics’ at the last Museum Computer Network Conference have been things that sound futuristic in Italy, such as open data, crowdsourcing, in-gallery interactive and augmented reality, as well as mobile technologies, the growing trend of BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) and all the other emerging technologies. What are the plans of the Mart for 2014? Have you been considering already some of these themes?

L. We are going through some study on our public to understand if we will be able to sustain crowdsourcing projects. We will undertake them only if our public shows an interest. We are preparing to post contents about exhibitions on open source platforms made responsive for tablets and smarthphones. We will have with us a Wikipedian in Residence for six months to help making available on-line  that part of our contents which we are not able to post just now (e.g., biographies of local artists). We are in touch with the Open Street Map Community to develop a map of our territory together with them and other museums in Trentino Alto Adige (any contribution is more than welcome).

We also keep our eyes open on many things that are beyond our reach but that are useful nonetheless to understand what is set for the future: what Neil Stimler is doing at the Met with the Google Glasses – for example – or all the technologies used in-gallery to help visualize the collection  at the Cleveland Museum of Art.

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Translation by @fedi_reds /@RoryInLA