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An Instagram Community building project for the The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Story by Dave Krugman February 20th, 2014

What is #emptymet?

The Metropolitan Museum of Art houses one of the most incredible collections of art in the world. On my visits to New York City, before I moved here permanently, I would always make sure to visit the Met and walk it’s rich halls, absorbing all the inspiration I could before heading back home. When I moved here 2 years ago, one of the first things I did was visit the Museum. But this time, something was different. Technological advances in mobile devices had ushered in a Golden Age of photography. There was now a thriving community of visually minded people documenting their world experience through their camera phones. Social media gave everyone a gallery to hang their work, a place to share and interact, to teach and to learn photography. Looking around the hallowed halls of this incredible institution, I couldn’t help but notice how many people were looking at their phones. But they weren’t bored, restless, or looking for a distraction. They were engaged, enthusiastic, inspired to create. These people were capturing the incredible experience of visiting the Met, creating their own art, and the people who follow them on social media platforms like Facebook and Instagram could engage with the Museum vicariously.


Why Instagram?

There is a strength in simplicity, and Instagram recognizes that. The platform is sparse, limited, and highly focused on imagery. Limitations can be helpful for artists, and the Instagram community has shown this to be true. Some of the best photographs in the world are now taken with smartphones, gracing the cover and pages of Time Magazine and the front page of the New York Times. Instagram is the fiber that holds this new generation of artists together. I decided to use Instagram as a way to bring people from all over the world into the Museum, even if they couldn’t be there physically. The Museum would benefit from the incredibly wide exposure that top Instagrammer’s can provide, and the photographers would benefit from unprecedented access to the Museum during closed hours. It was a win-win situation.


The project

I reached out to some of my favorite mobile photographers who have large followings, anywhere from 30,000 to over 1,000,000 per photographer. We put a team together and brought them in on a Monday, when the Museum was closed to the public. We had 2 hours to wander the empty halls, composing our shots and capturing the uninterrupted beauty of the Museum. In exchange for the private access, I had the photographers direct their followers to the Museum’s page, where they could decide to follow the Museum as well. Raising awareness that the Museum had a profile was a big part of our efforts. We wanted to build a community for patrons to engage with. We repeated the same process multiple times throughout the past two years. When the project began they were just shy of 4,000 followers, as of this writing they have 183,000. The Museum won the Webby Award for best Arts and Culture Social Marketing, and the New York Times featured the project on the front page of the Arts section.


An ongoing effort

The first tour was an incredible success and I’m blown away by some of the work that the artists produced. By providing a creative haven for these artists, the Met won their favor and in turn the favor of their fans. Brands that support the arts benefit from their efforts by building positive associations with their name. We continue to bring people in for private tours. See some of my favorite work from the project on my blog.


Participants so far

The Instagrammers who have been involved: @chrisozer, @jaredchambers, @newyorkcity, @jacobsantiago, @jnsilva, @timkau_nyc, @_tamarapeterson, @astrodub, @swerved, @rubenhughes, @samhorine, @_gabrielflores, @joshua_allen_harris, @ilitchpeters, @alice_gao, @cacahuete_sr, @13thwitness, @kevin_ornelas, @kat_in_nyc.


Harness the social power of your community

With over 150 Million users, Instagram has proven itself to be tapped into the collective consciousness. If you are a brand or an individual who is in the public spotlight, you are a part of the conversation that happens here. Find ways to cultivate the community that surrounds you and you will be better equipped to control how your brand is perceived amongst the general public. You can read about my other community building projects on my website.

Footnote: All photos taken with a Nikon D800. A massive thanks to @metmuseum and everyone who participated with this project
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 5th Avenue, New York, NY, United States