I was fortunate enough to be able to visit the I, Augustus (Moi, Auguste) exhibition last week at the Grand Palais in Paris, less than a month before the exhibition draws to a close. The organisers have managed to bring together a good collection of items, some reflecting Augustus himself, the majority reflecting the Roman World of the time.
For the current exhibition it is clear that the organisers thought about integrating the presentation of the objects with additional information through an app. Another possible integration was that of our personal experience of the exhibition and the collective experience of it, via the hashtag #MoiAuguste across different platforms of social media. Within the exhibition space at the Clemenceau wing of the Grand Palais, screens displays the Instagram and Twitter feed of the hashtag.
I am aware that the British Museum has invested much energy in promoting a twitter environment for its museum exhibitions, especially the blockbuster exhibitions such as the Life and Death in Pompeii and Herculaneum and the Vikings: Life and Legend exhibitions. It is then often possible that other social media users can see the interactions by searching the hashtag on their social media platform, although I have not been aware of the use of screens to display the relevant social media posts before.
What I did notice is that, in the case of the Moi, Auguste exhibition, the tweets on display stretches back over a week (It displays around 8 tweets). I am unsure if a member of staff controls what tweets filters through but, in any case, this shows a lack of interaction through the social media platforms.
Is it a case of publicity that led to low social media interaction? The display screens and displays promoting social media is present on entry and throughout the exhibition. That seems adequate enough. Short of the staff promoting it to each visitor, the exhibition could not do more to promote the use of social media in relation to the exhibition. Furthermore, the exhibition did not seem to benefit from any city-wide poster campaigns that the British Museum exhibitions enjoyed. Since the hashtag link was placed on every poster promoting the Pompeii and Herculaneum and Viking exhibitions, the public awareness of the possibilities of enjoying the exhibition through social media will be greater.
It is also important to note that the Moi, Auguste exhibition is not at the scale of the Pompeii and Herculaneum and Viking exhibitions. Though the collection of objects is unique, on my visit on a Wednesday afternoon there were a handful of visitors in each room and it was not at all congested. If fewer people visit, then fewer people will interact; even then not all visitors would interact through social media.
Personally, the fact that I was not able to access the free Wi-Fi at the Grand Palais also did not help my use of social media within the exhibition hall. If this is the fault of the Wi-Fi provision (and, of course, it could simply be my phone malfunctioning), then there needs to be a way of ensuring that the internet coverage would facilitate such sharing – especially for us foreign visitors on roaming.
Once the points above is covered, is there any possibility of encouraging social media users to use it while they are enjoying the exhibition? There’s always a possibility of having a best tweet, photo or post of the day, week or month. The public display of someone’s social media post is also rather gratifying for the person who posted it. Perhaps there can be more structure – a list of questions asking visitors to react to the objects and respond via a linked hashtag. Perhaps this can even be done through an app, with a moderator collating it to then re-post it on the social media platforms. I am sure there are many more possibilities I have not considered here.
Fundamentally, exhibition organisers should also consider why there should be an integration of social media into an exhibition – and perhaps this might be compounded with the greater question of why we have exhibitions. If the purpose is to educate, then does a visitor posting photo of him or her next to an exhibit aid that? If it is for publicity, then is it not a problem if the social media posts are only seen by the visitors in the halls and some keen followers of the exhibition following on social media? And if it is for feedback, then is the format of social media best suited for that?
It is good to see the Grand Palais and other such exhibitors experimenting with social media within the exhibition, but it also seem to be the case that an integrated experience of an exhibition – through social media and through the physical interaction with the exhibition – seem far from mature. The possibilities of relating or being drawn to the exhibition from beyond the hall also seem limited. Perhaps many will be contented with social media providing practical support for visitors (when does the museum open? What is the price?) But surely we, not so much as Classicists but as curious individuals and the presenters of knowledge, can aim for better.