Using Social Media and the Web to Engage Audiences with Permanent Collections

Lightning Talk
Caitlin Martin, USA

How can a presenting arts organization without changing exhibitions or installations continue to engage audiences with their permanent collections?

In a fast-paced and visually-rich presentation, I will discuss three initiatives that the Association for Public Art has spearheaded by using technology to engage audiences with an important outdoor sculpture collection that parallels the history of American sculpture.

The Association for Public Art (aPA, formerly the Fairmount Park Art Association) is the nation’s first private, nonprofit public art organization. Founded in 1872, the aPA commissions, preserves, promotes and interprets public art in Philadelphia. Through a series of social media and experiential marketing campaigns, the aPA has been engaging diverse audiences in conversation with Philadelphia’s preeminent collection of outdoor sculpture.

Our primary approach to reintroduce audiences to our historic collection is through our award winning Museum Without Walls: AUDIO™ program that features 50 sculptures at 35 outdoor locations. Each captivating audio is told by a variety of people from all walks of life who are connected to the sculpture by knowledge, experience or affiliation. In the summer of 2013, we will be launching the second phase of this interpretive program, adding 30 new locations.

To further engage people on the street we hosted “Site Seeing,” a series of four events promoted through social media and corresponding contests. A “Tango Dance Party” around a public fountain reenacted a long forgotten event that occurred weekly in the 1920’s. A series of “Public Art Bike Tours,” with a corresponding outdoor sculpture bike map, attracted new audiences. A “Public Art Pathway” made of giant balloons mimicked a google-map, directing visitors to volunteers ready to share information. A nighttime “Sculpture Flashlight Mob” illuminated the abstract sculpture Iroquois with a symphony of flashlights. We also hired 3 young videographers to create short videos that were shared on YouTube and Vimeo.

Finally, aPA commissioned artist Rafael Lozano-Hemmer who presented the world premier of Open Air, a spectacular interactive light experience directed by participants’ voices and GPS locations, illuminating the night sky from Philadelphia’s historic Benjamin Franklin Parkway. Using a free mobile app or the project website (, participants were invited to submit messages. In response, 24 powerful robotic searchlights created unique, dynamic light formations in the sky. Over 25 nights, nearly 63,000 people visited from 92 countries, and close to 6,000 messages were recorded in over 20 languages. Utilizing technology to promote the project, we held a Tweet Up, created an “outdoor living room” on the Parkway that encouraged social communications, and sponsored a photo contest using Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

The result of these proactive initiatives has been an increase in audience engagement both online and offline. We have received widespread local, national, and international press, and have increased in our audience’s awareness of our mission and the city’s spectacular collection of public art.