One of the first lessons a child learns in school is how to share – in other words, how to spread around good things so that they might reach other people who would enjoy them. This elementary lesson has been quite resonant in my life lately, as much of my most recent Communications work has concerned crafting plans to reach out to the local community in order to convey information about events and resources at Dumbarton Oaks. One of my current projects involves publicizing the extension of hours that the Dumbarton Oaks Museum is open to the public. Our lovely Museum, which you can learn more about here, will now be welcoming visitors Tuesdays through Sundays between Noon and 6 PM.
Finding A Rare Medium
In outreach work such as this, it is important to use media innovatively to attract and engage the general public. Some strategies that can accomplish this publicity feat are suggested in a recent New York Times article entitled “Sharing Cultural Jewels.” The piece explains how a prominent freelance photographer employed visual media to effectively promote the Metropolitan Museum of Art and other prestigious New York City cultural institutions. The after-hours romps through moonlit museums which he documented on Instagram provide a glimpse into the “life” of seemingly inanimate structures and exhibits.
Such social media campaigns share the sense of mystery encountered in the exploration of curated space in addition to revealing underlying narratives. Museums such as ours and the institutions in New York do indeed tell stories tangibly, but they also present a bit of a puzzle for the public. Both exhibit viewing and outreach work require the piecing together of related bits of salient information in order to produce a cohesive mental image. Like any game of skill, tackling these brainteasers requires a good strategy. Just as preliminarily peeking at the back of a puzzle box to see the whole picture aids my assembly, defining objectives before writing out a communications plan allows me to efficiently develop events and sort through contact information with specific goals in mind.
Solving the Publicity Puzzle
Puzzlingly enough, museums have more in common with communications work than the organizational “pieces” that they share. Like a museum, an outreach document is a meaningful and strategically designed form of display. Meanwhile museums themselves act as conduits of communication, for their exhibits are able to reconstruct the narratives of fallen empires. Social media techniques expand the range of this communication in the same manner that the printing press magnified the accessibility of the written word. This comparison illustrates why it is so beneficial that Dumbarton Oaks has a museum to complement its research libraries: material objects bring life to words and images in order to share stories from the past. When I was a child, I not only learned how to share but also received an introduction to classical civilizations from some short but captivating books. Presented as Greco-Roman newspapers, these volumes illuminated ancient lifestyles with accounts of everything from wars to worship conveyed through first-person story snippets.
Similar storytelling methods can facilitate sharing in our newsletters and promotional campaigns. Through advertising exhibits and events, I hope to better learn how to effectively share stories and information with insight and ingenuity. Of course my creativity must be a bit tempered, as the goal of this advertising is not to manipulate perceptions but to lead people towards the truth. Various newsletter features, each of which showcases one of the many interrelated aspects of scholarship occurring here, will permit people to systematically piece together an authentic picture of Dumbarton Oaks. Like the ancient “newspapers” of my childhood, the pieces I create will allow people to be introduced to the past by sharing in stories firsthand. I am so glad that my internship enables me to share such material, as this news is far too enjoyable to keep to myself!