Postmortem of Month at the Museum & Social Media, Not Kate McGroarty

November 23, 2010 · Print This Article

Kate_Rotunda

Image courtesy of J.B. Spector, Museum of Science and Industry

Kate has done her 30 days, she has her $10,000 and I am sure a stack of non-disclosure agreements signed. The experiment is over and so begins the postmortem. The irony is it is almost pointless doing a review of the job that Kate McGroarty did over the last 30 days (much to her joy I am sure) since she did an affable job at saying nothing. That’s the place to start with this review for me, in that regardless if the Directors of the Museum of Science and Industry didn’t allow her to be open, she wisely decided there was little to be gained from being objective and human or worse there is really nothing to be said about the Museum that isn’t sterile and devoid of saccharin but regardless there was little said and even less done over 30 days.

How do you measure success in a project like this?

Is it success in the social media arena? If so it was an abject failure since the twitter feed had at most 1,800 followers (less then 300 more then @badatsports and no one works that as a full time job) & 4,126 fans on Facebook (which is pumped by the fact that they initially linked the like button on the site and not the actual Facebook page) but if I was the Director I wouldn’t measure it by social media since that is only a single and rather small apple in the larger marketing & PR bushel.

Is it press coverage? Well that was stilted in the bigining with the media’s interest in the human story of 1 person trapped in a mine museum which quickly dried up and the press didn’t know how to grab onto the story by and large. Kate was a mascot, she put a ribbon on everything that didn’t have one and cut the ones that did, cheered for the home team and had a free smile for anyone that wanted one. She was in essence the Ronald McDonald clown in a orange countdown shirt and she did it well from day 1 to 30. The problem is from a press angle there is no story to tell.

Success can be measured by ticket sales? That may be true and as I am sure I will never know the performance of foot traffic over the course of that month in comparison to the previous 30 days or same time last year but if that is so then she was part human oddity exhibit/part greeter.

I can go on but this turned out better then I expected since I was afraid if they didn’t get the perfect marketing spokesperson and that live mic was handed to them you would have a mixture of silence from editorial indecision and exasperation as the thirty days came to a close. Not constantly but eventually it would slip out. They avoided that by getting the perfect person for the role, someone who was willing to take what they gave her, put a fun spin on it and make two posts and four tweets a day about it (300 in total but many are replies to others). Also I don’t know what the travel and official work schedule was like for Kate but the volume of posting, tweeting and documentation seemed a bit (honestly considerably) low for someone locked in a building 24×7. The average blogger does 2-3x as much if its a full time gig and many even more then that.

I am not a negative person and more so hate reviews or critics that tear down and don’t build or at least offer constructive direction and honest review. If you live in Chicago you want the Art Institute, Museum of Science and Industry, Museum of Contemporary Art, Field Museum & others to grow, flourish and succeed. At its core this is a good idea, at its core this is what social media was built for and at its core this is why social media will fail. Since the 1980′s (and even before but it really came to it’s own then in my view) there has been a top to bottom clamp on message and public image. Gone are the days where Grocery stores would have homegrown competitions and promotions on the store level, gone are the local town commercials where a franchise owner would speak directly for his/her business or brand. They were all removed so that you could control the message nationwide and eliminate potentially expensive missteps. Social media though flourishes on the human voice, insight, personalization, inclusivity and minutia; the very things that contemporary marketing fears most and actively looks to either eliminate or synthesize artificially in a controlled manner (think bad viral ads or national campaigns exactly the same just customized by local age, race, sex, sports affiliation or celebrity).

In order to succeed you need to make social media a part of your PR team (key point to remember, PR is not marketing and never the twain shall meet) have someone daily write, photograph and honestly talk about all the great aspects, locations & touchstones of your group in such a way that you don’t visit the museum to learn about them but to finally see them in person. People don’t visit the Louvre in droves to see this “Mona Lisa” for the first time but to write the final chapter that image has had in their life by seeing it for themselves, outside of books & film.

The web, where pages are free to publish is the prefect place to build a trap for the human imagination so it can roll around joyfully in subject mater of individual pertinent interest like a pig in mud and learn, celebrate and know as much about your product as possible. Its not a billboard, its a quilt as I presume Kate McGroarty’s wise mother knows all too well. Woven with history, personality, flaws & perfection. Thats how social media works and without it that is how it fails.

Social Media I said in May of this year quietly to whoever would listen was dead, by that I meant its growth had hit a plateau and it had come to the crossroads in its life as so many good ideas have. Those ideas and the people that advocated them always knew what the right path was, without exception they knew it. But they never took it. You know WHY? Because it was TOO damn hard (thank you Bo Goldman). Social Media is a dual edged sword that no one wants to swing no mater how sharp it can cut to the truth since no one has faith in the knight swinging it to not cut themselves or the royal family. Until that paranoia or risk calculus changes as a whole you will get performances like the Month at the Museum, all pomp and no circumstance.

Nothing really said or done, nothing to get excited about and worse yet nothing shared about a beautiful gem locked away that only few get to see and one got to live but can never truly tell about without breaking a presumed confidentiality agreement.

In short, nothing ventured, nothing gained.

@MSIkate twitter follower graph




Meet Kate McGroarty,The Museum of Science & Industry’s Cute White Lab Rat

October 10, 2010 · Print This Article


Well the Museum of Science and Industry has announced their winner of the Night ”Month at the Museum” contest and it is Kate McGroarty. Kate is a Theater Artist/Customer Service Representative & recent graduate of Northwestern University. Kate starts her tour of duty in the museum on October 20th and leaves on November 18th. Kate seems to be meta aware of the entire point of this exercise and that is reflected in her lonelygirl15′esque video submission below.

You can follow Kate’s adventure via twitter and facebook (by the way MSI nice forcing the “I like” function as your public facebook link, that move should have it’s own chemical formula…….. let me think). There seems to be a very ironic website page on Miss McGroatry as well which I really hope is someone trying to capitalize on her 15 mins and not actually run by Kate herself since its a tad self congratulatory and disingenuous.

Also here is the video of the winner announcement which I have to admit whoever came up with the checmical reaction to signify the winner should get a bonus (or season 2 of “The Big Bang Theory” on DVD) since that has been the best move I have seen as of yet with this project. Also whoever missed or decided not to post the video of that announcement on the MSI website and is not capitalizing on the great PR value of that moment should get the reverse (and the season 1 DVD of Cavemen) no one should have to search for that video to find it.

I hope this is a success and will agree that having looked at the applicants that they picked the right person for the position (a arts student who admittedly knows little about science but knows PR, is cute and bubbly and gets it with a wink and a nod) Sorry Alex Dainis in a perfect and fair world you would have been the right choice since you have the looks, smarts, personality, background & non creepy factor but in the end this isn’t about Science it’s about marketing. It is going to be interesting to see how Kate takes the initiative on this and what she can do with it since the agenda seems pretty open for input. Good luck and no using the taxidermied animals as teddy bears :)




Design Miami/Basel: The Blog

June 16, 2010 · Print This Article

Design Miami/Basel: The Blog

This is the week the design world heads to Basel, Switzerland for Design Miami/Basel which opened in Basel, Switzerland Tuesday, a day ahead of Art Basel is closer then ever before if your curious about the design worlds activities. This year they are starting their own blog, the cleverly titled Design Miami/Basel Blog.

Posting images, quotes, news and other updates from participants in the fair like designers and gallery owners for fans and journalists alike. They even went as far as publicizing a RSS feed so nice to see someone is listening to the youthful techie in the group since the larger art world seems allergic to RSS feeds on a whole.




LA Times Gives Advice to Jeffrey Deitch For His First Day On The Job

June 2, 2010 · Print This Article

Christopher Knight, the Los Angeles Times Art Critic has written up an interesting article on Jeffrey Deitch’s start as Director (the fourth in 30 years) and gives his point of view on where the reality of life in LA can begin to match the goals of the Museum. Numbers mater in the Art world even if we don’t want to talk about it and MOCA’s attendance has been dropping steadily for years. Couple that with the fiscal mismanagement gamble back in 2008 where they created a budget that relied on donor money to cover around 80% of the cost (money that evaporated with the crash) and things were pretty bleak.

The consensus & expectation is that Jeffrey Deitch will bring the kind of shows and energy that will rally the general population of LA and raise attendance above it’s current 600 people a day. Think about that, 600 people, more people visit this site then MOCA in a given day and MOCA is spending $20 Million a year. MOCA has a wonderful collection and this isn’t a referendum by the people of LA on Art but on the growing disconnect between Art Tastemakers and the general population. A rift that has been growing for years with little to no abatement.

It’s not just LA, we have had the same debates on hours of operation & marketing of events in Chicago for over 5 years. Christopher Knight goes on to offer his advice on what Mr. Deitch might want to examine as Director and the second I can agree with aspects of, the first not so much:

1. General admission: take it from $10 to free

I have always questioned why everything needs to be free. In my experience people have a habit of discounting what they don’t pay for and it effects the overall opinion. Work at a bar (or the music industry these days) and you can see that in action, lines and a small cover even if they are annoying increase the overall pleasure of the experience as long as guests expectations are met once they enter. Also even if the door charge is less then 10% of the budget that is still a valuable/usefull daily cash flow even for an institution of that size. Art like any other business lives and breathes on cash flow.

I would suggest price pointing it at $5 a person and make it free to seniors, students & active military (for many solid reasons not worth rehashing here). At that price it has a real value, is proportioned correctly to films, concerts & other nightlife activities and doesn’t nullify the whole selling point of yearly membership.

2. Hours of Operation: take it from closing at 5-6pm & 8pm on Thursday to more befitting late nights.

No argument but very tricky and might not be as useful as even I thought years ago. This just might be a tourist/weekday local/weekend world we live in.

The one thing that Mr. Knight doesn’t tackle is the one thing that everyone is so afraid of about Jeffrey Dietch as Director, the “curatorial” focus of the exhibits and I think more so “how they are marketed to the world”. Everyone is waiting on baited breath since it seems no one has faith that an intelligent discussion on Art can be molded into a form of interest to the general public. That is the great experiment going on in LA and if it is successful could echo throughout the American Art World as a whole and faster then you might think.




Art, Treasure Hunts, The Tribune & Why I Feel Like Michael J Fox

February 12, 2010 · Print This Article

Over the last 48 hours a story has been jumping around the Chicago art world stirring the minds and causing the hand wringing of countless people. Much of the talk has sadly been via email, Twitter, Facebook & other secondary venues of communication. That story is of the article in the Chicago Tribune about the artwork & marketing done by Patrick Skoff. Mr. Skoff has been taking his work and leaving it around town for people to take for free while giving hints as to locations over the internet.

Some people said it’s bad arts coverage, some people railed against it as playing to the base of humanity, some even wondered what Chicago art coverage has come to post Artner. The general consensus was that this isn’t Art’s coverage and better work is getting skipped; my thoughts are reprinted below from facebook (yea classy I know)……

It’s Entertainment coverage not Arts coverage (and correctly categorized). Honestly is anyone surprised since we continuously seem to exclude/ignore/insult/talk-around the main stream people who read the tribune?

I agree the work/story isn’t that notable (even though I do give kudos to the artist arranging this with the reporter, don’t think for 1 second Christopher Borrelli just happened to be there, this was coordinated, the reporter is as much the artist as the artist in this event) but am I shocked that people will eat this story up in the lack of anything else? No.

People want art in their life, I have seen it, everyday Joe and Jane urban, suburban & rural people love art they just are not being spoken to or at least not spoken to in a vernacular they have any chance to engage in.

Is this new? No. Will this change soon? Probably not. The only thing that grinds me is how everyone is so “shocked” that this is going on every time it happens. I don’t mean you guys as much as people I have had conversations with over the last 5-10 years.

Every time this happens everyone is “amazed” that this gets coverage and not something of more merrit. That is because we don’t talk to them in a way they would be interested or understand and we leave it to people like Borrelli & Skoff to fill the gap.

I swear I feel like Michael J Fox in the “American President” some days, I know I can come off as venal at times but people want Art, they want what that can offer (the creativity, the hope, the joy for the new) and the only people who are doing the talking are people that have nothing really to say. I don’t blame them but we can’t be shocked when the only words that get out are treasure hunts. When by and large everything they love and want we label as modernist and scoff at. There has to be a way to bridge the gap?

Feel more then free to comment by calling 312-772-2780 or emailing us and keep up the good work Chicago even if no one is writing about it.