engagement, Flickr

Using Flickr Creatively: Three Arts Organizations Innovate

15 Comments 23 June 2009

There is so much more to photosharing than uploading images from the latest event!

Yes, everyone likes to see themselves online, but Flickr is so much more than uploading images from the latest event. Flickr combines the power of visual storytelling with the very nature of a social network – engagement and conversation. Three arts organizations (Houston Ballet, Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art and Luce Foundation Center for American Art) are innovating ways to use Flickr creatively, and in the process offering backstage passes to the organization, amplifying programming, and engaging stakeholders in real decision-making.

1. The Houston Ballet: Giving Fans a “Backstage Pass”

The Houston Ballet uses Flickr to offer a “backstage pass”  to all of its fans.  In particular, the ballet company offers its enthusiasts (and all Flickr browsers) visual insights into the organization’s activities and administration.

One of the more fanciful and wonderful Flickr photostreams comes from the Houston Ballet’s “Tour of Houston Ballet’s Warehouse.” What person doesn’t want to walk through the warehouse of the a famous production company?  Here is one of the photos:

This boat hangs from the ceiling of the Houston Ballet's warehouse

This boat hangs from the ceiling of the Houston Ballet's warehouse

As described on the Houston Ballet’s Flickr Photostream, “this is a photo tour of our warehouse in Houston’s 5th ward. We hope you enjoy this behind-the-scenes look at our productions’ ‘home away from home’ when they’re not in use at Wortham Theater Center.”

The Ballet also has another great “behind the scenes” photo shoot – making head casts for a scene in one of their ballet. Here is a screen shot of the Flickr photostream for the “Marie” head casts:

Making "Marie" head casts for a Houston Ballet production

What does this do? It offers Houston Ballet fans added value for subscribing to the Ballet’s photostream. It makes them feel special, too. How often does one get to look into the closet of a major ballet theater, or learn how they put their sets together? The Ballet has made their photostream an unique web destination for exclusive “backstage” information.

2. MassMOCA: Adding Dimensions to Current Programming

The Mass Museum of Contemporary Art (MassMOCA) uses Flickr to crowdsource a set of images for the Flickr Finds section of its blog. MassMOCA asks readers to upload photos of a specific topical nature to the MassMOCA Flickr site. They post a roundup of the best photos on their monthly Flickr Finds blog post. The photos usually relate to one of the concurrent exhibits. It’s a great way to create excitement around a current exhibit or an organization.

Here is a screenshot of a Flickr MassMOCA group message:


The blog post Flickr Finds: Tree Logic features selected photos from uploaded Flickr images of the “upside down trees” outdoor sculpture exhibit. Here is an excerpt from the blog post:


What does this do? It adds another dimension to exhibitions and creates enthusiasm on the Flickr and blogging platforms. It also extends the life of exhibitions and creatively engages fans. Lastly, it offers added publicity for MassMOCA: every photo uploaded to the MassMOCA Flickr group also appears on the photographer’s photostream and is indexed and tagged on Flickr as MassMOCA!

3. The Luce Foundation Center for American Art: Using Flickr for Crowdsourcing Decisions

The Luce Foundation Center for American Art is “an open study/storage facility displaying about thirty-three hundred objects from the collections of the Smithsonian American Art Museum. Here, our visitors can see works that would otherwise not be on view due to space restraints in our main galleries.” The Luce Foundation Center occupies 20,400 square feet of the Smithsonian’s American Art Museum’s collection.  According to the Smithsonian’s blog Eye Level, the Smithsonian American Art Museum lends work out, often for 12 months to other institutions, leaving gaps in the display units. They write:  “for this reason, we decided to open up this process and ask our online communities for help. Using Flickr, we can share a photo of a case (in the Luce Foundation Center) that needs a replacement artwork, provide information about all of the other works in the case, and challenge people to search our collections in order to find an appropriate substitution.

What a wonderful way to engage stakeholders in the decision-making process and offer them a “backstage pass” to the  art collection!

Here is an example of one of their photos from the Fickr photostream for Fill the Gap campaign:

Case 34B from Fill the Gap photostream

Case 34B from Fill the Gap photostream

This is a screen shot of a part of the the comment stream related to this particular case (Case 34B):


In the end, a piece was selected by the Foundation from among the ideas submitted for Case 34B:

Case 34B - Gap Filled!

Case 34B - Gap Filled!

What does this do? It creates an interaction between static works of art and the fans who love the art. It makes everyone a “citizen curator,” and a stakeholder in the outcome of the Fill the Gap replacement selection. It creates enthusiasm and publicity for the collection of art. Most importantly, it utilizes the crowdsourcing aspect of social media to engage fans, create deeper connections between them and the organization, and…select art for exhibition.

Think about using Flickr to offer “backstage passes,” crowdsource ideas, extend the life of your programming, or engage stakeholders in real organizational decisions. What are you waiting for?

Does your organization use Flickr creatively? Do you know of one that does? Let us know by referencing the organization (and Flickr site) in the comment section below!



Debra Askanase is an experienced digital engagement strategist, non-profit executive, and community organizer. She works with mission-driven organizations to develop digital strategies and campaigns that engage, create trust, and move stakeholders to action. Debra speaks at conferences worldwide on the intersection of technology, social media, and nonprofit organizations.

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