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How the Museum of Fine Arts Attracts Visitors with Video

With nearly 500,000 works of art, the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston boasts one of the largest collections in the world. Each year, more than one million people from around the globe pass through its doors.

When it comes to creative media, the MFA has always been ahead of the curve. In 1955, they broadcasted TV shows 3 to 5 days a week, and today, they produce all kinds of videos for their website and social media channels. We went behind the scenes with Michael Roper, Manager of Interactive Media, to hear all about the renowned museum's video marketing tactics.

An evolution of media

"The MFA was the first museum in the world to be wired for television, with 5000 feet of cable and a control room in the basement," Michael told us.

Fast-forward to 2007, and the MFA began producing lectures and educational content for YouTube and podcasts. Then came video interviews of contemporary artists and videos created for their mobile multimedia guide (iPod Touch).

"When I joined the team in 2013, we were fully engaged with video, producing content for our website, social media, in-gallery video installations, and the video wall at the entrance to our largest special exhibition gallery," Michael said.

 

Video wall piece for The Genius of Hokusai

Types of videos

With a diverse collection of art and a passionate group of artists and curators, the museum has endless sources of inspiration for video.

"We make many different kinds of videos, including curator and artist interviews, behind-the-scenes videos, videos of lectures and courses, performance art, in-gallery videos, even holiday videos," Michael said.

Artist interview

Featuring artists and their work in a short video is one effective way to craft a compelling visual story and encourage people to visit an exhibition.

In this video, Shanghai-based artist, Hu Xiangcheng, discusses the motivation behind his preservationist constructions. As part of a larger exhibit, "Megacities Asia," which explored the rapid rise of urban centers around the globe, Hu Xiangcheng salvages windows and doors from past eras to build intricate structures.

 

While the video does an excellent job previewing these pieces, it quickly becomes obvious that in order to truly grasp the detail and scope of his work, you must see it in person. Hu Xiangcheng's narration adds another layer of authenticity and meaning.

"One key challenge is to always look at our videos from the perspective of our visitors," said Michael. "Like every institution, we have our internal perspectives and concerns, but all the visitor wants to know is, 'What can I see at the Museum?' 'Is this a compelling story that I want to explore by coming to the exhibition?'"

"One key challenge is to always look at our videos from the perspective of our visitors."

Curator interview

While artists can offer personal narratives of the "why" behind their work, curators are able to discuss exhibitions holistically. In this video, the three curators of #techstyle, an exhibition celebrating innovations in fashion and technology, introduce you to some novel garments and concepts featured in the show.

 

With this privileged access, we're able to hear about the significance of the exhibition from knowledgeable curators fully immersed in the work. In this video, we're also briefly introduced to the designers and their unique pieces. A dress that reacts to your voice? I'm definitely tempted to go see this in person.

"I think our goal has always been to engage visitors by telling stories about the art, the artist, and what goes into making the exhibitions themselves," explained Michael. "We want to answer the essential question: Why is this particular artist and exhibition relevant to me?"

In-house production process

When it comes to production, many hands (and an efficient reviewing process) make for airtight final cuts.

"We recently produced a curator interview for the Pairing Picasso exhibition," said Michael, "and here was our basic workflow:"

  • First, we met with the curator, in this case Katie Hanson, to learn about the exhibition and explain how the interview would be conducted.

  • Then I put together a list of interview questions based on everything I could get my hands on—catalogs, articles, exhibition design plans, etc. Once the questions were ready, I shared them with the curator and other key people in Education, PR, and Membership.

  • We met with our video crew to scout out possible locations. We took stills of each one, and then the creative team chose a location and set a time for the shoot itself.

  • On the day of the shoot, the video crew set up the camera and lighting. We generally shoot early in the morning or after the Museum closes to minimize unwanted noise and interruptions.

  • Once the video was shot, we sent it to a vendor to be transcribed. I also ingested a low res version of the interview into Final Cut Pro X, so I could see and hear how each segment actually looked and sounded.

  • We created storyboards that included descriptions of camera moves, visual cutaways, music, etc.

  • Jared Medeiros, our videographer, then created a rough cut based on the storyboards.

  • We shared with and gathered feedback from our creative team and the talent. Titles, lower thirds, and credits were finalized.

  • Jared then edited a final cut that was reviewed once more.

  • Once the video was approved, we uploaded it to Wistia, and our web team developed a web page for the video, which went through its own review process.

In case you're curious, this was the final cut:

 

Future video plans

As the MFA expands their video marketing strategy, they're experimenting more and more with different styles of video optimized for various social media channels.

"Last year we developed a format specifically for Facebook—a series of visuals and titles at the beginning of the video that viewers can watch without having to hear the sound," explained Michael. "Now we’re exploring new approaches for all of our social media channels."

"Moving forward we want to develop an even stronger voice that tells compelling stories about the museum—stories about creativity and self-expression. These are things that motivate our visitors to come to the Museum."


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