Your landmark is puking rainbows.


Are Snap’s new AR features encouraging tourists to do something that might be illegal? I think so, but can’t be sure. What I am sure of though, is that museums and cultural institutions should be aware of Snapchat’s new feature.


On April 4, Snap shared their newest augmented reality “Lenses”, which enable users to “transform the world’s most iconic landmarks in real-time.”  The starting five are:

  • Eiffel Tower, Paris
  • Buckingham Palace, London
  • Chinese Theater, Los Angeles
  • Capitol Building, Washington DC
  • Flatiron Building, New York City

Using animated GIFs launched within the Snapchat app, these places perform various actions from puking rainbows to shooting lightning or transforming into a slice of pizza. Lenses aren’t new: the 400,000 Lenses made with Lens Studio since 2017 have both created a burgeoning community of AR creators and a generation of users very comfortable with augmented reality. And with Snap claiming to reach nearly 75% of all 13-34 year olds, this isn’t something that we should ignore.


While I’m a huge proponent of meeting visitors where they are and highly encourage museums to use all parts of the internet, Snap’s use of real cultural sites raises questions, and their press event didn’t provide answers.  The biggest questions are if Snap’s users can legally photograph (snap?) famous sites and what the implications are from there, namely what will happen if Snap decides your museum will be one of their next locations. 

To provide some context, in attraction marketing, it’s common knowledge that photos of the Eiffel Tower at night violate French law if the photographer hasn’t been given permission by the landmark itself. In short, while images of the Tower became public domain in 1993 (France uses copyright holder’s life plus 70 years), the lighting that appears at night was installed in 1985 and is a separate artistic installation. Their website explains,

The various illuminations of the Eiffel Tower (golden illumination, twinkling, beacon and events lighting) are protected. The use of the image of the Eiffel Tower at night is therefore subject to prior authorisation by the SETE. This use is subject to payment of rights, the amount of which is determined by the intended use, the media plan, etc. Views of the Eiffel Tower taken by private individuals for private use do not require prior agreement. However, professionals must contact our teams, who will inform them of the conditions of use governing images.

While some deep Google searching doesn’t reveal any individuals who have been sued for photographing the Eiffel Tower, a plethora of sources confirm that it would be within the rights of the Société d’Exploitation de la Tour Eiffel to do so if the image was being used commercially, because social media is a form of publishing. With personal brands and influencers blurring the line of individual and commercial entity and sponsored posts making thousands of dollars, it might only be a matter of time before someone is sued and the case goes to court.

For the purposes of this post, I’ll be focusing on the Eiffel Tower but these concerns can exist at other sites as well. The Eiffel Tower is absolutely not the only place with similar restrictions. Adobe had put together a helpful resource “designed to inform and educate our contributors about common subjects whose image may not be acceptable due to intellectual property, privacy, and/or private property rights.”  On this list are whole sections dedicated to historical and cultural organizations around the world – museums included. 

These concerns aren’t new. So what makes Snap’s Landmarkers any different than thousands of Instagram posts of the Eiffel Tower twinkling against a night sky? To me, it is the fact that Snap has essentially directed its users to photograph specific sites (unlike Instagram, which leaves subject matter to the user) that are known to be questionably legal. 



Copyright law used to have “safe harbor” provisions which meant that Web platforms with uploaded content were not liable for copyright infringement of their users, but did have to remove content if a complaint was made. This would have meant that Snap wasn’t liable for copyright infringement uploaded by their users. Then came the EU Copyright Directive and “article 13” (a renumbering now actually makes this article 17, though it’s still commonly called 13). This eliminated safe harbor and makes the platforms liable for content found on their sites. So now, Snap will be liable for copyright infringement done by their users

Unless, Snap, on behalf of its users, secured a license for the landmark content and the corresponding art installations (i.e., the lights) therefore, making users no longer directly responsible for the images uploaded.  This would be found in terms of service. But, this were to be done, then the platform would be legally responsible for content, which seems like a general liability for the platforms.


So, of course, I checked Snap’s Terms of Service for the US and outside of the US (which appear to be nearly identical in the excerpts below).  (Obligatory reminder that this post is meant to encourage cultural institutions to consult an actual intellectual property lawyer.)

Section 4 “The Content of Others” states:

“Much of the content on our Services is produced by users, publishers, and other third parties. Whether that content is posted publicly or sent privately, the content is the sole responsibility of the person or organization that submitted it. Although [Snap Inc.] reserves the right to review or remove all content that appears on the Services, we do not necessarily review all of it. So we cannot—and do not—take responsibility for any content that others provide through the Services.”

Section 6, “Respecting Other People’s Rights” states:

“[Snap Inc.] respects the rights of others. And so should you. You therefore may not use the Services, or enable anyone else to use the Services, in a manner that… violates or infringes someone else’s rights of publicity, privacy, copyright, trademark, or other intellectual-property right.”

Section 7, “Respecting Copyright” states:

“[Snap Inc.] honors copyright laws, including the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. We therefore take reasonable steps to expeditiously remove from our Services any infringing material that we become aware of. And if Snap Inc. becomes aware that one of its users has repeatedly infringed copyrights, we will take reasonable steps within our power to terminate the user’s account.”


Back to Landmarkers specifically, this begs the question of what partnerships and have been made with the cultural sites, if at all, thus far? Did the Landmarks in Europe, where the EU copyright directive applies, give permission to be Landmarkers? For the first five, did Snap ask for the site’s approval thereby making any photo taken within the platform legal? Does that mean that images taken in one platform and imported into Snapchat are treated the same or differently? I can’t imagine that Snap doesn’t know about the Eiffel-Tower-at-Night situation, so what have they negotiated that has not yet been made public?

Going forward, will future landmarks, on either continent, be asked for permission? What if an institution wants to continue to limit photographs of the outside of the building? And when a museum does partner with Snap, what will the expectation be in regards to providing image rights? Or will the individual creators in Lense Studio (the internal Lense system) be responsible for negotiating permission with the cultural institutions?


The EU copyright directive does have some exceptions, but it’s difficult to predict how they align with Snap’s Landmarkers and again, there has been no mention of what has already been negotiated between the platform and current or future Landmarkers locations.

  1. Memes and GIFs are specifically excluded, which seems to mean that the technology behind Landmarkers (GIFs) make them safe for Snap to host and for users to create … but a closer read of the directive reveals that this is “for the purposes of quotation, criticism, review, caricature, parody or pastiche.” Are the Landmarker users making the funny images for those purposes? Will institutions be consulted prior to their site becoming a Landmarker location and will they want their site specifically and under the law be used for the purpose of caricature or parody? 
  2. Copyrighted material is allowed if it preserves cultural heritage. Is bringing silly animations to one of the most famous places in the world “preserving” it? Can a GIF both turn something into pastiche while preserving it? Who would be deciding who was doing the preservation? Can Snap say that they are doing preservation work that is not sanctioned by the landmark itself? Or, if the landmark is consulted, are they approving that Snap is doing preservation work on their behalf?

Additionally, the longstanding tradition of “freedom of panorama” allows for cityscapes and the like to include something copyrighted as long as that is not the sole focus of the image. But, here Landmarkers become even more curious. The description of how to use Snap’s Landmarkers explains that when users tap and hold the camera, they’ll start to scan their surroundings. Is this movement and “scanning” a panorama? Had the user just been told to pause and focus on the landmark itself, would that have negated the freedom to pan?

Snap says that creators will be able to bring more landmarks to life soon and that the company will be reviewing them. While I would like to think that this review would cover appropriateness in addition to quality assurance, there is no public information affirming that. These creators will also be able have Creative Profiles and Lens Studio will have AR templates, which does the most complex development for the creators. That means that more people will be able to create Lenses and to commercialize their creations. Which, if not protected by the GIF and meme protection, the preservation protection, or the panorama protection, would mean these creators have created assets from which they can benefit (this goes beyond influencer and personal brand, if it is demonstrating marketable technological knowhow). Returning to that quote from the Eiffel Tower website, “professionals must contact our teams, who will inform them of the conditions of use governing images, it seems that they may have to reevaluate how they are defining professional.  


These concerns aren’t something that can or should be ignored. Snap claims Lenses for Landmarkers will be hand-picked by Snap employees to prevent abusebut I haven’t been able to discern what constitutes as abuse. And I sure can’t figure out who agreed to what or who is liable for photographs of the Eiffel Tower at night. Maybe they’ll politely ask people to only snap in daylight?

None of these questions should stop a cultural institution from using Snap or any other form of social media. But understanding this should help these landmarks achieve success.

Are you a lawyer? Do you work at one of the five Landmarker sites? Comment below or send me a tweet!

The EU Copyright Directive Matters to Museums (part 2 in an unfortunate series about the open internet)


brazil1The New York Times described the fire at the National Museum of Brazil as “a new genocide”, recounting how the 20 million documents, artifacts, and artwork were eaten by flames, forever eliminating the only records of now-extinct cultures.  But that is not exactly one hundred percent true… What still exists are tourists’ photographs of the museum.

A genius initiative began only hours after video of the fire was broadcast around the world. The project, started by a group of students, is to collect every photograph of the museum in an effort to recreate what used to be. The request was shared widely via email and Twitter, I posted it on Reddit’s museum and travel forums, and soon, Wikipedia and the New York Times began their own similar collections. If all goes well, there will be at least one photograph of every single item on display plus images of accompanying labels.Screen Shot 2018-09-14 at 2.06.22 PM

What’s remarkable though, is that the request specifically mentions selfies. The rationale is not to gather visitor data but instead to look past the smiling faces and into the photographs’ backgrounds for clues about the museum’s exhibitions. No one could have imagined that when their open photography policy was enacted, that this might be its best (and even only) chance at preservation.


Earlier this week in Brussels, six thousand miles away from Rio de Janeiro, the ability to take and post photographs in and of public places in Europe has been all but eliminated.

Activist Cory Doctorow explains:

… Members of the European Parliament adopted every terrible proposal in the new Copyright Directive and rejected every good one, setting the stage for mass, automated surveillance and arbitrary censorship of the internet: text messages like tweets and Facebook updates; photos; videos; audio; software code — any and all media that can be copyrighted.”

The new ruling is expansive and includes:

  • Nearly every platform has to defensively adopt copyright filters that examine everything you post and censor anything judged to be infringement.
  • Linking to news using two or more words from an article is prohibited, unless you or the service you’re using bought a license from that source.
  • Photographs of public spaces that include copyrighted work (stock art in ads, logos on t-shirts) are not protected by the “freedom of panorama”.
  • User-generated content is not exempt, meaning that there is no exception for “criticism, review, illustration, caricature, parody or pastiche.”

But where do these rules leave us?

The Effect on Museums and Cultural Institutions

On the assumption that these rules are formally adopted across Europe (they still need to work out some details and language), there will be consequences for breaking them. And it is not unreasonable to assume that the penalties will be strong and unsurmountable by the average person.

Therefore, we can presume that many people might just stop taking and sharing photographs in fear of how they will trigger the filters put in place to eliminate copyright infringement. Put simply, why risk taking a selfie with your favorite artifact when the consequences could be financially burdensome? Or why bother posing next to your art doppelgänger if the resulting photograph inadvertently includes a person near you with a logo on their shirt? If the “freedom of panorama” isn’t going to be protective, did the artselfie, museumselfie and travelselfie just die before our eyes? Is it a reasonable assumption that even if you have signage saying photography is allowed that visitors will parse through the complex legal text that conveys this information?

Screen Shot 2018-09-14 at 1.55.39 PM.png

Which brings us back to Brazil. 

Even though the building and its artifacts are now just piles of ash, museum selfies survived on the phones and computers of thousands of people. On TripAdvisor, Instagram, Flikr, and Facebook, an entire museum is being systematically pieced back together image by image. Had copyright filters removed every user-generated photograph with possible infringement, the movement to rebuild the history of Brazil might not have been possible at all.

Like with Net Neutrality in the United States, laws and regulations policing the Internet that don’t mention museums or cultural institutes still deeply affect us. The interviews I’ve been conducting as part of my doctoral research have repeatedly proven that the wider museum community, despite awareness of such laws, elect to ignore their effects “until we really need to worry about it”.  Because if we do that, we may just find that, in retrospect, we needed those selfies to piece back together our humanity.

The r/MuseumPros Museum Holiday Gift Shop Exchange

Each holiday season, I get a first-hand look at the awesome online museum community as organizer of the annual Museum Holiday Gift Shop Exchange. It’s the coolest thing I do as creator and moderator of Reddit’s MuseumPros community.

updated screenshotThe Museum Holiday Gift Shop Exchange is a “secret santa” in which each participant sends a gift from their own museum’s shop to another museum staffer at a different museum.  Participating museologists get to share something unique about where they work, receive a little surprise trinket in the physical mail, and become personally connected to a museum staffer somewhere else in the world. The exchange can bring just as much attention to a tiny museum as a large museum – and we all love gift shop souvenir shopping, right? This year was undoubtedly the biggest (and best) exchange yet, with the most holiday spirit!

I post a Surveymonkey link in mid-November with a signup deadline of early-December. Participants provide their name, shipping address, email, and one sentence bio, and choose between the “send and receive within the US” and “send and receive anywhere in the world” exchanges.  They also agree to the following guidelines:

  • You may send your gifts anonymously but to receive a gift, you must provide your full name below (because it is kinder to the postal service).
  • The value of the gift is to be $5-10 or an equivalent value.
  • All participants are to be museum staff (vendors and design firms included), museum students, or museum volunteers. This exchange is not intended for museum visitors (we love you too, but…)

Then, I match everyone, first dividing the list into US or international and then I try my best to randomize the matches. Next, I check to see if any of the matches are at the same museum or in the same state, and if so, shuffle them around.  Ideally, the matched participants will not be within a day’s drive of each other so that the exchanged items are unique to the sender’s location.  By the second week of December, I email or Reddit private message every single participant their match, a reminder of the rules, and the  schedule.  All participants are required to send their gift by December 17th.

So, how did it go?

Here are the 2017 results by the numbers:

  • 82 participants exchanged gifts this year
  • 2x the number of gift exchanges this year in comparison to the 2016 exchange
  • 45% of matches in which a participant was willing to send to another country
  • 55% of matches in which a US participants preferred to send within the country
  • 6 countries participated: US, Canada, Portugal, UK, Philippines, New Zealand
  • 1 participant I went to school with, who I didn’t personally solicit for participation

And some observations not by the numbers:

  • By early November, two people had already contacted me asking when the 2017 exchange would be posted – having people not only remember the exchange but also looking out for it was amazing.
  • I get to see multi-year participant’s careers progress via the one sentence bios that are submitted alongside the participant contact information – this year’s standout was the person who is now proudly responsible for managing a large budget.
  • The MuseumPros community means a lot to people.  Here are two examples of really nice messages I received:  “I love /r/MuseumPros and I think it’s a really valuable resource…. I browse it almost daily.” and  “It’s great to be able to connect with fellow museum workers around the world in such a fun and casual platform…The subreddit has helped me deal with so many problems in the office… I appreciate all the learnings!” And more than once, I’ve been invited to people’s institutions – if and when I visit their part of the world.

fanThis year, I also asked participants to send me a photo of what they were sending their match so that I can better advertise and grow the exchange next year (images included throughout this post).  I love the unique fan I received from the Lopez Museum in Manila printed with an archival photo of a Filipino street.  The trendiest gift was the dinosaur bag with the same design that Dustin wore on season 2 of Stranger Things – which is a sold out item with overwhelming demand!  stranger things reddit bagAnd I also loved seeing the enthusiasm for receiving the gifts. My office mate enthusiastically opened her package and then excitedly went into our boss’s office to show her what she had received.  And that participant I mentioned above that I had gone to school with? He shared his items very excitedly on Twitter (see below).

Each year, there are a few learnings that make the next year better.  Twice, people whose museum didn’t have a gift shop wanted to participate – one sent nails that the blacksmith at their living history museum had forged and the other sent a 3d printed bust from their makerlab.  From that, I learned to add “or an equivalent value” when specifying the price range.  This year, a staff member at a nature center had a similar inquiry, which will be reflected in next year’s institutional qualifications.  I want to get more non-US participants as well – let me know of any suggestions in the comments, please.  redditxchangetweet

While you’ll have to wait another 10 months for the 2018 Museum Holiday Gift Shop Exchange sign ups, I encourage you to check out this vibrant community of over 3,000 people throughout the year.  In this past month alone, the MuseumPros community has provided interpersonal advice for a colleague managing a collection, shared a newly announced NBC prime-time comedy about a natural history museum, discussed the role of entertainment and embellishment in historical events, and posted ICOM’s misprinted marketing materials.  Previously, I, along with my co-moderator, have also hosted AMA sessions, written a job hunting resource, created a list of emergency resources, and wrote a graduate school Q and A.  If you have any ideas or want to participate in something new, let me know.

reddit gifts

Happy holidays and see you next year for the annual Museum Holiday Gift Shop Exchange!

Net Neutrality Matters to Museums

Imagine the following scenarios:

  • Prospective visitors are asked to pay extra fees to visit your institution’s website.
  • Digital visitors find your website, but it loads at an excruciatingly slow pace.
  • While the homepage of your website is available, the microsites (from exhibition-specific landing pages to crowdsourcing and crowdfunding projects) are ‘pay-walled’.

Now imagine the results. Would prospective visitors pay to visit your website? Unlikely. Would digital visitors get bored waiting for the website to load and give up? Probably. Would your crowdfunded project ever hit its goal? Doubtful. Would your mission to educate be fulfilled? No.

These scenarios sound preposterous – that’s just not how the Web works, right? It’s possible that this is all about to change.

Net Neutrality, which defends an Open Internet, is under threat by the US government’s Federal Communication Commission (FCC).  This means that ‘big cable’ could impede access to information by choosing which websites load faster and which load at all, and generally controlling our behavior online. The corporations that pay or lobby the Internet Service Providers (ISPs), could influence what sites are available. And, as a result, small-money entities, from mom-and-pop-shops to small or under-funded museums could be deeply effected as well. July 17th ends a ninety day comment period run by the FCC, and today, July 12th, is the day that internet-based corporations are banding together to alert the general public.


In addition to recognizing that those who are planning to visit in person use our website as a pre-visit tool, museums need to recognize that our visitors are digital. Our digital visitors may never visit our institutions in person; they may be in another country and not have the means to travel. Or, they may be scouring the internet for places to visit in the distant future. Yet, these digital visitors come to your institution for many of the same reasons that your in person visitors do – to learn, to be entertained, for a respite.

Once we recognize that visitors are more than just the bodies that walk in our doors and that digital visitors count as well, Net Neutrality becomes increasingly important for us to fulfil our missions.  As we aim to make our institutions more welcoming for local and underserved communities, we must also fight to make our digital sites available to our web communities at large.

Many museums are recognizing the reality of the digital visitor. Recently, the Metropolitan Museum of Art released their latest visitor statistics.  After announcing their record breaking in-person attendance, they devoted subsequent paragraphs to their digital visitorship – progress at least in terms of their definition of visitor. Numbers, though, aren’t everything.  In terms of project-based results, the Smithsonian, U.S. Holocaust Museum, and Museum of the Moving Image have all met funding goals through Kickstarter campaigns.  Many of the funders are likely local, or familiar with the institutions, but not all of them.  If the websites of these institutions were not publicly available, or cost more to visit, would the prospective donors wait patiently for the site to load? Would they pay extra to see what they could then be asked to fund – thereby paying two amounts of money?

Digital visitors also come to our sites to contribute their time and expertise.  The cognitive surplus that museums have generated has at once satisfied the curiosity of visitors while making a small but significant dent in our limited resources.  Institutional crowdsourcing has forwarded countless research projects – our visitors have transcribed menus, alerted us to objects that should be on display, and given us insight into how visitors understand our objects through social tagging.  These tasks could not be achieved without our digital visitors.  If Net Neutrality is decimated, do our institutions have the financial means to hire substitutes? Do we have the bandwidth to bring in more volunteers? Are local volunteers enough to cover the digital resources that may not be nearby?

In addition to digital visitors, we need to consider how our institutional narratives are seen in the context of ‘big cable’.  Does your cable provider or its parent company have strong feelings about climate change? Natural history, interactive science, and botanical gardens which have climate change educational materials could have their websites slowed.  Does your cable provider or its parent company have strong feelings about civil rights or other activist causes? Social history, memorial, and advocacy institutions could be censored.  Does your cable provider have television or web shows that have corresponding toys? Children’s museums may need include exhibitions featuring those characters to appease the website-availability-deciders.  Even if it’s not a directive to change your mission and narrative, at what point will museum staff need to yield to their cable providers just to survive online?


If you do think your institution can survive not having a website or having one with very few visitors, because you would rely more heavily on third party sites such as YouTube, Facebook and Twitter, they don’t think this is a good idea either.  Frankly, no one does, except for the cable companies and the FCC.

Our registrars and conservators are experts in preparing for disasters.  They write documents about hurricanes and floods, fires and prodding fingers on our objects.  If Net Neutrality comes to an end – is it time for our digital teams to write their disaster plans? Given our digital world, is anyone prepared for this? Do we know where we would even start?

As our entire premise is built on sharing, educating, and preserving, it is our responsibility to join in the fight for Net Neutrality, thereby enabling us to share our content online, educate our digital visitors, and preserve the internet as it was meant to be.

Please sign.



On June 11, 2018, federal Net Neutrality protections died following an FCC vote on December 14, 2017.

Since the repeal,  this blog post led to an interview and article with, a digital publication specializing in technology, science, and culture for millennials and a blog post for Center for the Future of Museums.



Wonder Woman: Superhero Art Historian


Aside from earning $103.3 million during opening weekend in North America, being the highest grossing film directed by a woman, and earning 93% positive reviews on review site Rotten Tomatoes, Wonder Woman and its main character Diana Prince stand out for another reason.

Wonder Woman is joining my list of fictional-movie-and-television-characters-who-work-in-museums-or-have-art-history-degrees-which-only-tangentially-relate-to-the-main-narrative (phew, that’s a mouthful!).  As the movie begins, we see Diana entering a stunning office in The Louvre surrounded by ancient arms and armor, receiving an archival photograph.  It’s assumed that she is now part of their curatorial team, making her possibly the world’s only superhero art historian.  


Back to this list… who’s on it? 

  • Diana Prince, Wonder Woman: Previously visiting lecturer on Greco-Roman mythology at Gateway City Museum of Antiquities, currently works in the Louvre’s antiquities department.
  • Dr. Zoidberg, FuturamaDespite being the medical doctor for Planet Express, admits that his doctorate is in art history (S6E05).
  • Mandy Hampton, The West WingEarned a bachelor’s in art history prior to becoming a political consultant for the Bartlet administration (S1E02).
  • John Smith, Mr. & Mrs. Smith: Majored in art history at Notre Dame University.
  • Charlotte York, Sex and the City: Majored in art history at Smith College, worked as a New York city gallerist through season 4.
  • Blanche Devereaux, The Golden Girls: Museum assistant at a Miami art museum.
  • Ross Geller, Friends: Paleontologist at the Museum of Prehistoric History, which is  supposed to be the American Museum of Natural History.
  • Hannah, Made of Honor: Director of Acquisitions, Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Okay, my list is only eight characters long. But that is eight characters that have reputations for being smart and they’re tied together by academic major and/or career.

Art historians for blog

More interestingly, these backgrounds are mentioned as “throwaway” lines or occasional side plots and having little or nothing to do with the main narrative.  Yet, we real-life museum workers get excited and see it as an exciting nod to our profession.  

Is it chosen because our profession is unknown and mysterious? 

Considered exciting?Diana

Held to a higher moral standard?

Makes one seem really smart?

Are we just… cool?

For every line of dialogue that’s cut, why do these lines stay in?

How many more characters are also art historians and museologists but the dialogue gets cut before the final production?

There are, of course, also movies and television shows in which the main plot revolves around a museum or art historians:

  • Night at the Museum’s Larry Daley is a security guard at the American Museum of Natural History; the movie trilogy bring him to the Smithsonian and British Museum.
  • The DaVinci Code’s Jacques Saunière is a Louvre curator who is murdered, prompting Robert Langdon to solve the mystery of his death.
  • Mona Lisa Smile’s Katherine Ann Watson teaches “History of Art” at Wellesley college.

But in each of these, the art history or museology plot is critical to the story. Then there are the movies about archaeologists and museologists who are actual real people doing real things, but I digress. 

Going back to the original list of fictional-movie-and-television-characters-who-work-in-museums-or-have-art-history-degrees-which-only-tangentially-relate-to-the-main-narrative, my musings don’t have much of a conclusion as much as a wink back at the directors who wink at us.  We notice. We get excited. And I hope that by making our profession the everyday life of demigods, futuristic medical doctors, political operatives, and spies, art history and museum work maintain a positive reputation. 

Have some more movie-and-television art historians and museologists to share? Comment below or tweet @ me!



Priyanka Chopra looked very familiar during the Golden Globes Red Carpet, but it wasn’t because I had seen her in a recent movie.  Her gown’s detailed geometric patterns woven into golden-yellow brocade and low neckline, coupled with her dark hair and raised arm, transformed her clearly into Adele Bauer-Bloch.

When Janelle Monae appeared in a stark white fluffy skirt with black dots of varying sizes, I saw the energy of Yayoi Kasuma’s Pumpkin.  The dark blue gown with orange accents on Caitrion Ambalfe vibrated with the same intensity as a Mark Rothko in the same colors.  Thick black graffiti danced across Heidi Klum enveloped in what must have been a Keith Haring.  


I started to live-tweet these comparisons, again, but this time, I used a new hashtag.  With another tweet, I proposed #AwardShowsSoMuseum, received multiple positive replies, and continued….


Stay tuned for subsequent award shows and look for #AwardShowsSoMuseum on Twitter!


Memorial Museum for an Octopus Attack? A Lesson in Trust (and humor)

Trust is fraught with risk.

Trust is important when web users assess knowledge claims online because we risk believing facts that are simply not true.  As Judith Simon explains, the web is an “enormous conglomeration of epistemic content of varying quality” so knowledge is not a validation of facts but “a success term labeling epistemic content that has survived critical scrutiny from multiple agents and satisfies communal standards”.

While I would typically be talking about trust in online communities, let’s go on a different and more thrilling adventure…

The Octopus

This past month, a new museum was advertised in New York City – the Staten Island Ferry Disaster Memorial Museum – which tells the story of 400 victims who died when a giant octopus attacked a Staten Island Ferry boat, on Nov. 22, 1963 – an event overshadowed by the assassination of JFK that same day. 

The corresponding brochure looked real and the person who showed it to me had found it at a tourist location.

“Eye witness accounts describe “large tentacles” which “pulled” the ferry beneath the surface…. The Staten Island Ferry Disaster Museum hopes to correct this oversight by preserving the memory of those lost in this tragedy and educating the public about the truth behind the only known giant octopus-ferry-attack in the tri-state area.”

I was immediately hooked on solving this mystery.  How had I never heard of this small museum or seen the Battery Park monument commemorating the tragedy?

When we trust information, we are taking responsibility for believing and granting authority to the evidence.  Remembering my research advocating epistemological vigilance, I was still suspicious that this place didn’t exist for the following reasons:unnamed

  • While the brochure said the museum was inside Snug Harbor Cultural Center, the address placed the museum right outside of the property.
  • Calls to the listed number did not lead to a person or voicemail.
  • Listed Twitter account was unavailable.
  • A statue appeared in Battery Park that I had never seen before.

I sent a tweet out, tagging #itweetmuseums and tagged some of the most informed museum people I know in New York. But, they hadn’t been there either – another telling clue that the museum couldn’t exist!  

One day later, the NYPost picked up the story, followed by Gothamist and Mashable, which included my Tweets in their story.  I was right to doubt the brochure’s integrity, predictability, and benevolence and while I didn’t denounce the museum as a lie, I was suspect to it all.


We now know that the story is entirely fictitious – There was never an octopus in the harbor and it surely didn’t grab a ferry.

Uncertainty and vulnerability within the trustor and trustee relationship make it hard to weigh options and to calculate possibilities.  People have to determine if others have integrity (righteous behavior), predictability (adhering to promises) and benevolence (expectation of doing good) and then must make an informed decision as whether to trust the parties.

Is it the fault of the tourists who have been actually going to Staten Island wanting to see the museum?  Have they been informed enough to calculate risk and integrity?  Is it fair to expect tourists to know this is a joke? Would they have reason to speculate?

While us real museologists may have had nothing to do with this, its important to remember how much gravitas the term “museum”  has.  Tourists – for better or worse – take our museum marketing at face value.