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During a time when the freedom and peace in a country are abruptly disturbed. What do you do as a museum, artist, gallery or institution? Can we #standwithukraine as the art world? Do we even have a voice? And what do we say? Or do we keep silent?
I can imagine that every social media manager in the art world, and probably outside our bubble too, are discussing a course of action. Social media is an extra difficult place in times like these for social media managers. It’s an enormous pressure and responsibility when you’re in charge of a platform and represent an institution online. At the moment when writing this, february 28, discussions at big museums like the MoMA, Tate, Louvre and Uffizi are probably still ongoing as they haven’t shared anything related to the conflict yet and kept on posting their usual content.
Already seeing comments on their posts asking the MoMA to use their platform and speak up.
So what do we do when doing nothing doesn’t feel like an option anymore?
In this article, I’m highlighting five different courses of action in the art world to #StandwithUkraine.
The Marina Abramovic Institution was as fast as can be, within 24h of the invasion they shared a video of Marina Abramovic, probably the most famous performance artist of today, taking a stand of solidarity with Ukraine.
The advantage of this approach is that by responding so quickly you can lead the way for people to speak up too. This is a message that has been shared broadly and was also picked up by the media like The Art Newspaper.
Of course, this contributes to her fame, and you don’t want to end up on the Instagram of How can I make this about me. So therefore it is very important to be mindful of your words and what you actually say, in order to contribute with your share of voice instead of just taking up space. The speed of Marina Abramovic in sharing this video is important, as she was one of the first to actively speak out. She really did lead the way for people to stand up and show solidarity. There is a force in numbers you know.
Next to taking a stand, we also see institutions and people take action. I have two I would like to highlight.
Firstly the curator and artists of the Russian Federation Pavilion of the 59th Venice Biennale, Kirill Savchenkov, Alexandra Sukhareva and Raimundas Malašauskasave, announced that they won’t participate in the Venice Biennale of 2022. In doing this they cancelled Russian participation at this year’s Biennale.
Taking action like this is inspiring and it is amazing to see that people use the power and possibilities they have within their reach to take a stand.
They undertook action in the real world and used social media to share their actions. Probably aiming to inspire others to take action too.
This is of course something that won’t be possible for everyone and this is also definitely not the path of least resistance, as people will respond and sometimes not to your liking.
But remember, for every person who leaves a negative or hateful comment there are 10 (probably way more) that will show love and support. It’s up to you which you decide to focus on.
Secondly, I would like to highlight a digital response by Alice Hualice, a Russian artist who courageously posted on her Instagram. But also actively sharing her doubts whether she should add to the noise or not?
First, she replied quickly by actively opposing the Russian military invasion of the territory of Ukraine, writing in Russian and English. In the days that followed she kept silent and then she posted a new message, only in Russian. If google translate can be trusted she shared that she tried to not produce posts that create noise that might prevent people from finding the important and necessary information. Then she started having interruptions in social networks and wrote her post before a possible block. She finished her personal story with a call to action
“Ukraine – peace!
Russia – freedom!
Putin – resign!
And also freedom for all political prisoners!” (Quoting google translate of her Instagram post)
Of course, not everyone is able to take action or be a thought leader in these challenging times. So what are the more ‘safe’ approaches but which will allow you to still use your share of voice?
Dutch museums have decided to work together on a response, on the initiative of the Dutch Museum association they united against war violence.
Major Dutch museums like the Van Gogh Museum, Rijksmuseum and Mauritshuis posted a blue and yellow artwork and said “Beauty as a reaction to the ugliness 💙💛”
What you actually say with this is of course something to be critical about. How does this help? This is, of course, a recurring debate within the arts. Because can art actually change the world? But, after managing the emotional accounts of the Van Gogh Museum for five years up until last fall, I can assure you that art at least nurtures and consoles our souls. Something which is also very much needed during times of crisis.
As Vincent van Gogh wrote to his brother Theo: “Someone has a great fire in his soul and nobody ever comes to warm themselves at it, and passers-by see nothing but a little smoke at the top of the chimney and then go on their way. So now what are we to do, keep this fire alive inside, have salt in ourselves, wait patiently, but with how much impatience, await the hour, I say, when whoever wants to, will come and sit down there, will stay there, for all I know?.”
So I believe there is also power in letting art do its thing and nurture our souls.
A bit more activist approach was taken by the Resistance Museum Amsterdam, it very actively gave their opinion as a museum and added a call to action to support independent journalists.
The Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam also spoke up and was as quick as Marina Abramovic with a response also showing solidarity and also shared causes to donate to.
With that, both museums gave a stage to and put focus on action that the followers could take. This type of information is very practical and useful and shows you’re a thought leader too and you not only inspire with beauty but also inspire into action.
As I am aware that museums are often government-funded and therefore not in the position to donate themselves, this is a way to still use your share of voice to inspire action.
Finally, the most ‘safe’ approach but still taking action was done by the Instagram account History Cool Kids, who shared this post the day after the invasion. Without saying anything specific about the invasion like Marina Abramovic they showed they were in tune with the situation but kept close to their niche. Becoming a platform for people and giving room in the comment sections to people to express their feelings.
This is an approach that might fit institutions that aren’t political but do want to be considerate in these times. Social media is a daunting place and it is very understandable to be careful and stay true to your organization’s a-political way of being.
Hopefully, these five different courses of action give you a bit more overview of the situation and help you to decide what fits your platform. Whatever you end up doing, the most important thing is that you stay authentic to your organization and respectful of the situation.
And then, after you did the post. What happens next? I think you can resume posting your content, but try to stay in tune with what’s happening and use your power to console our souls with art.
And of course, I can’t oversee the entire internet, so have you seen a message that you thought was inspiring? Please share it!
— The fee for writing this article has been donated to the Red Cross.
Boudewien Chalmers Hoynck van Papendrecht is an applied psychologist and social media specialist.
She has run social media communities larger than 9,5 million on behalf of the Van Gogh Museum, creating one of the most engaged fanbases in the museum world.
In 2021 she started her own company Bubble Shooters Network. Now she works for the art world to advice and work with institutions to use a social media purposefully.
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