The Future of Arts Media is a subject that has been on the minds of many museum and arts executives for quite some time now. How does technology affect coverage? How can small museums get better recognized by national media? How do arts writers receive their information, and how do they work best with museums?
I moderated a panel with the crème de la crème of arts writers in the U.S.—Mario Mercado, arts editor of Travel + Leisure, Richard Lacayo, art and architecture critic for Time magazine and Stephen Wallis, formerly the arts editor for Departures magazine and now a national freelancer. In addition, Mary Haus, director of communications for the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston provided perspective from the PR side, in addition to her previous experience as an arts writer.
What I found most interesting is that, most likely, the arts writers will have your museum on their radar before you reach out to them. Since museums have their calendars set so far in advance, all arts writers—particularly those with long leads—will be researching museums’ websites long before the PR departments are preparing press releases for the exhibitions.
Images are key and can make or break a decision about whether to cover an exhibition. Pre-exhibition access—even before the rest of the media—is also key.
The panel did discuss the challenge for small museums—it’s tough for a small museum to get national coverage. However, all three publications will only cover the first stop of a traveling exhibition in order to focus on the institution that produces it. So, if a traveling show begins in Indianapolis before traveling to New York, they prefer to cover the show in Indianapolis and not wait until it arrives in New York.
A publication like Departures will give preference to edgy contemporary art rather than the classics and vary rarely would cover a natural history museum. The same goes for Travel + Leisure, although Travel + Leisure Family does frequently cover natural history and children’s museums. It’s all about finding the right outlet for your museum.
On that note, understand the publication before you pitch. How do they typically cover exhibitions? Travel + Leisure typically covers an exhibition that’s travel-worthy, whereas the editors at Time don’t expect you to travel to see the exhibition they’re reviewing and must adequately represent it through words and images.
–Lindsey Brown, Greater Houston CVB; AAM 2011 Public Relations & Marketing Subcommittee member