Vital Visual Interpretation: the Promise of Short Videos Apps for Museums

Seema Rao, Cleveland Museum of Art, Patty Edmonson, Cleveland Museum of Art, USA, Chad Weinard, Independent Consultant, USA, Alli Burness, Independent, Australia


While corporations have started to use Vine for advertising, museums have been slow to adopt this medium. Given the number of museums with Vine accounts, many institutions seem to acknowledge the possibility in short videos. However, most museums are yet to exploit Vine for its full potential. Short-videos are an important way in which users communicate with each other.
Museums need to understand the possibilities for this media in order to engage with visitors in authentic ways. This paper will consider the potential of short video and stop-motion video (Vine and Instagram) for museums in order define best practices for museums and project possible future directions for the medium. Drawing from our own experiences using Vine and Instagram at museums, we will focus on three main themes transparency, information dissemination, and collaborative communication. Counteracting the the dearth of scholarship on the use of short-videos by museums, this paper will offer practictioners concrete ways to implement this cost-effective tool in their institutions.

Keywords: Video, Vine, Instagram, Interpretation, Museums, Mobile

This paper considers the potential of short video and stop-motion for museums in order to define best practices for museums and project possible future directions for the medium. Drawing from our own experiences using Vine and Instagram at museums, we will focus on three main themes transparency, information dissemination, and collaborative communication. Along with the broader, theoretical issues associated with the medium, this session offers tools for practitioners including ways to capture a clear steady image, prompts to engage even the most recalcitrant visitors, and bringing objects and spaces to life. Drawing from our own experiences using Vine at museums, we will focus on three approaches: the professional visitor, museum social media, and programmatic.

Vine, social media, video, interpretation, participatory

The Professional Visitor

Social media has created a suite of tools visitors can use to express the way they see and look and how they create meaning in the museum space. Museums now receive interpretation from visitors in the form of social media, including photographs taken in the gallery (such as selfies) and short video. As an example, one author uses Vine to expresses her looking and the meanings she makes in the museum space.

Vine can capture the process of looking in museums, give a more accurate view of kinetic or 3D objects, add movement to static spaces, and create stories or suggestions of narrative. The immediacy of the interface – the intrinsic importance of touch – means the creator can intuit when to ‘record’ according to their own lines of sight and the way bodies move in the museum space (even foreseeing wearable tech).

John Falk has said “if we knew the answer to the three basic questions of who goes to museums, what they do there, and what meaning they make from the experience, we would gain critical insights into how individuals derive value and benefits from their museum-going experience. Historically, museums have defined their impact from a top-down perspective.” (Falk, 2009) Social media created by visitors provides us with data that may help define our impact from a ‘visitor-up’ perspective. When visitors use short, social video and other forms of expressive social media, they produce output which potentially provides us an answer to these questions, helping us explore what meaning our visitors are making, and encourage more visitors to use social media to creatively express their museum experience. If museums are sufficiently skilled and invested in ‘social listening,’ we may yet hear that answer.

Museum Social Media

Vine can be a valuable addition to a museum’s social media toolset. Short, shareable, and playful, social video helps museums tell object stories in a way that plays to the strength of social media.

Social networks are increasingly image-driven. Facebook and Twitter are showcasing visual content in new ways, with magazine-style layouts on the Facebook Timeline and big inline images and video within the Twitter stream. Posts that take advantage of this new visual emphasis outperform those that don’t by a wide margin. Visual content is ascendant.

Vine provides first-class visual content for many social media channels. Post a Vine on Twitter, and it will appear inline in the stream, big and ready to play. Vines are easily shared on Facebook pages, and embedded in blog posts and on the web. Vine works great across platforms and on mobile.

Vine is also its own small social network. Like Twitter, you can follow, unfollow, revine, favorite, and leave comments. Vines can be geolocated, and locations are clickable. Hashtags are popular and active. Categories are a feature unique to Vine.

If a picture is worth a thousand words, a Vine can be worth much more. Images show what a work of art looks like; Vine can show what it’s like to look at a work of art. Sculpture and 3D objects can be brought to life as the camera orbits the object. Vine can capture snippets of time-based art and video. By showing multiple perspectives, or skimming near the surface of a painting, Vine can recreate (or even model) the act of close-looking. A Vine of a 2D object can emphasize the materiality, presentness, and impact of the work of art as seen in the gallery, in a way that an image cannot.

Vine can also show slices of museum life in vivid ways. Behind-the-scenes Vines give glimpses of art-handling and conservation treatments (always popular). Events, concerts, and lectures benefit from the sound and atmosphere provided by video. Stop-motion Vines can lend a sense of space and progression to exhibition walk-throughs.

Vine makes creating short video quick and easy. Vine’s technical constraints mean videos must be made on the spot, without elaborate post-production. There is no mechanism for exporting, editing, adding still photos, b-roll footage, etc. The Vine aesthetic (if there is one) is imperfect, immediate, live, and fresh–a slice of life.


The accessibility of the media makes Vine an ideal format for programmatic deployment. Broadly, programming that employs Vine might be considered in two categories: information dissemination and visitor participation. Of the former, short video offers museum professionals a cost-effective and accessible means of creating interpretation. The informal aspect of these videos further increases their accessibility where professionals are “speaking” in a well-known vernacular. While the types of interpretation that can be produced through short video are infinite, some possibilities are art-making process videos, short definitions of art historical terms, and snapshots of upcoming exhibitions.

Along with this interpretation created by museum professionals for the public, Vine also serves as an ideal tool for visitor-created interpretation. Visitors can be offered a framework to spur their creativity, such as prompts or even props, to create short videos. In these types of programs staff serves as intercessors offering insight and encouraging participation. These types of structured programs are helpful in audiences for whom Vine is unfamiliar. Some audiences, such as teens, who are early adapters to the media, should be encouraged to create in the galleries in an open-ended way. All of these staff-facilitated, visitor-created videos augment the interpretation about the museum and its collection while at the same time developing new bonds between the museum and its audience. When museums encourage this type of participation, they send a powerful message of inclusion to the community about participation and collective interpretation.

The How-To Session

In this session we will explore Vine as it falls into these categories. The immediacy of Vine means that we will be able to create short video together during the workshop, and discuss the process. If you wish to Vine along with us, please download the app before the conference.

Our session will use #MWVine. During the session, we’ll try out a few techniques together:
Funny Faces #MWVineFaces
Make a shared vine; how do you feel right now? #MWVineFeelings
Make a Biographical portrait of someone in this room #MWVinePortraits
Capture this word: Texture #MWVineTexture

Not enough Vine? Alli will host a meetup at the Walters Art Museum on Thursday night, #MWVineVisitor, and Patty and Seema will host a meetup session about process Vines. They will provide supplies and guidance for this project, #MWVineCraft. Details to follow.

Find the presenters at:

Alli Burness
Twitter @alli_burnie

Chad Weinard
Twitter @ncartmuseum @caw_

Seema Rao
Twitter @artlust

Patty Edmonson
Twitter @retrograde_D


Falk, J, (2009). Identity and the Museum Visitor Experience. Walnut Creek, California: Left Coast Press.

Cite as:
. "Vital Visual Interpretation: the Promise of Short Videos Apps for Museums." MW2014: Museums and the Web 2014. Published March 11, 2014. Consulted .

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