There is an important American project where art and social networks meet experts and fans of art from all over the world in a one hashtag: #ITweetMuseums. According to the project’s twitter account, ITweetMuseums describes itself as a «non-affiliated, independent initiative to encourage & support museum professionals to tweet relevant content from their individual accounts.»

In this exclusive interview, founder Mark B. Schlemmer tells us how the project was born.

Perhaps Twitter is one of the most interesting platforms for «doing culture» online. Tell us about your project. Why ITweetMuseums and how did you get the idea? 

@ITweetMuseums is a non-affiliated, independent initiative that was launched in September 2013 to encourage and support museum professionals to tweet relevant content from their individual accounts. I got the idea for the project after becoming active on Twitter in 2012 while attending the American Alliance of Museums (AAM) Annual Meeting. I found the platform to be an interesting and vibrant way to connect with people, but at the same time I thought that it was extremely frustrating that it took so long to find the right community. One day, when I was complaining about how difficult it was to find the professional museum community on-line, someone suggested I create a forum to help us all find each other and to foster the dialogues and conversations that make working in a museum so exciting for so many of us. From that, ITM was born.

Tweets are completely free, but how is the project financed? 

At this time, the ITM project is financed 100% by me. However, the only real cost, besides my time, is for the badges, postcards and postage, all of which are minimal. I think of it as a “professional hobby” and am happy to spend my money on it just as anyone would with whatever free-time activities they choose to pursue.

What do you think makes ITM so original? I mean, a hashtag and a selfie are not enough to make a difference. What is your main goal? 

The main goal of ITM is to get more museum professionals to engage via Twitter. I am not necessarily focusing on those people who tweet professionally as part of their jobs, but rather I want to see every museum employee feel empowered to use Twitter for professional development, to connect with fellow museum colleagues and to share information relevant to museums. Why? My academic background is in Museum Studies (I have a Masters Degree (MA) in Museum Studies from Seton Hall University, South Orange, New Jersey) and I have a very strong desire to see all museums succeed. Museum professionals are extremely passionate about their work and the museums they work for, but sometimes they are not the best at communicating that message. Everyone who works in a museum has the potential to be an advocate for their institution and for museums in general.

The ITM button was originally conceived as a fun token for me to give to those who embrace the initiative, but I have since come to see it as a much more serious tool. When someone  wears an ITM badge, it invites people into a dialogue with them, the wearer, about what it means to «tweet museums.» That conversation might be with a colleague, a visitor or with their Twitter followers. I hope that those who wear the badge engage with other people  who are curious about them and their work, and that they share not only their passion for museums, but also their committed effort to disseminate their enthusiasm via Twitter. It’s a very small badge, but the potential for impact is huge!

The ITM  hashtag is a way to keep the project organized and it also serves as an easy reference to find tweets from all over the world about what museum colleagues are seeing, thinking and creating. Though I never promoted its use on other platforms, you can find #ItweetMuseums tagged on Vine, Flickr and Instagram in addition to Twitter.

From which country you have received the greatest feedback? Do you remember my tweet from the MADRE Museum, Naples?

The country from which I have received be greatest feedback has been the United States. Current followers: 7,700+ and followers from 96 different countries:

  1. USA (42.92%)
  2. United Kingdom (20.98%)
  3. Italy (5.86%)

Storify posts viewed: 7,700+

Instagram photos tagged #ITweetMuseums by followers from around the world: 2,200+

Storify link to #MetDetails, the first tweet-up we had that was at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in the fall of 2014

Some statistics about the #MetDetails tweet-up: 11 participants, 162 original tweets, 47 @ messages, and 385 re-tweets for a total of 594 tweets.

Museum professionals from all over the world have found the ITM project in the last year. In fact, just last week I got a new follower: a museum professional in Tasmania!

With respect to your tweet and photo from the MADRE Museum in Naples, I do remember it! In fact, I retweeted it (@fabiopariante) at the time and you can see it included in my Storify post here.

What future plans do you have? 

As before, in the future we intend to offer more opportunities for museum professionals to engage via Twitter through tweet-ups, chats and by creating more educational resources. I have also started teaching Twitter training workshops for museum professionals and will continue to be a strong advocate for using Twitter for professional development.

In the spring of 2015, ITweetMuseums was invited by the United Kingdom Mission to the United Nations to facilitate a tweet-up at the UN Headquarters in NYC that focused on exploring its collection of artwork. Here is the Storify link to the #UNdetails tweet-up.

Some statistics about the #UNdetails tweet-up: 11 participants, 253 original tweets, 37 @ messages, and 512 re-tweets for a total of 802 tweets. This event trended on Twitter in NYC!