November 19, 2020
By Monica Marchese
In today’s fast-paced, social media-saturated world, hashtags are a vital part of communicating and disseminating ideas quickly and effectively. Since the birth of Twitter in 2006, hashtags have emerged as the number one way to link content and highlight key subjects in social media and blog posts. Hashtag traffic points to the most important trends that are emerging both globally and locally. A quick look at Twitter’s “Trending” section tells us what people around the world are most concerned about at any given moment.
Hashtags also serve as an effective way to unite people around a common goal or shared experience. Among the top hashtags during the COVID-19 pandemic were #SocialDistancing, #StayHomeStaySafe, and #FlattenTheCurve. Posts bearing these tags shared the same sentiment: we’re all in this together. In the museum world, the most-used COVID-19 solidarity tag became #MuseumAtHome, which signaled leisure-time distractions for museum lovers around the world.
Over the past few months, the Grey Art Gallery has been participating in these unifying trends, sharing posts with the tags #MuseumAtHome, #ArtCanHelp, and #MuseumsThankHealthHeroes. Through their hashtags, these posts were linked to a larger web of pandemic-related museum content that audiences could consume at home. According to Allegra Favila, the Grey’s Press Officer, the museum’s goal over the past few months was to “lock into an audience looking for a distraction from pandemic-related strife or missing museums.”
Hashtags can also be used to declare social solidarity. Over the past months, the COVID-19 pandemic and the deaths of George Floyd and others shed a harsh spotlight on systemic racism in the United States. Supporters of the Black Lives Matter movement used tags such as #BLM, #BlackOutTuesday, and #Resist to rally and unite under the common cause of racial equality. During Pride Month (June), the tag #BlackTransLivesMatter emerged, calling attention to the violence that Black trans women and men face on a daily basis. The hashtag #MuseumsAreNotNeutral, first shared by La Tanya Autry and Mike Murawski in August 2017, promotes museums as agents of change in our society. Its goal is to “expose the myth of museum neutrality and demand equity-based transformation across institutions.” The ever-growing movement has prompted more and more institutions to expand their engagement with social and political trends.
Inspired in part by these hashtags, the Grey Art Gallery is prioritizing content that engages with contemporary issues—embracing social trends and remaining cognizant of what’s happening in the world. In Favila’s words, people simply don’t have the patience for disengaged posts anymore. Now more than ever, museums and other cultural institutions must strive to create more productive ties between program content and social engagement.
While Twitter and Instagram hashtags might appear to represent a superficial aspect of museum communication, in today’s digital age, it is vital for museums to harness social media literacy in engaging with their audiences. Both types of engagement mentioned above—entertainment and distraction, or solidarity and activism—are key. While we may feel more isolated than ever due to the COVID-19 pandemic, museums are doing their part to help keep us connected, showing us that we are not alone in our shared experience of the year 2020.
 Murawski, Mike, “MUSEUMS ARE NOT NEUTRAL,” Art Museum Teaching, August 31, 2017, https://artmuseumteaching.com/2017/08/31/museums-are-not-neutral/.
Monica Marchese is a graduate intern at the Grey Art Gallery. She expects to receive an M.A. in Museum Studies from New York University in May 2021.