Met Director Thomas Campbell Talks The Museum's New Ad Campaign, Celebrities And Social Media

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Have you ever wondered what Alex Rodriguez's favorite works of art in the Metropolitan Museum of Art are? Would you have guessed they include a Manet, a Thomas Eakins, a 10th-11th century Sicán funerary mask and a Rauschenberg among others? Well, that's what the museum's newest ad campaign with the theme "My Met" shares, in addition to revealing the tastes of other celebrities like Claire Danes, Marc Jacobs, Carmelo and La La Anthony, Hugh Jackman, Zaha Hadid and Seth Meyers. The campaign, which debuted in the New York Times March 15, also features an interactive aspect in which people can highlight their own preferences in the collection answering the question "What's Your Met?" Runnin' Scared got a chance to speak with the Met's Director Thomas Campbell about the campaign, the choice of celebrities and social media.

How and why did "My Met" start? Where did the idea for that come from?
This is the latest iteration of a campaign we've now run for three years. Three years ago we started a campaign based on the theme "It's Time We Met" trying to reach out to a broader audience and to make people feel comfortable with the museum. For some reason there had been this longstanding tradition that we wouldn't show people with works of art. And we started this campaign showing people with works of art inspired by the way that people were taking photographs of themselves in the gallery and then posting them on Flickr. That was the start of it. So we have had three different iterations ending last year with the campaign, which we titled "Get Closer," looking at having close up details of works of art and challenging people to find them. Then this year we were brainstorming about how to take it forward, and it really came out of thinking about all of our advertising reaches people who already know about the Metropolitan and we wanted to think of a way to get past that. The idea came up of using celebrities who come to the Metropolitan, who like art and celebrities who might catch the attention of people who don't regularly come here. So sports people, comedians, musicians and so on. That was the genesis. And then we brainstormed.

We ended up going kind of New York centric. Thinking about New Yorkers primarily.

A lot of tourists come to the Met. Is picking New York centric celebrities an effort to get people who live here and might not come?
It was a conscious decision. Obviously we have a huge international tourist audience. We're the number one tourist attraction in New York, but this advertising campaign, which is on the website but it's also physically on the side of buses and in subways, is primarily aimed at a New York audience. By having New York celebrities, you are especially making it about the town, about the people who live here.

How did you come to people like Alex Rodriguez or Carmelo Anthony or Seth Meyers? I think we expect to maybe see Zaha Hadid.
It was a total mix. A number of staff were involved through different contacts -- whether people had been here for events or whether we had made arrangements for them to come in. We had called people that we knew to people who were involved who we knew were interested in art, sometimes quite surprisingly. That was part of the fun of it. Who knew that Alex Rodriguez is a big big fan of modern art?

Were any of the pieces that the celebrities chose surprising to you? Many of them are not the big touristy attraction pieces that you have.
That was the fun of it. Some of them just "this, this, this and this" and others we worked with them and sort of discussed it with them. It was part of the fun of it. In fact, in part this also builds on an online publication we did last year called "Connections." It has about 100 members of the staff around the museum talking about their favorite pieces. Not being the voice of art history and the voice of authority, but talking about a much more subjective experiences of works of art. Some guy is giving up smoking and talks about seeing smoke in pictures. Someone else talking about a bad hair day and bad hair in art. So in a way this campaign in part picks up on the spirit of that online publication. It's not just about the famous works of art, its about a more subjective engagement with art. And part of it is this whole challenge. It's not just about the celebrities. We're showing the public the celebrities picks, but then the challenge is "What's Your Met?" Which invites the public to make their own selections.

The way I got a sense of that is it is kind of like an art social network in a way.
Absolutely, the first "Time We Met" campaign three years ago was inspired by that social media thing, people taking photographs and posting them on Flickr. And all of our advertising campaigns have had that social media component, inviting people to take photographs, to post them.

This year it isn't a competition but they can upload their images. I think it's important. In the pre-computer age people kind of passively accepted information. Now there's an expectation that people interact with their environment through media. It's kind of fun.

How does the experience of sharing the art -- maybe seeing other people's art -- translate into a viewer coming to the Met and appreciating art?
I think in various ways. It's as simple as someone coming to the Met and saying "I want to see A-Rod's selection." Out of curiosity. We know that people come here and they take photographs and they want to share them with their friends. That's great. It makes the museum a more accessible place a friendlier place. A museum can be quite a confusing place, quite an intimidating place. We want people to feel comfortable because there is no right or wrong way to be here. The crucial thing is to be here. To look and see things you've never seen before.

[EstherZuckerman / ezwrites]

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