What most visitors really need is a story—a memorable, emotionally resonant way to connect with a fundamentally foreign object. When I say story, I don’t mean the reason why the work is important according to terms established by the high priests of art history (alas, what many art museums offer their befuddled visitors). Rather, I am talking about something closer to a seduction, delivered with a tone that is by turns curious, passionate, open, and excited to share. Hey, welcome! I am super excited to tell you a really cool story about this thing, because I think you’re going to find it fascinating and compelling. The art object must become, in Nina Simon’s parlance, a social object. And it has to happen within the three to fifteen seconds a visitor typically glances at an artwork.
It is those crucial seconds—the moment when curiosity transforms into either interest or boredom—to which our team devotes a lot of our efforts. The Content Strategy and Digital Engagement division here at SFMOMA includes five departments: Community Engagement (known best for our Open Space online platform), Interpretive Media, Publications, Web + Digital Platforms, and the Design Studio. We work across disciplines and in close contact with the curators to deliver stories about art, artists, and the museum that are as compelling as we can make them, in each case using the tool, voice, and design that best connects with the intended audience.