Follow Friday: Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum

"It's a hectic world out there, but the Gardner has always been a place of sanctuary for real-time visitors," says the Gardner's web manager, Andrew Keys. "We’d like to be a spiritual oasis for those who visit virtually."

isabella stewart gardner museum courtyard

Photo courtesy of Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum

Follow Friday, At a Glance
Connect with the Gardner on social media:

facebook Facebook
twitter Twitter
instagram Instagram
youtube YouTube

You can also explore a virtual Gardner Museum via Google Art Project.

Truly a one-of-a-kind museum, the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum is one of Boston’s most beloved cultural institutions. Its classic style, warm and inviting courtyard, and intimate collection of works—not to mention the intrigue of the infamous 1990 art heist—make the Gardner a top local favorite. But how do you translate the museum’s intimate appeal into the digital age?

Well, partnering with Google is one. The Gardner is now a part of the Google Art Project, so people can virtually visit the museum, Street View-style, whenever they want. Social media is another. The Gardner uses Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc. to keep their audience up to date on the latest events and to provide them with a welcome dose of visual stimuli. There’s just something about lush green courtyards…

In this week’s edition of Follow Friday, the Gardner’s web manager Andrew Keys tells us more about how the museum uses social media to bring fans a bit of that Gardner tranquility.

How many people run the Gardner Museum’s various social media accounts? How do you manage all of them?

Social media is one of those things everyone at the Gardner is interested in! We have a small marketing and communications team, and they’re the masterminds behind working with folks across the museum to drum up content, getting it online, and staying on top of all the exciting stuff we have going on as it happens.

What’s wonderful for us about this arena is that the more visual social media sites, such as Facebook and Instagram, allow us to showcase the variety and depth of the programming here. You can see and appreciate the beauty instantly from individual paintings from the collection, along with comments from passionate visitors. We can bring together everything from contemporary art with blooming flowers in the courtyard to music playing in Calderwood Hall, all in a glance on a social media page.

Carla Fernandez Fashion Event

Fashion designed by Carla Fernandez, who was an artist-in-residence at the Gardner Museum. / Photo provided

What are the goals for the Gardner on social media, and where does your content usually come from?

The Gardner’s social media goals are to get the word out about all the museum’s rich and varied events and exhibitions, to give virtual visitors a look behind the curtain, and to offer up inspiration from the historic collection in the course of followers’ busy days. It’s a hectic world out there, but the Gardner has always been a place of sanctuary for real-time visitors. We try to carry that through to social media, because we’d like to be a spiritual oasis for those who visit virtually.

Our Public Programs department is the major source of our social media content. They’re our in-person social gurus, responsible for great events like Third Thursdays, all of our lectures, concerts, and the like. We also get fantastic ideas and material for posts from the Education and Horticulture departments. Our followers love art, but they love beautiful images of plants just about as much.

oscar de la renta

Late fashion designer Oscar de la Renta and Anne Hawley, the Museum’s Norma Jean Calderwood Director, talk at a 2007 event where de la Renta spoke about his gardens.

In three words, describe the voice and tone of the Gardner’s social media.

Accessible, curious, inspirational.

Which social media account is the strongest channel for the museum? If you had to pick, which one is the “must-follow”?

Our strongest, most engaged following is on Facebook, but we’ve seen the biggest jump in growth this year in Instagram, and that would be the channel we’d pick as a must-follow. As a cultural institution where visual arts is at the forefront, it’s where we hope to continue to grow and offer more and different types of content.


Photo courtesy of Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum

The Gardner has such a unique, classic aesthetic, from the collection, to the architecture, to the courtyard. What do visitors tend to post about most on social media?

From our visitors’ perspective, social media revolves most around social events we have here, like Third Thursdays. Research tells us that cultural experiences are also social experiences, and this is certainly [evident] in what we see our visitors posting about from the Gardner.

What was the feedback like when the FBI said they had new leads in the infamous heist in 1990?

The investigation is still ongoing, so we can’t comment on it, but there was a lot of chatter on social media when the FBI made its announcement. Social media has proven to be a palpable method of gauging just how many people out there would love to see these works recovered.


Left: Michelangelo, Pietà, about 1538-1544, Right: Baccio Bandinelli, Self-Portrait, about 1545, Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, Boston

Can you tell me a little more about the new “Donatello, Michelangelo, Cellini” exhibit?

Our newest exhibition, which opened Thursday, focuses on drawings by Renaissance sculptors, and it’s the first loaned exhibition of sculptors’ drawings ever. We’re all familiar with 3D works by these artists, but it turns out they were masters on paper as well. Because they’re works on paper that are hundreds of years old, these drawings are incredibly fragile, so we’re excited for the opportunity to bring them together from museums as far away as the Louvre and the Uffizi Gallery in Florence. We have a series of lectures and workshops to support the exhibition too.

How is the Google Art Project collaboration going? Does Google tell you if people are touring the Gardner online?

The Google Art Project has been terrific. Google gives us statistics relative to the specific objects in the historic collection that you can look at more closely on our Art Project presence, and these objects have pulled in more than 10,000 views in the past 90 days. We’re thrilled to be the first and only museum in New England that offers Street View navigation that allows you to tour the museum virtually.

Of all the items at the museum, what do people seem to talk about the most on social media?

The museum’s central courtyard is forever its most talked-about feature. The courtyard captures the imagination and wonder of the Gardner, no matter the season or the plants on display there, and that holds true in-person and virtually. It’s fun to be able to share moments in the courtyard on social media, like this summer, when two of the big fishtail palms there were replaced with more luxurious coconut palms. It’s also fun to be able to give followers a glimpse of the courtyard from the museum’s offices on the fourth floor, which are strictly employees-only.

gardner museum el jaleo

Image courtesy Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum

Since you’ve been with the Gardner, what has been your personal favorite story to share on social media?

Two stories:

Sargent’s El Jaleo is one of our most popular paintings. It was a gift from T. Jefferson Coolidge, a Gardner family cousin, and the story goes that Isabella Gardner borrowed the painting in 1914, fell in love with it, and persuaded Coolidge its home was with her collection.

Fast-forward 100 years to 2014. A gentleman who’s worked behind the scenes at the Gardner for many years discovers a postcard of El Jaleo on the sidewalk. This gentleman is a descendent of T. Jefferson Coolidge, who gave Gardner the painting. The card reads “Have you seen this painting? It’s a good one—love the artist. Haven’t been in a while, let’s go. —Amanda.”

The card was never sent, but we wanted to let Amanda know her message got through.


Responses have been edited and condensed.