Mikolaj Napieralski, Head of Marketing and Public Relations at the Orientalist Museum, Qatar, explains how a social media campaign made it easier for audiences to relate to a ‘difficult sell’ exhibition.
How do you make a fine art exhibition about the Ottoman Empire relevant to a young, international audience? That was the question we were asking ourselves as the Orientalist Museum prepared to launch The Art of Travel: Bartholomäus Schachman (1559-1614).
Held at the ALRIWAQ Art Space in Doha, Qatar, the exhibition introduced visitors to the story of Bartholomäus Schachman – a Polish mayor who travelled throughout the Ottoman Empire during the late 16th century. A renowned diplomat, explorer, and art patron, he commissioned over 100 watercolor miniatures during his travels and compiled them into an album.
Although the exhibition featured wonderful artwork, we were concerned that the themes and concepts would be difficult to communicate to the public. Especially in a region without an established museum heritage. To overcome this, we decided to look for ways to make the exhibition more accessible and relevant to the general public.
The subsequent Art of Travel Instagram contest was based on two principles:
- Travel is a universal theme that is relevant to both the exhibition and a general audience
- The most common way for people to record their overseas holidays and travel is to take photos and upload them to Instagram.
Launched alongside the exhibition, the contest asked people to share their travel photos on Instagram and tag them #ArtOfTravel. The best images were then reposted on our own account where people could vote for their favourites. Qatar Airways agreed to give away two international flights to the most popular entry at the end of the campaign.
By emphasizing the travel aspect (and moving the focus away from the Ottoman Empire), we hoped to start a broader conversation about how people capture and share their travel memories.
As the campaign progressed, we gradually incorporated more elements from the exhibition into our media output, subtly linking contemporary Instagram travel photos with the 16th century Ottoman empire paintings on display.
The campaign ran for five weeks and was supported by our other social media pages. The response far exceeded our expectations…
- Over 6000 entries were submitted
- Approximately 2000 people participated
- 65 photos were shortlisted for the competition (which people could vote on)
- 15,397 ‘likes’ were generated on our Instagram page from entries posted
- 265 comments were posted about the 65 featured photos
- Over 400,000 people reached via Instagram
The Instagram contest was more successful than we anticipated. It took a niche art exhibition in the Middle East and introduced it to an international audience without spending a single marketing dollar. More importantly, it allowed the audience to participate, spread the word, and be part of the campaign.
The accessibility of the contest, the social media focus, and the universal themes that underlined it all, meant that even people who had not previously heard of Orientalist art were motivated to take part. More broadly, the campaign showed that there is a wider market out there that fine art museums can tap into. This is relevant to both our future exhibitions and the wider fine arts community.