Finalist: Columbus Museum of Art

Contestants compete during CMA’s Game Show
Contestants compete during CMA’s Game Show

The Columbus Museum of Art (CMA) is a midsized museum with a widely recognized, dynamic collection, and while sometimes a destination museum, our visitor base is almost exclusively made up of residents of and visitors to Central Ohio.

A shift in thinking, from destination museum to community resource

CMA made a strategic decision to deepen our role as a community resource for Central Ohio, offering engaging programs for learners of all ages that encourage return visits for meaningful experiences.  The first step was adopting a new mission statement that guides all efforts – Great experiences with great art for everyone.

A new Center for Creativity

In response to this shift, in January 2011, the Columbus Museum of Art (CMA) opened an 18,000-square-foot Center for Creativity – a new space and initiative that champions new and different ways of thinking and doing.  Now, a visitor to CMA will encounter multiple ways to engage with our renowned collection.  Called connectors, these components provoke visitors to collaborate, have conversations, think critically, and look closely at works of art. Connectors represent a new, intentional, museum-wide practice that has transformed the visitor experience from passive observation to active participation.

Promotional piece for CMA’s Game Show 5

A game show at the museum

One of the success stories of the Center for Creativity is Game Show, a 1970s-inspired game show and public program developed out of an effort to engage the 21-to-40 year old age group.  Since its introduction in March 2011, Game Show has built a steady following among Columbus’s young adult audiences, who connect using Facebook and social media to follow personalities such as the show’s flamboyant, spray-tanned hostess Susie Starliner (who happens to be played by CMA’s Studio Programs Coordinator).

Game Show turns the Center into a nucleus, a meeting place and a cooperative project for a creative community of partners (including art collectives, performance groups, businesses, and other organizations), who co-create the show’s content with CMA education staff.  The program is a collaborative opportunity to build and strengthen relationships among thinkers, support the evolution of a creative economy, and to demonstrate the vitality of Columbus as a creative city.

The program strives to change the image of the museum as a formal, rigid place to one where participation, social engagement, and purposeful play are priorities.

CMA’s Art Madness bracket sheet
CMA’s Art Madness bracket sheet


Bringing sports competitiveness to an art collection

Another success story was during the 2012 NCAA March Madness basketball tournament, when CMA experimented with an online competition for art lovers we called Art Madness, which was envisioned as a way for the museum to be fun and relevant, draw attention to our collection, and increase our social media engagement.

The focus of Art Madness was not on scholarship or historical accuracy.  Instead, we hoped to mix up the art and artists in our collection, make a project that was humorous, witty, and whimsical, and get people involved and excited.

The actual “tournament” took place on our Facebook page, where we posted daily a new pairing of artworks and left the outcome of each “game” to our online visitors.  The work of art with the most “Likes” advanced to the next round.  Our “regions” were based on art historical periods or styles, (such as the Renaissance or Abstract Expressionism), and our “brackets” were shaped around some of our most beloved pieces (as well as a few sleepers) with an overarching eye for reflecting diversity.

Screen shot from CMA’s Facebook page during Art Madness campaign.
Screen shot from CMA’s Facebook page during Art Madness campaign.

Success in social media engagement

After Art Madness kicked off on March 20, 2012, the museum’s web site traffic increased more than 30%, and our Facebook engagement increased more than 170% during the week of March 26.  The long-term result has caused our Facebook visitorship to level off at around 12,000+ per week, representing a 4,000 person or 50% increase in total engagement.

Moreover, the campaign helped boost CMA’s visibility locally, regionally, and nationally.  The American Association of Museums and other Ohio-based agencies shared Art Madness on their Facebook page, and our local visitors’ bureau and sports commission shared the program across many of their online media outlets.

About the Columbus Museum of Art

The Columbus Museum of Art (CMA) is a significant contributor to the vibrant cultural life of Central Ohio, annually providing creative and thought-provoking art-related experiences for more than 200,000 onsite and 275,000 unique online visitors.  CMA owns more than 10,500 works of art, including an internationally recognized collection of European and American Modernism.  All programming and exhibitions support CMA’s mission to create great experiences with great art for everyone.

In 2012, CMA is leading the national conversation in creating a visionary, innovative, visitor-centered model for a participatory, twenty-first century museum that welcomes the voice, opinion, and creative energies of our diverse audiences.  We seek to engage the community in myriad ways, including pursuing collaborations that align important resources to provide one-of-a-kind opportunities for lifelong learners to explore, create, and reach their full potential. 


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Jennifer Poleon is the Digital Communications Manager for the Columbus Museum of Art where she oversees all social media and digital strategy.