Met Stories is a year-long video series that served as the marquee content for The Metropolitan Museum of Art's 150th anniversary in 2020. Our goals for this ambitious project were to frame the anniversary with compelling, personal stories from visitors, artists, and staff that would highlight the Met as a museum by, for, and about all people, with an emphasis on diversity of race, age, physical ability, sexuality, and gender. We aimed to convey that art can inform, inhabit, reflect, and expand individual lives. We wanted to produce a series that was cinematic in look and feel and that placed the storytellers in unique settings across the museum.
We did not want this to be an exhaustive oral history project with a mass of interviewees, and the focus was not overly backward-looking, nostalgic, celebratory or navel-gazing. Instead, we focused on universal subjects and intended to include not only feel-good stories, but also challenging, thought-provoking, and surprising narratives.
We wanted to engage with our visitors and followers by creating a public story submission form, from which we would cast the series, and to include some prominent public figures as well. We planned from the start to cater to all of our social media channels—on Youtube we would share episodes, which could unite multiple stories under a theme, while on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook we would share individual stories throughout the year. This series was the Met's foray into the IGTV format, and we cut all stories for the vertical format.
Each episode presented personal, compelling stories of individuals’ experiences with the Met that emphasized the impact the museum has made on their lives and outlook. This was the first time the Met focused on the experiences of visitors in our digital content, which is typically behind-the-scenes or focused on artists and the museum's exhibitions and programming. We took a thematic approach, grouping stories into 12 full episodes in order to emphasize how the personal, anecdotal story can speak to universal themes and the wider meaning of art and museums.
These themes included "Looking back to look forward," "Breaking down barriers," "Being Seen," "Connection," "Catharsis," "Breakthrough," "Essential," "Caregiving," "Resilience," "Home," "Belonging," and "Love." The interviewees were cast from the public submission form, which was shared on social media, email newsletters, and and a museum-wide call for entries. The subjects include public figures such as Tim Gunn and Yotam Ottolenghi alongside visitors from different backgrounds, such as a veteran who overcame his PTSD in the Greek and Roman galleries, a DACA-recipient who finally achieved his dream of working at the Met, a tattoo artist who found solace looking at Oceanic and African art as she faced terminal illness, and a student with non-verbal autism who first linked sight and sound in the Chinese garden courtyard. We included stories of inspiration from artists, writers, and a ballet dancer, four love stories, and interviewees who shared their difficult experiences with racism and alienation.
We used cinema lenses and Steadicam to achieve a cinematic look and feel that became recognizable to our viewers. We framed the interviews with extra wide shots to emphasize the individual in the museum setting, captured candid footage across the museum during visitor hours to show the life of the museum, and filmed works of art across time, geography, and medium to emphasize the emotional content of the story, rather than to present an art historical message. This approach made the stories less didactic and more experiential and associative.
The COVID-19 pandemic unexpectedly upended our production when the museum closed in March. With agility, we switched to remote video production by using Zoom and smartphones, and gathered footage shot by essential staff to create an episode called "Essential," which discussed the impact of the pandemic on an essential worker, a writer, and an artist. We included animation to evoke the mediation of the computer screen, which has become so ubiquitous in our lives this year. In our last episodes, we continued to pair interviews shot remotely with those we had filmed before the pandemic to create a seamless, realtime portrait of life in 2020.
For distribution, we released twelve thematic episodes on Youtube on a monthly cadence throughout the year and embedded them in a newly designed series player on our website. The twenty-five stories were released individually on Facebook and Twitter, and on IGTV in a vertical format with the #MyMetStory hashtag. Our close collaboration with the Marketing and Communications team from the start made Met Stories a strategic success.
Met Stories was a great success and showed widespread impact. As of February 9, 2021, we had 5,552,219 views across Youtube, Facebook, and Instagram, with 191,056 hours watched, and 9,677 comments. On our website, average time on our Met Stories page was over 12 minutes and 28% of viewers completed, both of which are remarkably high. Our average retention on Youtube was 43%. Met Stories is the highest performing series and the most watched series on the @metmuseum IGTV channel, with 4,918,867 views total. Met Stories posts on IGTV received record numbers of comments (7,337 total), roughly 3x more comments than our other videos on IGTV, and the comments frequently show a deep connection to our audiences. The comments registered connection from afar, a desire to share, relatable and emotional resonance, and unexpected entry points into the Met's collection. Select comments include: "Your Met Stories are a compelling invitation. You've replaced the institutional façade with human experience. The very core idea of art itself."; "This is the most moving testament to the museum I have ever experienced."; "Really thank you Met for all these stories, Specially in moments like this of isolation I feel deeply touched by all of them."; and "It's amazing to see different function of a museum, it shows that met is alive and connected."
We received press and support from museum leadership and colleagues. Met Stories demonstrated that personal stories move our audiences and can change their expectations of who cares about museums and why.