Conceived in the days preceeding the National Gallery of Art's temporary closure due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the daily #MuseumFromHome tours offered the museum's followers a way to "visit" while the museum was closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Launched just two days after the doors closed to the public, the daily tours also intended to offer a moment of respite for the world during first days of lockdown, allowing followers a chance to escape to the National Gallery from the safety of home.
The tours sought to present the breadth of art in the National Gallery's collection, highlighting visitors' favorite spaces while also introducing them to less-frequented galleries. Each tour offered a new insight, detail, story, or perspective and was designed to appeal to everyone from the casual museum visitor to the devoted art aficionado. The tours also highlighted staff from across the National Gallery who "led" many tours and shared their personal perspectives on the collection.
The Gallery quickly mobilized to develop and launch the tours and was one of the earliest adopters of the #MuseumFromHome hashtag. The intiative was created with a minimal budget, utilizing existing resources, and all while allowing staff to work from home (images and videos gathered in the final two days before the buildings closed to staff).
Rather than moving through the galleries sequentially, tours were scheduled to offer a mix of different mediums of art, time periods, and genres. A tour calendar was developed to ensure that tours shared a variety of works of art and were timed to relevant events (artist's birthdays, trending topics, etc.). This approach kept the tours fresh, and encouraged people to tune in for each day's tour, since they never knew in advance which gallery would be covered. The calendar also tracked the many staff from across the museum the social media team collaborated with to research and develop tours.
Tours capitalized on the capabilities of Instagram stories and integrated images, videos, links, polls, questions, and stickers, offering an experience that is even more interactive than an in-person tour. Tours were storyboarded to offer an introduction to the gallery, a close look at a few works, and a conclusion with links to related resources where followers could learn more. Gallery views and curator commentaries were combined with hi-res details of paintings, related works, scientific studies, and archival photographs of artists. Each tour concluded with a detail of a work of art for a calming #MuseumMomentofZen.
Tours were accompanied by an Instagram feed post which encouraged followers to explore more. Each tour was also saved in highlights by gallery number, allowing followers to revisit or browse the galleries at any time. Over time, tours expanded to include storage tours that focused on a theme or artist, mindfulness tours that offered peaceful close-looking at single works of art, visits with the horticulture department that explored the greenhouses and blooming flowers, and a "drawing salon" that provided a drawing instruction.
Daily evaluation of analytics informed changes and refinements to ensure that the tours responded to audience interests and behaviors. Followers were invited to share feedback through question stickers and comments, to reinforce that the tours were created with them in mind. Overall, the tours challenged our understanding of our audience's attention span and interests—followers were eager for lengthy tours that dove deep into art history.
The National Gallery shared 76 straight days of tours between March 15 and May 30 with nearly 3,000 stories and feed posts.
The tours received overwhelmingly positive feedback from followers. During the period the tours were offered the @ngadc Instagram channel saw:
The tours garnered media attention, as a unique way an art museum pivoted as a result of COVID-19, with coverage in Forbes, The New York Times, Association of Art Museums blog, The Art Newspaper, and the Washington City Paper.
More importantly, among the thousands of story replies and comments were hundreds of "thank yous" from followers showing their appreciation for the moment of peace the tours provided them. Many shared how the tours became part of their daily routine—a nighttime wind down or morning coffee accompaniment. They joined in with family or friends (or virtual dates!) to visit the National Gallery from the comfort of their couch. The tours brought up fond memories of past visits and inspired them to explore new corners of the National Gallery when they can return in the future.