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Local art museum embraces photos

November 15, 2018

No flash and no use for commercial gain. That’s what the rules on photos boil down to at Fort Wayne Museum of Art.

Amanda Shepard, vice president and chief operating officer of the museum, says it relaxed its guidelines less than two years ago, allowing visitors to “experience the art with the technology of the day.”

For a long time, photos were a not allowed because of copyright rules and a worry that pictures might be used for commercial gain such as someone taking a photo of a painting and putting it on a T-shirt to be sold. But as cameras have become ubiquitous on cellphones and people take to social media to document every moment of their lives, many museums are now embracing photos as a marketing tool.

“We know that in a leisure culture that relies on reviews and peer-to-peer recommendations, social media photography can be so huge for museums,” Shepard says.

Where staff may have noticed tension with patrons over old photography rules, the museum now has signs posted encouraging visitors to tag it in their social media posts about its exhibitions. Staff members often like and respond to posts from the museum’s official accounts.

Artists or groups with exhibits at the museum can ask that it restrict visitors from taking photos of their pieces, but Shepard says living artists are often open to guests taking and sharing pictures of their work. Photos and positive reviews on social media help spread the word about their art and make sales.

Estates of dead artists might be more wary as they are looking to protect the rights of a body of work that is no longer being added to.

Shepard says it isn’t that copyrights are less of a concern these days : museums still have the same responsibility to protect them : but “the conversation is more around the safety of the artwork because people are trying to get the perfect shot and the right filter (to say) ‘Look at me, I’m standing in front of this really cool piece.’”

Though she says the museum’s staff has seen some risky behavior, such as patrons holding cellphones above glass works, there has not been a problem with art being ruined.

Similar rules as those at the local museum are in place at Indianapolis Museum of Art at Newfields, Toledo Museum of Art, Garrett Museum of Art and South Bend Museum of Art.

If you are visiting an unfamiliar museum, check for signs or go to its website for its photography policy. There is also staff on hand to answer questions.

“In any museum, if you are unsure, the best thing to do is ask one of the Gallery Guards,” says Cathy Dietz, director of marketing, events and retail at the South Bend museum by email.

She points out that it is important to be mindful of your surroundings while posing for photos. Dietz recently visited J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles and said guards there were kept busy stopping people from leaning up against priceless works of art while getting their pictures taken.

Bottom line: When thinking about taking a photo in a museum : don’t put yourself or the artwork at risk, Shepard says.

cmcmaken@jg.net

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