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One hundred and fifty years on from its founding and three months into a smooth reopening, the Museum of Fine Arts Boston (MFA) is in a celebratory mood. Onsite, the museum has convened its illustrious collection of 35 Claude Monet oil paintings for the first time in a quarter century. Online, it’s broaching new territory by delivering “Monet and Boston: Lasting Impression” to Chinese audiences on short-video platform, Kuaishou.

What happened

In early April, MFA opened an account on Kuaishou and began introducing viewers to its new Monet gallery with a series of short-videos hosted by curators and conservators exploring the impressionist’s story, artistic techniques, and enduring legacy. Then on May 18, International Museum Day, it partnered with Kuaishou to host a four-hour livestream in which it offered viewers a range of Monet-related cultural products.

Why it matters

Over the past year, international museums including the British Museum, the Centre Pompidou, and Madrid’s Prado (to name but three) have followed the example of their Chinese counterparts by leaning into livestreaming to connect with an audience that, pre-pandemic, constituted a significant portion of its international visitors and, as such, an important source of revenue.

The decision to wade into the dynamic and personal world of livestreaming, a medium now ubiquitous and essential across practically all consumer-facing industries in China, showed hosting a Chinese language website and making weekly posts on WeChat and Weibo was no longer adequate when it came to communicating with Chinese audiences.

MFA’s livestream, however, differs from previous efforts by international museums in one crucial regard: it was almost entirely commercial. Until now, livestreams have predominantly involved a museum tour with the sporadic product plug — particularly those livestreaming through Alibaba’s Fliggy/Tmall ecosystem.

MFA Boston livestream on Kuaishou

Above: The livestream’s hosts, Wang Yuheng and Ms Mi. Below: The range of Monet merchandise included scented candles and graphic T-shirts. Images: Sohu, Zhihu

For those acquainted with the customs of Chinese livestreaming, the setup was extremely familiar. Two presenters sat in a room surrounded by Monet merch and talked up the virtues of whatever product was at hand for close to several hours, occasionally cutting to China-based co-hosts television star Wang Yuheng and Kuaishou anchor Ms Mi — consider it infomercials for the smartphone age. The products on offer included t-shirts, candles, tote bags, facial masks, mugs, notebooks with Kuaishou reporting the livestream received just shy of 8 million views.

Behind this new direction for major international museums in the China market is Alfilo Brands, licensing experts that also has relationships with the British Museum, the Victoria and Albert Museum, and The Metropolitan Museum. Expect MFA’s commercial livestream to lead the way.

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What they said

“With the theme ‘The Future of Museums: Recover and Reimagine,’ International Museum Day 2021 advocates for the creative potential of culture as a driver for recovery and innovation in the post-COVID era. MFA and Kuaishou have provided new and hybrid models of cultural fruition and dissemination that brings its community great joy and inspiration.” — Kuaishou Technology

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Cultural Insider, Destinations, Digital Strategies