At time of publication, news is breaking about President Trump’s intention to ban WeChat and TikTok. JT is following this story closely. WeChat has become a vital tool for western museums. On Monday, we’ll cover the latest developments and their implications on the cultural sector.
Meanwhile, for insight into how global museums engage with WeChat users, here’s the July JT Index.
Western Museums and Cultural Institutions
If President Trump follows through on his threat to ban WeChat from U.S. app stores, it would severely hamper the ability of cultural institutions to connect with Chinese audiences. Over the past decade, Tencent’s app has become a must-have for museums striving to support Chinese visitation — one arguably as important as providing Mandarin signage or maps.
Museums may be closed and the resumption of international travel a distant reality, but the majority of institutions have continued to share articles, videos, and their latest cultural products with audiences. The loss of WeChat as a marketing and customer support tool would force a serious rethink and, potentially, a pivot to alternate platforms.
London’s foremost museum of design continues to see steady growth in WeChat readership. With a reopening scheduled for late August, the museum has been building anticipation by focusing on its most celebrated exhibitions from 2019 — notably, “Christian Dior: Designer of Dreams” which drew 600,000 visitors in its six-month run. Its WeChat post on the exhibition featured a discussion with textiles curator Oriole Cullen and a special panoramic photograph of galleries celebrating the French designer’s dresses.
The Art Institute of Chicago (AIC)
From launching a Mini Program to inviting Chinese influencers to broadcast from a seminal Andy Warhol exhibition, the Art Institute of Chicago evidenced a strong China-ready focus in 2019. The clarity and pragmatism of its WeChat post outlining reopening (July 31) promises a continuation of this initiative. Aside from laying out opening times and health and safety rules, AIC provided QR codes for ticketing and a succinct gallery-by-gallery overview of where visitors can find the work by Hopper, Woods, and O’Keeffe that define the museum’s collection. It’s a resource that will prove valuable for local Chinese Chicagoans in the short term and overseas visitors in 2021.
Chinese Museums and Cultural Institutions
In the time of COVID-19, ‘open’ is only ever a temporary status. Such has been the experience of Chinese cultural institutions in recent months. Outbreaks in Hong Kong and Beijing scuppered institutions that seemed to have navigated the process of introducing new visitation protocols with model versatility.
This reality has placed added emphasis on digital engagement. Take the site that houses the Terracotta Warriors, Emperor Qinshihuang’s Mausoleum Site Museum, as an example. Despite gradually increasing its capacity to 20,000 visitors a day, it continues to innovate digitally and launched its latest WeChat Mini Program in mid-July, one offering users interactive 3D models of the 2,000-year old clay soldiers.
The Xi’an-based museum has not yet been forced to reclose, but over the past eight months its continually uploaded a wealth of digital resources that will see it prepared if the worst happens.
The Nanjing Museum
The Nanjing Museum stands as an excellent example of a large state institution using a broad range of WeChat’s touchpoints to engage and serve audiences. It offers interactive maps and audio guides directly through its WeChat menu as well as individual Mini Programs for customer service and ticketing — two features that have greatly aided reopening. Since May, it’s hosted a blockbuster exhibition featuring a selection of Terracotta Warriors from the Emperor Qinshihuang’s Mausoleum Site Museum in Xi’an. Open until mid-August, Nanjing has compensated for the high demand and capacity restrictions by uploading a virtual tour and posting WeChat articles that take a close look at curious features of the warriors.