The Akron Art Museum’s TikTok account offers a compilation of duet videos, art history breakdowns, museum tours, and an early series titled Why Is That Art, which explains the historic and artistic significance of works in the institution’s contemporary art collection. The latter series has been popular enough that, according to Seema Rao, the museum’s Deputy Director and Chief Experience Officer, it now “underlies our whole channel.”

For an account that launched early last year, as part of the museum’s new digital engagement plan and in light of the platform’s growing popularity among cultural institutions, Akron Art Museum’s TikTok currently boasts more than 5,500 followers and half a million likes. In preparation for the launch, museum staff watched TikTok content to learn the platform’s language. “It’s definitely a different voice,” says Rao. She often makes appearances in the short videos — whether she’s seeing if she’s more attractive than Picasso, Salvador Dali, or Andy Warhol, or doing a duet with a colorblind creator.

Admittedly, Akron Art Museum’s early videos “had very little pick-up,” notes Rao, though by persisting, the museum now sees “anywhere from 300 views and 30 likes to 2.5 million views and thousands of likes” for each post — a metric that shifts with the TikTok algorithm. Below, she shares more about the museum’s relationship with TikTok.

Akron Art Museum TikTok

Rao hosting the museum’s TikTok series, Why Is This Art, featuring paintings such as Peter Dean’s “Doovekill Poppies” (left), Morris Louis’ “Untitled” (middle), and Frank Stella “Deipholz” (right). Images: Akron Art Museum on TikTok

Is there a particular type of video that performs best on TikTok?
Our most popular videos are when we duet another video and connect it to art history or art appreciation. We don’t duet artists because we can’t endorse any one creator, so we try to find funny non-artist videos. Our co-stars on TikTok have been whales, legos, sharks, and many other surprising items. The things that do the best for us are these surprises. Our collection is fairly intellectual compared to a medical museum or a historic house, so we need to find other ways to have fun. The platform in general wants videos that are fun and quick. 

What does TikTok offer museums that other platforms don’t?
Audiences who didn’t know they could like museums are now on TikTok. The museums field won’t survive if we don’t continue to bring in new audiences. TikTok is sharing so much knowledge, even if the cadence is very different than traditional education. As a field, we’d be silly not to connect there. 

Is the museum planning any additional series on the platform?
When we did our digital strategy, we thought hard about who is our audience at each platform. Our Instagram and Facebook audience join us because they like art, so it wouldn’t engage them in the same way. We are thinking about [the series] as pop-up tours for our late nights for a live audience.

What demographic of the museum’s visitors regularly engage with the museum’s TikTok content?
It’s mixed. Those of us on the videos are often recognized by younger patrons. But we also draw a huge national base. We like all of them. 

What is the museum’s future plan for TikTok moving forward?
TikTok is has huge content needs. The pace can be tiring, and the trends move quickly. But we also enjoy making the videos. Our plan is to add more community voices on our channel to help get new audiences and also allay the workload. 


Jing Culture & Commerce