This is the second installment of a two-part series on Art Institute of Chicago.

Read part one here

For 150 years, the Art Institute of Chicago’s expansive and global collection has transported visitors from the shores of Lake Michigan to other worlds. As China becomes an increasingly important audience for the museum — its market share grew from 5 to 13 percent between 2013 and 2018 — AIC is improving the experience it offers Chinese visitors through programming and in-house language resources.

Such endeavour was on show this past winter for the first major Andy Warhol retrospective in 30 years and will continue later this year with “Cosmoscape” which showcases ink works by celebrated contemporary painter Tai Xiangzhou.

Here, Julie White, AIC’s Tourism Marketing Manager, discusses the museum’s ongoing mission to become China-ready.

Why is it important for AIC to be “China-ready”?

China is one of the top tourist markets in Chicago as well as in the Great Lakes region. Research shows that Chinese travelers consider museums different from other attractions because they require background knowledge. By providing tools specifically for Chinese visitors, we aim to enhance their experience and offer guidance on how to best see our collection and current exhibitions.

This point on Chinese visitors perceiving museums differently is interesting, could you say more?

For Chinese visitors, visiting a museum requires both interest and background knowledge. Most of visitors who posted [on social media] and mentioned the Art Institute on Weibo are “checking-in” by taking pictures and sharing experiences. This trend is more obvious among Chinese millennials, who make up the majority of our social media followers.

How do you currently cater to Chinese visitors? 

We have audio guides and visitors guides in Chinese and also celebrate important Chinese holidays, including Lunar New Year and Mid-Autumn Festival. We are active on Chinese social platforms, including Weibo, WeChat, and Lvzhou. We post on WeChat weekly and on Weibo on a daily basis.

AIC has been posting on WeChat for six years, what have been the major takeaways?

Content is king! Over the years, we’ve selected information that might appeal to Chinese readers and worked actively on creating rich, informative, and comprehensive content. We usually recommend our visitors use WeChat (same as Weibo) as a search engine or visitor tool. When questions about artists or artworks arise, visitors can simply use the search function on WeChat and they will immediately receive information in Chinese.

What types of WeChat posts are successful? 

Posts about famous artworks and artists usually receive high engagement. Additionally, posts related to festivals and special dates are popular. Beginning last year, we introduced works on an art historical chronological timeline, which turned out to be a good practice.

How does the Art Institute of Chicago differentiate between Weibo and WeChat strategy? 

Weibo is more open, instant, and fast, while WeChat is more private and based on friend circles. Our daily Weibo posts focus on works that are on view. Weibo also allows us to spot the latest trends and react immediately. Our official WeChat account operates as more of a blog. In addition to monthly exhibitions and events, it allows us additional opportunities to introduce art movements and stories behind artworks and artists.

Why did you launch on Weibo’s new app Lvzhou (Oasis in English)? What are its strengths?

Lvzhou is a relatively new photo-sharing platform with great potential. We were glad to

be officially invited by Lvzhou to be one of the first overseas museums on the app. Oasis is perfect for sharing artwork images. There are increased opportunities for promotion as users are segmented based on their interests. Different from Weibo, one can easily find us under the Arts or Exploration categories.

Does AIC have plans to expand China outreach in 2020? 

We plan to develop our own [WeChat] Mini Program that will improve the experience for Chinese visitors. We hope the mini tour we provide will be informative and helpful for Chinese visitors. The current social media plan is to share artworks from the permanent collection in chronological order.

Reporting by Diana Cerqueira and Richard Whiddington


Jing Culture & Commerce