LOS ANGELES — I remember the moment well. I was staying with a friend, Sara Marie Watson, out in Chongqing, a Chinese city miles and miles from Shanghai along the Yangtze River. Although Sara and I had common friends in the US, it did feel like we were a world away from home.
I stood on Sara’s porch and looked out onto the endless Chongqing skyline, a breathtaking view to be sure. But something else took my breath away: hanging on the door in Sara’s apartment was a familiar logo. I blinked, rubbed my eyes, and confirm. It was a canvas 1stfans bag!
A few days ago, Shelley Bernstein at the Brooklyn Museum announced that 1stfans, the museum world’s first socially networked membership, would be coming to a close after more than three years of great programming. It was a great concept for a membership program, consisting of monthly get-togethers at the museum and online discussions for members.
One of the interesting components was the 1stfans Twitter art feed, a private feed for artists to work and play with. The feed, which featured artists like Duke Riley, Mary Temple and Joseph Kosuth, was something I looked forward to during its two-year run, and it inspired a lot of thinking on my part about the meaning and method of social media-based art works.
The main challenge, as Bernstein noted, was that 1stfans existed as its own entity, with a private Twitter feed and its own circle of events separate from the usual membership events.
1stfans allowed us to see that most individuals looking to truly support us are interested in a deeper and more personal connection with the Museum and, often, people are looking for a more social experience within the structure of events and their relationship with the institution. It was the deep engagement of the program that was incredibly successful, but 1stfans was its own entity that was never fully integrated into the Membership structure.
I emailed Sara about the end of 1stfans, and this is what she wrote me from far-off Chongqing:
I was a young 20-something in New York, and it was the perfect, affordable way to get my toes wet in the art scene. Will [Cary, director of memberships] knew us by name, and it made us feel pretty cool when we showed up for the special tours on first weekends.
I do hope the Brooklyn Museum and others will use 1stfans as a jumping-off point for finding new and interesting ways to engage young, social media-savvy arts lovers. It was a true community, and I met many new friends through the program whom I consider friends to this day.
I’m not living in New York anymore, but a part of me is tempted to fly back just to attend the annual rooftop ice cream social to say goodbye. If you’ll be in the city, please consider supporting the museum with a $20 1stfans membership. You’ll only get one event out of that membership, but it will certainly be worth it.