Met Stories was a year-long video series that served as the marquee content for The Metropolitan Museum of Art’s 150th anniversary in 2020. This ambitious project was conceived to frame this important moment in the museum’s history with compelling, personal stories from visitors, artists, and staff that would highlight the Met as a museum by, for, and about all people, with an emphasis on diversity of race, age, physical ability, sexuality, and gender. With this series, we sought to convey that art can inform, inhabit, reflect, and expand individual lives. We wanted to produce a series that was cinematic in look and feel and that placed the storytellers in unique settings across the museum.
Stories focused on universal subjects and challenging, thought-provoking, and surprising narratives. We created a public story submission form to gather stories from our audiences, and we cast the series using these submissions and by reaching out to prominent public figures, creatives, and colleagues who we knew had a story to tell. The series was meant to promote the message of inclusion on the occasion of The Met’s 150th anniversary, and there are four core messages about the role of a museum that filtered out of the many themes and stories: the museum as a tool, whether for inspiration, teaching, or peace; the museum is a source of imagination, whether you are an artist or writer, you’re envisioning your own future, devising a menu, or opening yourself up to new feelings and possibly love; how museums can make us feel understood as part of a living culture connected to the historical works, as someone suffering, or by the person we visit with; and how museums can empower and heal those who do not feel welcome, who have memory loss or trauma, or who had never realized they could belong at the museum.
The series ended up charting the unexpected course of 2020. When The Met closed do to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, we decided to continue the series remotely. We felt that what began as a reflection on the identity of the museum in 2020 would have to chart the life-altering nature of the pandemic. In August we published Essential, an episode that was filmed remotely and features a Met essential staff member, a writer whose plan to make daily visits to The Met in 2020 was upended; and an artist whose drawings of Met visitors look like postcards of a forgotten time. This was a true collective effort: All footage of the empty Met was collected from essential staff who filmed with their smartphones during their shifts in the echoing, empty building.
Met Stories ended up keeping our audiences connected even while the museum was closed. In terms of distribution and promotion, our close collaboration with the Marketing and Communications team from the start made Met Stories a strategic success. We released twelve thematic episodes on Youtube on a monthly cadence throughout the year and embedded them in a newly designed series player on the 150th anniversary page on our website. This page was promoted through the monthly Met News email newsletter. On Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook we shared the twenty-five stories individually, removing the themes and adding the #MyMetStory hashtag. This made the stories more digestible and frequent, fitting for those platforms.
In terms of performance and engagement, Met Stories was a great success and showed widespread impact and resonance with our audiences. As of February 9, 2021, we had 5.5 million views across our website, our YouTube channel, Facebook, and Instagram, with over 22K hours watched, and over 9K comments total, all higher than our average benchmarks for our content. Engagement on the website and YouTube was high with an average watch percentage of 43% of the video. This series was the Met’s foray into the IGTV format, and we cut all stories for the vertical format. Social media platforms provided a huge reach of this content, and Met Stories is the highest performing series and the most watched series on our IGTV channel. As of November, Met Stories posts on IGTV received record numbers of comments (over 7K total), roughly 3x more comments than our other videos on IGTV, and the comments frequently show a deep connection to our audiences. The responses were often emotional and passionate, and they registered connections from afar, a desire to share, relatable and emotional resonance, and unexpected entry points into the Met’s collection.