Instagram is a social media platform that allows users to upload and edit photos on mobile devices. Users have private or public accounts that attract followings. Businesses, institutions and organizations have adopted the Instagram model to connect with an online community, promote events and initiatives, and update their followers with photos. We looked at three institutions: the Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO), a government-funded art gallery; the Stephen Bulger Gallery, a private, specialized art gallery; and the Toronto Public Library (TPL), which has many busy branches open to Toronto’s public.
ACCUMULATION OVER ARCHIVE
“We’re building Instagram to allow you to experience moments in your friends’ lives through pictures as they happen.”
Instagram is a mobile application that encourages informal, on-the-go posts. The platform is not ideal for digitizing and curating a collection (an activity better suited to a computer-based platform). Rather, it accumulates a chronological, visual narrative of everyday happenings. Galleries will occasionally post an artwork from their collection, but they also post photos of staff, patrons, events, and images that populate hashtags (#tbt or #artTO). The result gives the impression of a inviting community rather than a professional account of an institution
FOLLOW A COMMUNITY
“The audience, a passive entity, becomes the community, an active agent.”
The AGO, TPL and Stephen Bulger’s accounts all use Instagram to create a community and a following. Visiting an art gallery or reading at a library is often a solitary experience (similar to the way users engage with digitized collections); Instagram’s online network demands an engaging and participatory experience for users. Institutions profit from this by encouraging guests to geotag themselves at the gallery or participate in initiatives (AGO’s #museumselfie). Institutions appreciate followers by tagging or regramming their posts. #TPLStories profiles library goers, which contributes to a sense of community. Stephen Bulger’s #staffpicks highlights gems in the collection and introduces followers to staff members.
Instagram is a platform for institutions to create “’living’ heritage practices,” which are “heritage meanings and values [that] are not attached to artifacts, buildings or sites… [but are] results of repeated and ongoing interactions in the lived world of ordinary people.”
The # and @ are important tools in Instagram’s folksonomy that help users attract a following, develop crosswalks between similar accounts, and allow users to communicate. Hashtags and user-generated metadata are important indicators for institutions to understand their followers’ demographic and interests. TPL’s @Bluejays #OurMoment generated popular posts and fueled a friendly feud against the rival team’s municipal library. Tags provide opportunities for follower participation and criticism when hashtags become “bashtags.” AGO’s #museumbackie post received backlash from a patron previously scolded for photographing in the gallery.
The website PetaPixel posted an article in December 2016 where a lawyer, Adam Remsen, demystified Instagram’s jargon-heavy policy. Although users retain ownership and copyright of their images, Instagram has the right to use that image at their discretion without having to pay the content creator. Instagram also has the right to transfer the license or sell a sub-license to user content.
Users are allowed to use any user content within the forum of Instagram. Referred to as “regramming,” this common practice is a result of a community-derived etiquette. Often the original account will be tagged in the image or tagged using @ in the comment below, frequently accompanied by #regram.
Creative Commons offers legal copyright aid and partners with a number of social media platforms but not Instagram, which encourages original content. Institutions posting copyrighted images already understand the legal implications and will include a citation.
FIPPA is a provincial act that demands institutional transparency and public access, while retaining individuals’ privacy. Instagram’s insistence on folksonomy, community, original content, and regrams distances itself from acts like FIPPA. Creators are rarely concerned by institutions use of their work on Instagram; rather, institutions are concerned with how their content is disseminated through Instagram.
A Toronto Star article from December 2016, discusses Toronto artist Jay Isaac’s disabled Instagram account, @nationalgalleryofcanada. His intent was to post an alternative history of Canadian art; however, the National Gallery (@ngc_mbac) reported that they were concerned that Isaac’s account created confusion for their patrons and had the potential for copyright infringement. This incident along with Richard Prince’s high profile Instagram New Portrait scandal puts into question Instagram’s community-centric approach to user content and reveals increasing discontent with the protection offered by the platform.
Read about the National Gallery of Canada shutting down Jay Isaac:
Read about “’living’ heritage practices” and social media in Giaccardi’s “Introduction”:
Check out the collections:
Stephen Bulger Gallery:
Tori Masters & Emily Miller
 “Instagram,” FAQ | Instagram FAQ, accessed January 27, 2017, https://www.instagram.com/about/faq/.
 Bautista, Susana Smith. Museums in the Digital Age: Changing Meanings of Place, Community, and Culture. Blue Ridge Summit, PA: AltaMira Press, 2013. Accessed January 25, 2017. http://site.ebrary.com.ezproxy.lib.ryerson.ca/lib/oculryerson/reader.action?docID=10816125&ppg=28.
 Giaccardi, Elisa. Heritage and Social Media: Understanding heritage in a participatory culture. London: Routledge, 2012. Accessed January 25, 2017. http://site.ebrary.com.ezproxy. lib.ryerson.ca/lib/oculryerson/reader.action?docID=10588972&ppg=5.
 Murray Whyte, “National Gallery shuts down artist’s Instagram,” Thestar.com, December 04, 2016, accessed January 27, 2017, https://www.thestar.com/entertainment/visualarts/2016/12/04/national-gallery-shuts-down-artists-instagram.html.