Instagram Inside the Institution

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.



“We’re building Instagram to allow you to experience moments in your friends’ lives through pictures as they happen.”[1]

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



“The audience, a passive entity, becomes the community, an active agent.”[2]

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.”[3]



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.[4] 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.[5] 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

[1] “Instagram,” FAQ | Instagram FAQ, accessed January 27, 2017,

[2] 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.

[3] Giaccardi, Elisa. Heritage and Social Media: Understanding heritage in a participatory culture. London: Routledge, 2012. Accessed January 25, 2017.

[4] Adam Remsen, “A Lawyer Digs Into Instagram’s Terms of Use,” PetaPixel, December 08, 2016, accessed January 27, 2017,

[5] Murray Whyte, “National Gallery shuts down artist’s Instagram,”, December 04, 2016, accessed January 27, 2017,

5 comments for “Instagram Inside the Institution

  1. Tori Masters
    January 30, 2017 at 12:38 pm

    For this #hashtag challenge, find an example of each of these (not referenced in our presentation) and tag @toriiily with the #scavengertag:
    -an institution wishing someone a happy birthday
    -an institution sharing a memorial or RIP post
    -an institution using a correct citation
    -post a selfie with a work of art
    -find a hashtag initiative from an institution that seeks to increase user involvement
    Whoever finishes the “scavenger hunt” the fastest wins an amazing prize!

  2. Tori Masters
    January 30, 2017 at 12:39 pm

    Article about Richard Prince’s “New Portraits” series:

  3. Idit Kohan-Harpaz
    January 30, 2017 at 4:46 pm

    We were very impressed that the Toronto Library is so up to date with social media. They are working outside of the normal library “box” to reach a younger and more diverse demographic, which many libraries don’t do or do well. It’s a crucial factor in their future and to stay relevent. They have so much priceless knowledge, but younger generations have a different way of thinking regarding learning, reading, and research, that if the Library wants their resources to be used, they have to reach out to young people in new ways, like through Instagram.

    It makes sense that a commercial business like the Stephen Bulger Gallery would want to be very active on social media and instagram because the more exposure it gets, the more revenue it will ultimately generate. Galleries like to stay hip and current so being active and involved in trends and fads is in their best interests.

    We also have concerns regarding Instagram’s copyright terms relating to images its users post. Instagram states that they don’t “claim ownership”, but then go on to describe what they ARE allowed to do, which is essentially everything an “owner” of the content would be able to do. It is as if they are claiming a kind of joint ownership over the content, but won’t actually state this using the word “owner” to describe themselfs. They have teams of lawyers make sure that they can’t get sued, but this still seems VERY SHADY.

    “Instagram does not claim ownership of any Content that you post on or through the Service. Instead, you hereby grant to Instagram a non-exclusive, fully paid and royalty-free, transferable, sub-licensable, worldwide license to use the Content that you post on or through the Service, subject to the Service’s Privacy Policy, available here, including but not limited to sections 3 (“Sharing of Your Information”), 4 (“How We Store Your Information”), and 5 (“Your Choices About Your Information”).”

    – Idit & Mia

  4. Blanche Joslin
    January 30, 2017 at 7:43 pm

    After enjoying your fantastic talk, Isaac and I found that we enjoyed MoMA’s Instagram account. They seem to follow all best practices while making a lot of their collection available via Instagram. They use their account to cross promote with other platforms such as live streams, theme nights, and screenings. They also post a lot of celebrity photos or videos taken at MoMA that add credence and interest to the collection. The shameless promotion of Chanel perfume, however, we found crass and out of place.

    What are some other institutions you have seen that you think use inappropriate product promotions?

    • jpascoe
      February 4, 2017 at 11:37 am

      These are all interesting points – I have not considered the use of product placement in any institution’s social media posts – this could definitely be an area that would be lucrative for brands but quite destructive for a public institution’s image. As for copyright, no one can ever transfer the ownership of a creator’s rights to their work, but they can license those rights. We’ll cover this more in our copyright class, but this is basically what Instagram is stating – that the creator is transferring their rights in a license. Instagram can therefore act as if they own the rights to copying and reusing that content. Something that institutions need to be very wary of if they’re uploading content that they don’t own the copyright or have permissions to do so.

      I really like the statement in the blog post about the human aspects and the everyday interactions that Instagram is being used to highlight. Bringing these day to day connections with institutions into the foreground in an interactive, connective style is really one of the draws of the platform. On that note I find NYPL to have a very engaging account, they have quite a few hashtag themes including #bookfacefriday, which I’ve tagged for the challenge 🙂

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