FITA Magazine Vol. II / Garden Constellation

JiaJia Fei 
Digital Strategist For The Art World

Interview by Francisca Gigante

Photograph © Michael Avedon

We land in New York City, better known as the Big Apple or the City That Never Sleeps. There is a certain inexplicable magic in the air. We are not expecting to be greeted by a Taxi driven by Robert De Niro, nor to encounter Martin Scorsese shoo- ting the latest creation in documentary form starring Fran Lebowitz; but we aim to find the stars here. It is in this city of extensive skyscrapers that contrast with the lunging Central Park that we get a chance to meet JiaJia Fei, Digital Strategist and Founder of the first Digital Media Agency for Art, the new agency that has her name on the door.

    Born in Shanghai and raised in Washington, New York-based JiaJia Fei is the number one digital strategy genius that any cultural organization around the world can dream of having on their team. JiaJia’s remarkable career as Director of Digital at The Jewish Museum and Associate Director Digital Marketing at The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York City has certainly helped in the knowledge and experience in the field of digital.

    Last year, we saw JiaJia launching her own company. By bringing contemporary art to a global audience in the digital realm, her practice continues to intersect marketing, web, mobile and social media. We find artwork that comes to life on Instagram, challenging questions in the form of exhibition audio guides, talks in live format that we can accompany while on vacations - there is an endless supply of strategies. Through accessible language, JiaJia continues her work and drives up the number of likes and shares, skyrocketing sales, brand recognition, and engagement.

    While working with museums, galleries, art fairs, auction houses, and artists, JiaJia Fei embraces the challenges of online presence that go further beyond gallery walls. The first Digital Agency for Art presents solutions and manages to transform businesses granting access to art to all followers, to all friends.

At what point did you think or how did you decide to pursue a profession combining art and technology?

As a lifelong creative person who grew up on the internet, I always knew that I would be working within the cultural field. Tech came naturally to me, as I taught myself how to code at a young age to build my own worlds online. I soon realized the art world was slow to adapt to new technologies, and then made it my mission to use the tools of our time to help bring art to more people.

What is the role of a digital strategist in a predominantly online-driven world?

The digital world today is noisy, dense, and ever evolving. For the first time in the history of art, our first interactions with an art object are digital-first: seen on your computer, mobile device, or social media platforms. Whereas technology is always about innovation and moving onto the next, museums are tasked to preserve history and objects for generations to come. This paradox makes applying the rules of tech to art and culture incredibly more complicated and nuanced. As a digital strategist, I see my role as a translator; as someone who speaks both art and technology, I also hope to bring these two worlds closer together, to further the appreciation of art and culture and improve visual literacy.

Your career steps include work in major institutions such as the Guggenheim Museum and the Jewish Museum in New York. How has your background influenced the way you communicate in the two organizations? What were they asking for you to deliver? What did they not ask for and you delivered consistently and beyond expectations?

Before starting my own digital consultancy, I spent over a decade working in museums to bring art institutions online and imagine the possibilities of what a global digital audience might mean for them. Prior to the social web, cultural institutions exercised a one-directional means of communicating with their audiences. With the emergence of social media, museums were tasked to form a two-way dialogue for the first time. As educational institutions, it became our responsibility to expand the mission of bringing art to the public beyond museum walls, by digitizing our collections, exhibitions, and research, and making them accessible to a global audience online. I don’t think anyone initially anticipated our digital audiences would exceed our physical ones, and therefore as the demand for digital grew, so did my roles within these spaces, as did my team.
There are many ways to tell a story in digital tools and you have proven to us that revolutions in digital start out with a strong social media presence. What is the most used digital marketing strategy in cultural organizations? What is your favourite strategy to impact your audience?

There is never a singular strategy that works for every institution, but my advice for anyone trying to build a community online is to deeply research and internalize every aspect of the organization first. Knowledge of content: the collection, its artists, mission, and institutional identity, are always paramount to any technology trend or new platform that may emerge. It’s essential to do the work to match the rigor and reputation of the organizational identity you are representing online, then align a technical and tactical approach to meet your objectives.

Today, the importance and status of institutions in arts depends on constantly updating all digital tools, which means a constant update of website, social media channels, e-mail marketing. This can somehow end up being tiresome. How do you manage time and space between the multiple networks?

My approach with digital has always been less is more. Regardless of the size of your team, it’s impossible to be active on every channel, so I often advise organizations to do just a few things well (to focus on sustainability and long-term engagement), rather than try to do it all and spreading yourself too thin (which also splinters your audience). This starts with knowing your audience, going where they are to engage with them, then carefully developing incremental measurements of success to assess whether various approaches are effective.

Do you work in teams and network with other organizations when developing digital projects? How are partnerships essential to art digitization? How does it open to new dialogues outside of the art universe?

I collaborate with other creative technologists on nearly every project I work on. From designers and developers to video producers, it’s important to defer to the expertise of colleagues who are talented in their own areas for a project to be successful. For me, it’s most important to know what you don’t know, then identify the experts who can complement your skill set and add new perspectives.

How and why did you decide to open your own digital media agency business in 2020? Was this a conscious decision to continue telling stories this time at your own pace? What do you see as your primary mission in the art world?

For many years, I had always envisioned starting my own company to use technology as a design solution based on my experiences in the art world. Beyond museums, I observed that galleries, art fairs, auction houses, and even artists, were still in the early days of navigating what it means for them to have an online presence. I planned to launch my company in January 2020 after serving as Director of Digital at the Jewish Museum, which I considered to be my first client and case study for imagining digital transformation from top to bottom. Just a few months later in March 2020, the global pandemic hit, and digital became an essential priority for every arts organization—for survival.

Photograph © Victoria Stevens

How do you come up with the ideas to make the stories of a cultural organization visually impactful? Are there any favourite ways to have the ultimate idea, like singing in the shower, traveling abroad, or reading a book in a favourite garden?

When conceiving of a digital content strategy for cultural organizations, it’s less about sudden bursts of inspiration, and more about ongoing translation. The stories presented by artists and arts organizations are already fascinating; they simply lack accessibility. By reframing and repackaging what’s often perceived as academic or insider language, I see it as my responsibility to make art more accessible to more people (who may not have a background in art to begin with).

The interview to JiaJia Fei was published on pages 6 to 9 in Tapada da Ajuda first chapter of FITA Magazine Vol. II / Garden Constellation dedicated to the city of Lisbon.
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FITA Magazine

International Arts Magazine
Yearly Publication in Volumes
︎︎︎ Vol. I / Invisible Atlas / Venice
︎︎︎ Vol. II / Garden Constellation / Lisbon
︎︎︎ Vol. III / Star Portraits / London
︎︎︎ Vol. IV / Time Travel / Berlin

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