Meet the girl who visits all the museums in New York

@janeaugust explores New York. @janeaugust

Joan, better known as @janeaugust on TikTok, always knew she wanted to live in New York. Born in Connecticut to two New Yorkers, her family soon moved to Arizona but were determined to return to the East Coast as soon as they could. After high school, Jane moved to the city to attend Brooklyn College, where she studied Technical Theater and Design. After graduation, she started working in nightlife, but like everyone else, she was laid off in March 2020. After nine months in the house, she realized she wanted to take advantage of the time she had ( and his unemployment insurance). In February 2021, she embarked on an ambitious project: to visit all the museums in New York and document it on her TikTok. Since then, she has visited more than 50 museums and built up a significant following on TikTok who want to follow her adventures.

I spoke to Jane about the past year of museum visits, her favorite moments, and the TikTok community she’s created.

Observer: Set the stage for me: what were you doing a year ago when you started doing this, and why?

Joan: In January 2021, COVID-19 was really bad. They said ‘don’t gather inside with people.’ But after a year inside, I was like “I need to see people, I need to do something”. The things that were open were restaurants, where you have to dine inside if you didn’t want to freeze, and maybe you could go to the store. But I realized that the museums were open and doing very well with social distancing. It’s a great place for social distancing as it’s a big museum. Everyone is required to wear masks and there is no time limit for you to be there. I was like ‘where can you hang out with your masks and learn stuff?’ Museums.

And so I thought ‘ok, what museums are there?’ I didn’t realize there were a lot of them. I thought to myself ‘what if I visited them all? We could do that, right? It is an achievable goal. So I started this project. I made this spreadsheet because that’s how I find information and then I texted my friends like “hey I think I’ll do this”. Do you want to do this?’ and they were like ‘ok.’

On February 19 or 20, we went to our first museum. The following week, I posted my first TikTok about it. I had a TikTok page before but I just posted stuff, little dances, me cooking something, because that’s what we all did in 2020. I made my first video of the series, the intro, and it exploded. Suddenly I had something like a thousand followers, people messaging me, and we went with it.

Fast forward to now, you have now visited over 50 museums. What have you learned so far?

I like to know things. My friends laugh at me because I like to know everything. I love New York. I’ve traveled so many career paths and realized through this project that the one thing that tied them all together was New York and the arts and culture scene. New York City is really central to my life. I learned so much history. I learned so many things that I never expected to learn. You also learn how the story is told differently. Especially in New York, where everyone’s pretty liberal, you’d think they’re all telling the same stories, but it’s very interesting to see how it’s different. Museum of Reclaimed Urban Space, which I love, they tell a very militant view of how things have changed and evolved in New York. It’s great, all the different perspectives there are.

What were your favorites and which museums impressed you the most?

I think I have about four right now. the Moving Image Museum, which resembles the Museum of Motion Pictures and Television in Queens. So funny. New York Historical Society I loved. You look at the exterior and the fonts and the name “New-York Historical Society” and you think it’s going to be a bit like an old people’s museum in a sense, which is a generalization of “museums, history, boring “but then you walk in and it’s really hip and it has interactive exhibits and they have all the Tiffany lamps and trains. It’s really fun. I loved house poster, which was not originally on my museum’s spreadsheet. Some of them we find because people comment. Poster House is an art museum on the art of posters, therefore communication and design. This one was very cool because I love posters. And then the Reclaimed Urban Space Museum, which is a totally different museum. There’s a community garden nearby, and we really learned a lot about the people who live in these spaces and how they reclaim space from the city. It was great. We went to Nicholas Roerich Museum, which is an art museum about this Russian philosopher and painter. It had all these really beautiful paintings, and I had no idea this museum really existed. It’s tucked away on 107th Street. This is one of my favorite art museums so far.

How do you decide which to visit and when?

Part of the project is that I always go with a friend because I need someone to help me film but also I have someone to talk to about it and experience the art. I think it’s fun to go to museums alone, but when I can bring a friend, it’s also a little hangout. So I contacted a friend. We picked a day. We always start with the day someone is free. Then we go to the spreadsheet, which I have organized with name, type, district, opening days. We sort it by opening days and that’s kind of how we choose. Or, if a friend of mine wants to go to a certain museum, we’ll see which days we can go. Generally, these are schedules. I have to go to all of them, so I don’t care when I go to which ones.

I then contact the museum because you always want to ask before showing up because sometimes there are permissions we need to get to shoot videos. There are works of art that have copyrights. Sometimes they are delighted that we are coming and they show us around. I reach out and we work it out from there. And then here we go, I edit the video, then it’s posted.

In one of your videos, you talk about sending postcards. Who do you send postcards to?

I love postcards. Even before the pandemic, I was passionate about writing letters, simply because the art of letter writing i like. When we started we went to a museum and they had free postcards and I was with my friend Jesse and I was like “hey can you send me a postcard from this museum, I’m sorry will send one.” So we sit down to dinner, writing postcards to each other. I always send them to the person I went to the museum with. I always send one to my mother, and to my friend who lives in London… I always get a postcard because the person I’m going with sends me a postcard… Postcards are a bit like my memory. I’ll have a whole stack of all the museums in New York, which is very exciting.

I’m from DC where the museums are free, but the museums in New York are not, and going to hundreds of them can’t be cheap. How do you fund this and how can people help?

Usually when we reach out to the museum we ask if we can get free entry. Most of these places are non-profit and often they have a lot of programs in New York to enter museums for free like New York Culture Pass and IDNYC. They’ll usually give us free admission, but I also have my Venmo and Cashapp on my spreadsheet that people can Venmo me if they want to support the cause. The museums were very involved in the project and very willing to help, which was really nice.

In front of the American Museum of Natural History @janeaugust

You share most of this content on TikTok –– what made you decide to? How does this contribute to making museums more accessible?

I spent a lot of time on TikTok during the pandemic, like everyone else, and I was really interested in short video… There was a lot of cool stuff happening on New York City TikTok. TikTok is really good at sending stuff to people. It is a very good discovery tool. Instagram hadn’t really started doing reels yet and YouTube hadn’t really started doing shorts yet, so TikTok was the only place for short vertical video.

You have a good number of followers on your TikTok––what kinds of comments/interactions do you get from people?

I have a very good community of people on my TikTok account. When we talk about numbers on social media, everyone tries to tell you that your number is too small. When I only had 7,000 followers, I was like “I only have 7,000 but this person has 100,000”. I work in venues, so capacity and venues are how I imagine the space, and 7,000 people is more than the Radio City music hall can hold. When you imagine that, how many people there are, it’s really crazy. Right now I’m almost at 20,000 subscribers, which is “not that big” compared to the others, but I’m like “that’s enough people to fill Madison Square Garden”. The fact that 20,000 people decided my content was worth even a minute of their time every day means a lot. People come back and are fans of the project and you will see which ones comment on each video. Some will say “I went to this museum and I liked it a lot because I saw your video.” It’s very rewarding to have a small impact on someone’s day by inspiring them to go somewhere cool. Some people will say “I want to do this now”. There’s these two girls, I think they live in Illinois, they’re like, “we’re going to visit all the state parks in Illinois.” They were inspired by the show, which is cool.

Which museums are you looking forward to visiting next?

We will finally go to building museum. It is the most requested. Historic House Trust recently offered me a subscription, so I went to those. We went to Merchant’s House Museum, which was so cool. I can’t wait to see the other historic houses. There are some I can’t wait to open. The Broadway Museum is supposed to open this year.

Do you plan to celebrate the first anniversary of this project?

Going to the 50th museum was important so we went to MoMA [Musuem of Modern Art]. The encounterit is the last. I told people “we’re not going to the Met until we can go to the Met Gala”. We will have the weight to make it happen. The Met is the biggest, so it has to be the last.

Meet the girl who visits all the museums in New York

About Bobby F. Lopez

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