When the Indianapolis Museum of Art landed the U.S. premiere of a 184-piece exhibit of Roman art from the Louvre, its staff knew the time had come to think big.
"This show is considered a blockbuster," said Daniel Incandela, director of new media at IMA. "I knew we should develop some blockbuster content ideas."
So he and his colleagues pitched their grand plan to museum leaders: They would travel to Rome and Paris to develop an 11-part series of digital video shorts on the exhibit for the IMA's Web site.
The series would be one part education, one part marketing and one part fun.
When Incandela made the proposal, he wasn't expecting a yes. But given the IMA's love for all things Internet under the leadership of Director Max Anderson, the plan got the thumbs-up and a roughly $20,000 budget.
With it, Incandela and an IMA educator traveled to Europe in October to shoot some footage and scope out locations. Then a five-member team returned in March for a nine-day trip, interviewing staff at the Louvre and experts in Rome.
After months of editing, three short videos have debuted on www.theromansarecoming.comand early advertising for the exhibit-which opens Sept. 23-has pushed people to the site, which is getting about 400 hits a day.
This isn't completely new territory. The IMA's threeperson production team has more than 40 videos posted on YouTube. But the 11-part Roman series was its biggest undertaking yet.
"I'm not aware of any museum that's done anything at this level," Incandela said.
Eight episodes are done and will be posted on the site throughout the exhibit's 3-1/2-month stay in Indianapolis.
The shorts have different feels-some give a History Channel-type rundown on the most famous Roman emperors and the Roman influence on Indianapolis architecture, while others have a funkier feel, including a short on how the Roman art ended up in the Louvre, mostly thanks to Napoleon's plundering.
The videos prominently feature local experts from Indiana University, Purdue University, Butler University and Marian College.
The main reason to produce the videos in-house was cost, Incandela said.
"If we would have contracted this out to a media house, it would have easily cost six figures," he said.
The IMA will be reusing the content at a digital display outside the exhibit and will submit the videos to different museum conferences to try to raise the museum's profile.
IMA leaders also are hoping to share the videos with the two other museums scheduled to host the Roman art exhibit-Seattle Art Museum beginning in February and the Oklahoma City Museum starting in June.
IMA would likely charge the other museums about one-third of the production price to help defray costs, said Meg Liffick, the museum's communications manager.
Staff members at the Oklahoma City Museum are interested in the videos, according to spokeswoman Leslie A. Spears. She said the museum runs on a very tight budget and the decision on whether to use the IMA content will come down to cost.
"We're very impressed with [the videos]," Spears said. "We certainly can't send staff members to the Louvre or Rome to do this."
Other local not-for-profits also are beefing up their in-house digital video production. The Indianapolis Convention & Visitors Association is up to its 68th episode of "Doing Indy," a series of short videos produced by a staff member to spotlight the funkier side of Indianapolis.
Demand from travelers and meeting planners alike drove ICVA's move to podcasts, said ICVA spokesman Bob Schultz.
"Still photography paints an image but not an experience," he said. "The videos capture an experience, and selling our brand is all about an experience."
Digital video production opportunities also provide some cool job perks for those creative folks organizations work to retain. Liffick, for example, considered herself lucky to be part of the IMA trip to Rome and Paris, including a tour of the Louvre on a day it was closed to the public.
"Seeing the Mona Lisa with only four people standing there, it was magical," she said.