5 Questions with Paula Susaeta from Instituto de Cultura, Fundación MAPFRE

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“My relationship with social media started as a “coup de foudre”* – one day I realized its amazing power and beauty and became a true believer!” Paula Susaeta (*coup de foudre – from French, love from first site)

Paula Susaeta is the head of the web and social media department at Fundación MAPFRE‘s Instituto de Cultura – one of Spain’s leading art foundations. She is an expert in photography and is also part of a rather unusual artistic collective paupac azul, a project between spoken word and video art. Recently they were invited to perform at TEDx in Madrid.

Fundación MAPFRE is a one of a kind art foundation. Since 2007, it has been building up an important collection of 20th century photographs who are well known across Europe and US yet never displayed before in Spain. They organise four monographic exhibitions per year that are shown first in Madrid and subsequently across Europe and the Americas and they are the only Spanish institution that devotes an established exhibition programme dedicated to photography.

Behind the scenes of Communicating the Museum conference we managed to talk to Paula about the pioneering role of Fundación MAPFRE, the power of social media, the pros and cons of iphoneography and why paupac azul breaks the rules of blogging.

1. What were the challenges of building a photographic collection of this scale as a private foundation, in comparison to state-funded institutions?
There were many challenges in terms of organisation and communication. If we talk about funding, who we answer to about what is done with the money, is very different compared to a state-funded institution. In general as a private foundation we had to become known as trustworthy. If you are a public institution you normally have a great history to rely upon, as a private art foundation you have to build it.

We started our collection with the purchase of The Brown Sisters, a beautiful and complex work by Nicholas Nixon about the passing of time, family and love. He started photographing his wife and her sisters in 1975, and has been doing it ever since, each time they meet, normally for Thanksgiving. Every year, the sisters in the same order become the trace of time, love and its endurance. The Brown Sisters is a work in progress. Each year we wait to see what Nixon has “seen” this time, what the sisters have gone through, how life shows in the work of art. There isn’t anything that can explain as well as this work, what is at the heart of our collection and our foundation.

The idea of taking the time to develop the concept, of building steadily a body of work well balanced between national and international representation, great masters and young established artists, creating an overview of photography that can really tell about our commitment.

2. How do social media and philanthropy go together?
I believe there are few things that could melt better together. With social media we reach a one on one level that is so useful and rich. The message does not get lost or twisted, we have the chance to ask and respond directly to the people that follow us.

Just a few lines about the Fundación MAPFRE so we can keep the focus in place. Fundación MAPFRE is a nonprofit foundation that owns the greatest part of the insurance company Mapfre. From the beginning the wish has been to keep both things separate: insurance business is business, and the foundation is an institution devoted to society, with 5 institutes, among which is the Instituto de Cultura. The idea is to act there where others cannot – preserving the arts, through the photography and the drawing collections, and spreading the word, with the exhibitions and the educational programmes and our film festival.

Regarding our philanthropic mission we have a commitment in the roots of the foundation to give back to society some of what the company has gained from it. The public has to know what we do and why we do it. That’s why social media is extremely important to us.

3. What are you doing on social media now?
I would not speak about specific campaigns, other than the special visits we organize for bloggers since we believe they are very important and we have wanted to acknowledge that. Social media is more of a behaviour for us. We knew we had to be there, but the good thing is we know how we want to be there, and that is up to the same commitment we have in real life.

Now, in things related to social media many tend to confuse speed with time, and I think that does not go in favor of anyone. It takes time to build a net, takes even more time to make the audience engaged, and then a bigger effort to refresh it and keep it active. Social media has to be nurtured with curated content endlessly to inform and engage, and that is our main goal other than listening to our audience.

To be online you have to know what you are, it is easier to get away without knowing that offline, but online means real time, and being in real time means having the important stuff clear. I believe that building a reputation, showing our personality, and listening to what our audience has to say is the phase in which we are now. A good long term plan seems to be the way to come about it all, and that is what we are working on now.

4. As an expert in photography how would you comment on the recent iPhoneography trend?
I believe there are several things here. One is the possibility of having the resolution and quality to make photographs in a device much easier and light to carry than any camera, and the possibilities of storage and quick response it gives. Another thing is the urge to take thousands of pictures just for the sake of it. Nowadays there is an impulse to have more of everything, to accumulate. I truly think that should not be the goal in anything. If you travel to the Himalayas, enjoy the Himalayas and “breathe” them, do not spend the whole time taking pictures.

Trends like iphotography blur the line between amateur photography and art; although I do think only for a lapse of time. I believe that devices and trends which have to do with styles and ways such as Instagram are interesting as trends and devices, but not more than that: if not, everything becomes the same and looks the same way. I do think there is a strong difference between the eye of a photographer/artist and another human being. That is, and I believe will always be the key. Remember the eye of an artist carries and shows the world in a way we can relate to, but that is so very moving and particular.

5. You are part of paupac azul – a rather unusual artistic collective focused on story telling. Can you tell us more about it?
I have been working in paupac azul with my husband for some time now, at first only making audio works. Then we stopped for some years and picked up when we really knew what we wanted to do, in the summer of 2011, when voice, image and music got together to become the real paupac azul. The most recent project has been a beautiful invitation to  TEDx in Madrid, where we performed. That was the first paupac live in front of an audience of 500.

Paupac azul is about telling those things you can go back to when life is broken and we are exhausted of living. We work in english and spanish, and  always say that if we manage to get the person who sees one of the videos out of the chair, something is starting to happen. We are currently working on next two videos, TRUST and AUGUST, and even if this is not the latest, we really like this one:

As paupac azul, we are very active on Twitter- that’s our main weapon. We also have a blog, in which, even to my surprise, we have decided to break one of the golden rules of social media: we update only when something has to be said, we have gotten rid of the pressure of the commitment to be there all the time. When the artists’ believe confronts the principles of any field, even social media, it should be the artist who wins.

Elina Zheleva is working for the European Aviation Safety Agency in Cologne. She just finished an EMBA in Marketing and Communications. Interested in a million things other than airplanes like tech startups, art festivals and alternative museums.

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