WHO: Claudia Gomez, communications and marketing manager at San Antonio’s McNay Art Museum.
WHAT: A tongue-in-cheek social media brawl Gomez started on the McNay’s Threads account, which has brought internet fame to the city of San Antonio and entertainment to the masses.
WHY IT’S SO GREAT: The McNay Art Museum is something of a hidden gem in the swanky Alamo Heights neighborhood, housed in founder Marion Koogler McNay’s historic mansion on serene, shady grounds dotted with koi ponds. Its collections and exhibits have always been compelling and deeply eclectic—ranging from the works of Impressionist master Claude Monet to those of contemporary assemblage artist vanessa german to those of local schoolchildren—and it became the first modern art museum in Texas when it opened in 1954. Somehow, though, it’s still not widely known outside of the state—or maybe even outside of San Antonio.
It’s rare for such a dignified institution to make a lighthearted name for itself online, but the McNay’s account on Threads, Meta’s answer to Twitter, is breaking the mold. Describing itself as “the McNay Art Museum but unhinged version,” it frequently employs meme-laden, punctuation-free slang, alongside some more conventional posts showcasing items from the museum’s inventory.
Every new social media app quickly develops a personality, and so far, users have been comparing the Threads experience to the Wild West or drinking from a fire hose. Especially for the first few days, chaos reigned as lots of brand accounts competed for followers. “Unhinged” McNay hit at the heart of the criticisms of Meta and Twitter right out of the gate by referencing the public Zuckerberg–Musk feud with a cage-match challenge to other museums:
Other local entities quickly chisme-d in. The Witte Museum brought some T. rex skulls to the fight, KLRN public television offered studio space, and the Hemisfair district tentatively marked itself safe in the melee. Joey Palacios, city hall reporter for Texas Public Radio, spotted the comedic potential early on, suggesting the San Antonio Zoo as a worthy opponent. The zoo shot back a photo of a critter checking out a painting.
Palacios told Texas Monthly that he was impressed with the account’s good-natured River City–style roasting. “The McNay had a blank canvas, and it chose wisely to start heat with the rest of San Antonio in an already sweltering summer,” he said. “The way other accounts, like [the San Antonio Water System], the Witte, the zoo, and HemisFair, have been interacting with each other in an unhinged manner is embracing what we love about our city, kind of like how we all fight with our primos.”
The squabbling is all in puro San Antonio fun, with lots of mutual admiration between the museum and commenters, some of whom also blame the fiery banter on craziness induced by the extra-hot summer. Others praised the anonymous staff member behind the account, with brand strategist and designer Nicte Cuevas posting that whoever was running it “deserves a raise, a mic, a fiesta, a billboard, and a key to the city.”
San Antonio mayor Ron Nirenberg even took notice, so maybe that key to the city is within reach, but one thing’s for sure: Unhinged McNay has the social media game all locked up.
So who’s the creative talent behind everybody’s chaotic new bestie? The joke is that it’s artist Sandy Skoglund’s cheese puff sculpture, nicknamed Veronica.
It’s actually the McNay’s communications and marketing manager, Claudia Gomez. Texas Monthly caught up with her and the museum’s director and CEO, Matthew McLendon, to talk about the response.
Gomez told us that she’s gratified the museum she’s so proud of is having a moment in the limelight: “We’re just a little museum in San Antonio, but we’re being tagged in threads about who you should follow along with the Guggenheim and the Whitney.” She thinks the McNay stands ready to lead the art charge not just regionally but nationally.
She’s also thrilled to hear people say they are renewing or starting museum memberships as a result of their interactions on Threads, because it reflects one of the things she admires most about the McNay: that it’s working hard to connect to the community by holding family days and hands-on workshops, as well as featuring diverse artists. If a person appreciates the local vernacular wrapped around funny, educational posts and thinks, “I feel represented; I feel seen in this museum,” she says, then she’s met her goal.
McLendon agrees. “Like all museums, maybe art museums in particular, there’s this threshold anxiety,” he said, “where people wonder, ‘Do I belong here?’ ” They’re making a concerted effort to be more accessible, he says, through efforts like bilingual gallery labels and the Spotlight program, which is in its tenth year of supporting teachers to provide coordinated art instruction to more than 13,000 students in fifteen districts.
Even so, it’s hard to get the word out, and McLendon wasn’t surprised to see some respondents mention they’d assumed the museum was stuffy or snobby until seeing the Threads account. “The beauty of what our social media accounts are doing is that it shows the other side of the McNay,” he said. “We want to be San Antonio’s place of belonging for all people. You might be there to learn and engage with the visual arts, but you can also have fun. Museums are built for the sound of laughter, too.”