Why the feel good narrative must end

Diversity in arts participation is often praised, but time and again the overall conclusion (at least as UK data shows) seems to be that the diversity of people engaging in the arts has only changed little over the years despite the wealth of projects and policies to increase cultural participation.

Is there a tendency to overstate impacts through uncritical narratives of success? The authors of this article think so and that this risks undermining the credibility of state subsidies for art and culture. We should not only celebrate the successes but also look at what doesn’t work and learn from it – why the feel good narrative must end (ArtsProfessional).

Interested in more stories like this? Subscribe to my monthly newsletter.

Take art home from the Met

…if only for 15 minutes.

You can enjoy a bit of art entertainment on your mobile with The Met Unframed, an interactive, gamified, mobile-only virtual experience of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. And if you solve some puzzles, you might even be able to take the art home for 15 minutes.

A fun VR experience, reviewed here by The Art Newspaper’s XR Panel.

Interested in more stories like this? Subscribe to my monthly newsletter.

The forgotten dimension of diversity

The pandemic is bringing inequalities in society to light, especially economic inequalities. In all the discussion and efforts to increase diversity, the focus is often on gender and ethnic diversity, social class is considered much less. An increasing issue in many societies around the world, social inequality will hold them back, because it matters for the well-being not just of individuals, but of organisations and society as a whole.

Social equality shouldn’t be the forgotten dimension of diversity.

Image: Bruno Figueiredo on Unsplash

Interested in more stories like this? Subscribe to my monthly newsletter.

What role do audiences play in virtual culture?

Virtual culture is not just changing the engagement with culture, it is also changing the role of audience members and their experience around the art.

The coronavirus forced us to watch in our homes rather than with strangers and some of the immediacy of live performance went missing. “It’s easy to forget that, in the theatre, each ticket buyer plays a role. The quality of our attention—silent or ecstatic, galled or bored … makes each in-person performance unrepeatable.” Some theatre productions try to bring some interaction into the digital – between actors and spectators, and among spectators. Awkward at first, it offers a way to avoid social estrangement and gives back an experience of interaction.

Image: Kris Amon on Unsplash

And it’s not only the performance itself, but the whole experience, including the important social side of it. “Perhaps there is enjoyment in rituals of getting ready, going for a meal or drink before or after, chance meetings with friends, or minute details, such as the smell of a favourite venue or even the irritating rustling of another performance goer’s snacks on the next row. Experience of performances involves all of these things and more; a ‘total’ experience (Gesamtkunstwerk) with forms of artistic performance as a focus point.” A nightclub found an innovative solution when it went online. In addition to its 3D interactive dancefloor, it included a virtual queue, where participants would wait to be let in; a bar where, for the price of a drink, participants could donate to charities; toilets, represented as a number of chatrooms hidden behind cubicle doors. It offered clubbers casual interaction and the club experience that exists around the dancefloor. Something to inspire traditional venues?

Interested in more stories like this? Subscribe to my monthly newsletter.

Is culture going smaller scale?

New, smaller scale formats seem to be emerging that are easier to produce and might also fit better in our changed and busy lives. Here are some examples I have come across:

Covid has forced a pianist to play at different times and without a break. And he has loved it so much, he doesn’t want to go back.

Under Covid restrictions film director Pedro Almodovar produced a 30 minute film with actress Tilda Swinton. While smaller-scale it seems, however, he spared no expense.

The visual arts are experimenting with smaller pop-up locations and partnerships with outside organisations. As a case in point, Auckland Art Gallery just opened a satellite exhibition – in addition to its current blockbuster though, not instead.

Interested in more stories like this? Subscribe to my monthly newsletter.

Where next for museums? Symposium takeaways

Reframing Museums was a virtual symposium organised by Louvre Abu Dhabi and New York University Abu Dhabi in November. Museum experts from five continents, including the directors of Musée du Louvre, Metropolitan Museum of Art, Hermitage Museum, the Museum of Black Civilisations in Dakar, Zayed National Museum in Abu Dhabi and others, discussed the post-pandemic future for museums.

The Art Newspaper summarised its 4 takeaways, which are worth reading through:

  • Exhibitions are not dead, but they will be different.
  • Collections will be reinterpreted with multiple narratives and shared more locally.
  • Museums need new business models to be less dependent on visitor numbers.
  • Equitable and inclusive institutions must empower their audiences to form their own opinions and connections.

Are you interested in more stories like this? Subscribe to my newsletter.

A Manifesto for Museum Learning and Engagement

For the Museum Association in the UK, the combination of the coronavirus crisis and the climate crisis “makes it imperative that we make a transformational change to the role of museums in society. This is a time that requires radical social innovation.” This has led them to publish a Manifesto for Museum Learning and Engagement. Built on two years of research and consultation with museums, it wants to provide a framework for museums to reflect on their purpose and develop their practice.

Image: Museum Association

Interested in more stories like this? Subscribe to my newsletter.

Pitfalls when reporting visit numbers

Colleen Dilenschneider, in a recent blog post, reminds of a few pitfalls when reporting visitation numbers, which are good to keep in mind:

  • Overlooking population growth in attendance trends
  • Counting door swings as if they are all different people
  • Omitting the addition of new organisations or programmes to totals
  • Adding together different survey methodologies
Image: William Iven on Unsplash

Interested in more stories like about audiences, insight, strategy and more? Subscribe to my monthly newsletter.

What outcomes for culture on referral programmes?

Culture on referral (or art on prescription) programmes have been gaining increased popularity in the cultural and health sector as a way of addressing health and wellbeing needs.

The Centre for Cultural Value in the UK has done an assessment of published literature on culture on referral to understand what evidence there is for the value of such programmes.

They conclude that “Overall, while there is promising evidence that there is a positive role for culture on referral programmes in improving wellbeing outcomes, there is a need to understand the specific value of culture on referral programmes compared to other group-based activities. There is also a need to understand the role of specific cultural on referral programmes, such as dance or visual participatory arts, and which of these programmes is most appropriate for differing health and wellbeing needs.”

Interested in more stories like this? Subscribe to my monthly newsletter.

Are museums good for your mental health?

Some might say it depends whether you are a visitor or staff ;)… On a more serious note, “Mental wellness has become one of the most pressing issues of our time,” and we know that the benefits of museums go far beyond having an enjoyable day out. They provide knowledge, inspiration, and social benefits. Do they also improve mental health? This article cites some examples of museums actively working to improve mental health within local communities with good results.
And here is another example, V&A Dundee in Scotland working with visitors with dementia.

Image: Ian Dooley on Unsplash

Interested in more stories like this? Subscribe to my monthly newsletter.

5 opportunities for 2021

Reflecting on the rollercoaster year of 2020, I thought about the trends and developments I observed in recent months and what the opportunities and challenges might be to ‘build back better’ in relation to audiences.

Here are my top 5:

  • Thinking hyper local: The limitations of travel brought the importance of local audiences to the fore and ‘buying local’ has become popular. How can we really value the local audience and build and deepen these relationships?
  • Designing for inclusion: In 2020 we heard heightened calls for equity, supporting underserved communities, racial justice and indigenising museums. How can we accelerate the move from talk to action in these areas and be really clear who our organisations are for?
  • Art and wellbeing: Health and wellbeing have been much discussed and art has made many contributions to help us process difficult events, learn, teach and entertain us. How can we continue to make significant contributions to people’s wellbeing? And how can we capture and communicate the outcomes so art gets considered in similar terms to health and education?
  • Phygital: The world has embraced (and is slightly tiring of) digital. How can we be more choiceful with digital content? What are ways to make it sustainable in monetary terms? And how do we maintain meaningful physical encounters not just with art but with and between audiences?
  • Human-centred and agile: Traditional audience development approaches have not necessarily delivered the diversity in audiences we wish for. How can human-centred design be a better, more practical and more agile alternative to developing audiences?

Do any of these resonate? What are your observations, questions, expectations for the year ahead?

Are you interested in more stories like this? Subscribe to my monthly newsletter.

Embrace your competition: Brooklyn Museum and Netflix

With an ever increasing offer of things to do in our leisure time, and now even more so directly from our sofas, the real competition is no longer other arts organisations.

Brooklyn Museum has embraced this thought with a collaboration with Netflix. “The Queen and the Crown” is a 3D immersive virtual exhibition of costumes featured in two Netflix series (The Queen’s Gambit and season four of The Crown) on a digital exhibition floor, aiming to make the museum more relevant to digital-native audiences.

Image: Brooklyn Museum

Interested in more stories like this? Subscribe to my monthly newsletter.

What will people pay for? Education, education, education

One of the big questions for cultural organisations in light of the financial effects of Covid and the multitude of free online content offered last year is what people would pay for. A key answer seems to be education. This article observed that organisations are seeing surprising levels of success around workshops, participatory, and learning-focused activity delivered online. 
Some intriguing examples are mentioned: 

  • Performing arts companies are seeing success with tutorials. English National Ballet’s Active Ballet, for instance, is a library of training and classes available on subscription. 
  • English National Ballet also taps into the new habit of ‘on-demand’ viewing by offering a video-on-demand platform for ballet performances and training available to rent. 
  • In the museum world, V&A Academy offers courses from art history to learning practical skills such as sewing, to exploring contemporary design discourse in forums with curators, researchers, designers and makers as well as professional development courses. Online or offline they are all paid for. 

The start of the new year is always a good time to tap into people’s desire to learn and do new things, so now might be a good time for trialling some of these ideas. 

Interested in more stories like this? Subscribe to my monthly newsletter.

Image: English National Ballet ballet.org.uk

Building community connection in retail

Arts organisations are focusing more on local audiences in light of current travel restrictions. The competitive retail sector is also discovering small and local.

This community orientated project by Nike in China is trying to turn brand fans into engaged and loyal communities. Using Nike ‘member’ (app users) insights and real-time sporting moments from Nike-backed events in the local area, the new store concept is “giving local fans access to weekly sports activities, in-store workshops and events such as weekly basketball games and football matches, hosted by Nike-affiliated athletes, experts and influencers based in the city.”

With the growth of online shopping stores need to offer more relevant experiences and connect with digital. To me this concept also highlights how competition for people’s leisure time is growing in many places. We are often concerned with competition in our own field (the other cultural organisations around us) and forget that we are competing for people’s time, which they can spend in many different ways.

Image: Nike Rise, Guangzhou on Stylus.com

Interested in more stories like about audiences, insight, strategy and more? Subscribe to my monthly newsletter.

6 ways to work more democratically

The success of organisations that are connecting more inclusively with audiences, such as Fun Palaces, Creative People & Places, 64 Million Artists in the UK and Of/By/For in the US, seems to be warming up the debate about cultural democracy.

In light of evidence that 20% of the population consume 80% of state supported culture, this article discusses the role for mainstream cultural institutions in this and suggests 6 things organisations can do to work more democratically and move towards a more participatory and citizen-led future.

Photo by Marcos Luiz Photograph on Unsplash