Carving water painting voice

A collaborative art installation about migration and identity

Auckland’s Maritime Museum very effectively uses art installations to explore ideas linked to its core story of New Zealand’s maritime heritage and identity.

Its current exhibition “carving water painting voice” is a collaborative installation by four artists, led by Kazu Nakagawa, that investigates themes of migration and identity.

The installation is built around Kazu Nakagawa’s beautiful sculpture based on a wooden Niuean waka and paddles suspended from the ceiling. It is contains a sound installation composed by Helen Bowater of human voices, many of whom are migrants, singing or speaking in their native language. Alongside is a display of three poems by Riemke Ensing and data maps by designer Andrew Caldwell that chart migratory patterns from pre-history to today. Andrew’s interesting conclusion from his research is that migration is in the human DNA, it is a feature driven by our curiosity to explore different places and different lives.

I attended a panel discussion last week with the four artists, who spoke about the work as well as some of their own experience of migration. This led so some of the people attending the discussion sharing some of their own personal experiences with migration in the Q&A and over the drinks afterwards.

The exhibition shows beautifully how art can be a catalyst for a discussion of a key topic of today that is not politically charged but shows a bigger picture as well as brings out individual, personal experiences.

Curating between hope and despair

A lecture about creating POLIN Museum of the History of Polish Jews

I attended a fascinating lecture by Barbara Kirshenblatt-Gimblett “Curating between hope and despair: Creating POLIN Museum of the History of Polish Jews” at University of Auckland.

Barbara Kirshenblatt-Gimblett is Professor Emerita at New York University and author of several books on museums and Jewish life. She is Chief Curator of the Core Exhibition at POLIN Museum of the History of Polish Jews, which opened in 2013 and has since had 3 million visits and won several awards.

She spoke about the development of the POLIN museum and, most interestingly, the curatorial principles to the main exhibition.

The museum is site specific, being built on the space of the former Warsaw ghetto and started without a collection or many objects. The key idea of the exhibition is to show 1000 years of Jewish history in Poland. It wants visitors to experience this long history, integral to Polish history, by experiencing key periods of this history in the moment. This means not to view it through the lens of the Holocaust, but to honour how the Jewish community lived over centuries, exploring and celebrating their lives using some objects and interactive and immersive installations. It shows the Holocaust also in the moment, how people experienced it then and there. And the story continues to the post-war period.

With this approach the POLIN museum wants to tell the whole story of Jewish life in Poland and situate it in a 1000 year history to offer visitors a bigger picture.

A fascinating lecture. An interview with Barbara Kirshenblatt-Gimblett is linked here.

Are theatres at an exciting moment for inclusion?

The changing face(s) of London theatre

Indhu Rubasingham, artistic director of the Kiln theatre in London’s Kilburn, thinks so. He sees a variety of leadership in theatres and that this is already showing in new voices being presented on its stages, as he writes in this article:

The best and the worst about visiting cultural organisations (according to visitors)

The power (and risk) of staff interaction

In our increasingly digital lives, personal interaction still does make the difference. And it seems to be the best way to increase visitor satisfaction, suggests Colleen Dilenschneider in these two articles based on US visitor data.

The Most Reliable Way To Increase Visitor Satisfaction To Cultural Organizations

The Worst Thing About Visiting Cultural Organizations

The growing business of helping customers slow down

A trend that’s perfect for cultural organisations

In an age of acceleration, people are increasingly seeking out opportunities to slow down, as this HBR article “The Growing Business of Helping Customers Slow Down” suggests.

People are looking for simplicity, de-materialisation and authenticity. Retail is already integrating this in customer experiences.

This seems to me to be a great opportunity for museums, galleries and other cultural organisations to emphasise how they can facilitate deceleration. (And finally I found another reason to argue for more seating in museums, which is a strangely controversial topic ;).

What value do museums, art galleries and heritage properties contribute to Aotearoa New Zealand?

New report released by Museums Aotearoa

Museums Aotearoa released a new report that brings together academic research with data collected from New Zealand museums and their visitors.

It shows how cultural institutions are making an active contribution to cultural well-being, social cohesion and the economy in addition to their vital role as kaitiaki of knowledge and taonga.

PDF icon media release

PDF icon full report

The power of brand inside organisations

The power of brand inside organisations – shaping the staff and the visitor experience

I was thinking about branding and came across this interview with branding expert Robert Jones, strategist at Wolff Olins (the agency involved in the development of the Tate brand when Tate Modern first opened) and professor of brand leadership at the University of East Anglia.

What I found particularly interesting is the power of brands inside organisations as they set the tone and culture of the organisation and of staff behaviour.

This strikes me as highly relevant for arts and culture organisations who are about a visitor experience. This experience is to a large part shaped by its staff, those in direct contact with visitors as well as those behind the scenes – the more they live the brand the more visitors will experience it.

This means brand building should not only be thought of as an externally focused marketing activity, but that it can be a strong internal tool. An example from Ikea in the interview, demonstrates the role leadership can play in personifying the brand and setting a powerful example for internal culture and staff behaviour.