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 ;).

New report: 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 to answer the question “What value do museums, art galleries and heritage properties contribute to Aotearoa New Zealand?”.

Drawing on draws on a decade of visitor surveys at New Zealand’s museums and referencing international research, 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 tāonga.

Find the report
Download the media release
Download the 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.

4 trends to keep in mind if you want to develop and sustain new audiences

Do you want to develop and sustain new audiences? Then cross-functional collaboration is essential.

Here is a great post from Know-your-own-Bone about it:

4 Trends That Cannot Be Delegated To Departments Within Cultural Organizations

These trends are:

1) Integrating market research is not up to the Marketing Department

2) Achieving diversity and inclusion is not up to the Human Resources Department

3) Underscoring your mission is not the sole responsibility of the Education or Programs Departments

4) Securing philanthropic support cannot be achieved solely by the Development or Membership Departments

I am sure you can name more examples – leave a comment if you have any thoughts.

How much impact will France’s culture pass for young people have?

French president Emanuel Macron is introducing a free culture pass for 18 year olds worth €500. It will be interesting to see if and how it works, especially as money is not the only barrier to arts. Two writers consider the potential of the new pilot scheme:

The silo mentality – as prevalent now as in the 80s?

We might be tired of the term (I can see eyes rolling…), but it seems that the multitude of communication tools hasn’t fundamentally changed the issue. And arts organisations (at least the bigger ones) are as guilty as business.

Here is a related cartoon by the Marketoonist and an HBR article that suggest to revive the GE Work-out process to overcome the silos.

Future scenario 1: Bright Future

The Centre for the Future of Museums (at the American Alliance for Museums) is creating thought provoking scenarios of the future to “help museums come up with creative solutions to the central challenge: how can we create a world informed and enriched by thriving museums? How can museums thrive, in the face of diverse forces of change?”

While USA centric, they provide great food for thought to consider where we want the future to go wherever we are based, and what and how we can contribute to it.

Starting optimistically, here is scenario 1: Bright Future

Three current models of museum and art gallery developments – what questions do they pose?

Musing about recent news on museums and art galleries, there seem to me to be three strands of museums models or experiences developing that trigger interesting questions:

Larger public museums and art galleries are expanding with new and exciting building projects to bring more of their growing collections out of storage and provide different types of spaces to accommodate artists new ways of working (Sydney Modern).  Yet they are under increasing funding pressures with central and local government funds decreasing and sponsorships scrutinised or even opposed by artists and the public (Manchester science festival partners withdraw over Shell sponsorship). At the same time expectations are increasing in particular around visitor numbers and their role as tourist attractions. Big name ‘blockbuster’ exhibitions and new building extensions attract large audiences, but naturally can’t be sustained every year – and visitor numbers often become the one and only measure that gets zoomed in on as the sign of success or failure (Major London museums see visitor numbers plummet) with more subtle effects only discussed inside the sector.

Local museums are striving to differentiate themselves by better connecting with their local communities, involving the community into designing the experience and thereby being more relevant to them. The Santa Cruz Museum of Art & History has rebuilt itself with this strategy and is now leading a new global initiative to spread this more widely and to make museums OF/BY/FOR ALL in their respective communities.

Private museums are increasingly opened by wealthy art collectors. They can act without public funding pressures and are essentially only responsible to their own vision and tastes. The Glenstone Museum, for example, is due to open an extension next month said to be “…designed around visitor experience rather than maximizing the number of visitors who cross its threshold” to avoid the “Mona Lisa moment”. Are these new ‘slow art’ experiences or are they elitist in a counter reaction to the ‘democratisation’ of art in the last few decades? Or are private museums just providing a commodity experience based on the art market and modelled on the major public museums? (Billionaires have franchised the modern art museum)

Interesting developments that pose challenging questions and dilemmas around what the role of museums is, how arts and culture should be funded, what we consider inclusive or elitist, what experiences we value and enable or how we measure success…