Widening participation and engagement in the arts is often perceived by the arts establishment to involve the ‘dumbing down’ of artistic content.
I work for an arts organisation that exists to offer the widest possible audience access to high quality contemporary visual art. By situating all of our work in the public realm, that is: in parks, green spaces, disused buildings, canals, streets, or online, we offer a chance for everyone, including those who don’t ordinarily engage with the arts, an opportunity to enjoy and learn outside of the usual gallery, ‘white cube’ galleries and museum spaces. Also, by offering many different ways to interact with the artist, commission or project, we offer new and deeper ways for people to learn through a programme of events and engagement activities. Additionally, we strive to interpret and document projects in unconventional ways – perhaps by posting a film on YouTube or creating a downloadable App game.
Arts organisations are obliged to do ‘outreach’ work and to look outside the confines of their four walls because of social agendas and funding requirements. This work must not be seen as an add-on to exhibition programmes and commissions, it must be at the very core of what we as professionals in the arts industry strive to achieve every day. If not, we run the risk of becoming outdated and failing to provide for the extended audiences we seek to reach. Widening engagement in the arts doesn’t have to, and indeed should not, involve any dumbing down in theme, content or interpretation of an artist’s work. Widening engagement for us simply involves creative collaboration on the part of artists and curators to discern how art is interpreted and understood and ultimately, how art is enjoyed as an experience for the many and not just the few.
Laura Harford www.upprojects.com
Our first exhibition opened in November 2012, and finished in January 2013. You’ll see from my last post that we were full of plans to do things differently – this was about bringing art to the people and starting conversations.
In some ways it was really successful, and in others less so – as a first go it’s been a great experience and we’ve learned a lot.
One of our key achievements was using the relatively new technology of ‘crowd funding’ to raise the initial investment that we needed to stage the exhibition. Supporters were mainly people we knew, but we harnessed their enthusiasm and generosity through social media.
The show itself got quite a lot of attention from the moment we brought the works on site. Those good folk at the metro (as far as we could hear) were surprised and quite exited that the work of such high profile artists were coming to their office. Anecdotally, and second hand, we heard that they loved the show, and that it caused a real buzz – especially in its first few days. Interestingly, it seemed to create a lot of good feeling towards the organisation amongst the staff.
As you know, I’m very interested in how we communicate about art. I’m interested in trying new ways of doing this and how we can tell if we’re doing it well. So, it’s about time I did some real life experimenting of my own on my own terms.
This week we’re launching GABBLE. When I say we, I mean my lovely co-founder, Sarah Asher and me. We’re ‘popping up’ with a small exhibition of modern British art in an office building, the office building of a major London newspaper. As it’s a newspaper, we though ‘why not go pop all the way?’- so we are, with artists like Peter Blake, David Hockney and Richard Hamilton. Among other things, we’re looking at how these artists incorporated commercial art practices into their work and we’re showing a selection of their prints.
The good people of this newspaper will have the opportunity to get to know these works over a period of six weeks. We’ll have fairly traditional text panels up but we’ll also be experimenting with digital content; a website, QR codes and a good social networking presence. We’ll signpost people to pop related content all over the web. We’ll measure all of this traffic, run surveys and polls and when we’re done we’ll publish our findings. I’ll also be writing about what we’re learning here as the project goes along.
We want to start lots of conversations. Follow us on twitter @Gabble_UK if you want to listen in.
The exhibition website can be seen: here
If you think this sounds good and you want to help out, we’d be delighted if you wanted to throw a fiver our way: we’d be thrilled if you donate here.
I’ve had a long break from blogging, but with autumnal vigor and with news of an exciting project, I’m back in the game with an announcement on Tuesday. In the meantime, I’ve been looking through my archive and found that one of my favorite posts is languishing at the bottom of my table of ‘hits’. I thought I’d give it another shot!
Originally posted on Sophie L Shaw:
I read a lovely article in the New York Times this week; the journalist describes regular and frequent visits to one particular painting over the course of a decade. He describes how his relationship with the painting has developed, how his understanding of it has deepened and how he’s seen it in many different lights, so to speak, over this time. This puts me in mind of one of my favourite museum stories, which I’d like to share with you now.
For those interested in the history of the museum, the National Gallery is an interesting institution. One of the younger of the European national art museums, its story really comes into its own during the blitz. At the outbreak of war the national collection was evacuated, first to various locations in Wales but then, when bombing started to target rural locations as well, to bunkers deep within a disused slate mine. The gallery itself was hit nine times in the raids, but it remained dedicated to London’s, albeit seriously curtailed, cultural life. Famously, from the outset, it hosted lunchtime classical music concerts. From 1942, once the bombing had eased enough to be considered relatively safe, one painting a month was brought back from Wales to go on public display.
In my last post I lied about a couple of things. Firstly, I said I’d follow up the next day – and that was two days ago. I also said I’d give three examples of digital resources providing access to art that I almost wholeheartedly love. In fact – for the sake of my word count – I’m going to give you two.
1: Tate recently brought out an app called ‘the Magic Tate Ball’. This is designed for use outside the gallery. You shake it and it pays attention to the time of day, your location, any ambient noise, and then selects a work of art especially for you.
There are two things I particularly like about this. a) you can be practically comatose to use it. The challenge of how to open up collections without putting the onus on users to know what it is that they’re looking for is a big one – admirably overcome in this case, and b) the art it presents you with is both a complete surprise and, at absolute worst, intriguing – in so far as you’d be interested to know why that particular piece popped up. You can tap ‘why’ and you’ll get an explanation (e.g. it is noisy, it is lunch time) and a related snippet about the work. Sometimes tenuous, this is usually interesting, but it’s here that the ingenuity peters out ….
A couple of good things have happened this week. One of which is that I now have a mentor. This is great; I’ve never had a mentor before, and this one has come to me through a stint I had earlier in the year on a course for ‘Emerging Leaders in the Arts’ with the Clore Leadership Programme. This was among one of the most positive experiences I’ve ever had, and my new mentor (a Clore fellow) brought an air of the supportive Clore atmosphere with her when I met her for the first time this week. NB: Clore could yet turn out to be a cult, but as far as I’m concerned that’s fine, my worldly goods don’t amount to much anyway (not that they’ve asked for them yet) and access to this level of professional development is so rare in my sector that its definitely worth the risk.
She asked me a number of interesting and challenging questions – one of which has particularly been on my mind. We were talking about digital engagement. This is a subject that fascinates me. If digital is a swimming pool, then I’ve moved down from the seats up in the balcony and have recently been awkwardly shuffling from foot to foot on the pool-side, watching what everyone else is up to and tentatively asking a few questions. Both in terms of my museum job and the projects I am pursuing myself, its time for me to jump in.