Art Meets the Retail World: Folkestone Creative Quarter at Bluewater

Image Folkestone Creative Quarter at Bluewater

Folkestone Creative Quarter at Bluewater

Over spring 2015 Folkestone Creative Quarter had the fantastic opportunity to organise and run a pop-up shop in Bluewater Shopping Centre. Organised in conjunction with Visit Kent and Produced in Kent, four Kent-based businesses took up a pop-up each from April 1 to May 4 in a variety of locations within Bluewater. The Folkestone Creative Quarter shop presented the work of 26 artists, makers and retailers. The other participating businesses included Macnade Fine Foods, Leeds Castle and The Wooden Spoon. With an annual footfall of 28 million and a catchment area that includes 6.5million, this was the perfect opportunity to present Kent’s thriving creative hub to a new and large scale audience. The Bluewater staff told us that we came under their radar due to the work we did for Folkestone Triennial and Cultural Destinations when they came across the kiosk during its tour of key tourist attractions in the region.

The large space provided was the ideal location to display work, with ample hanging space, large concourse-facing windows and lots of room for creative workshops. The Creative Quarter team maximised the space’s potential to create a welcoming and fully functioning shop and gallery, which was ideally located opposite Marks and Spencer’s in Bluewater’s Upper Rose Gallery.

Image Interior of Pop-Up Shop at Bluewater

Interior of Pop-Up Shop at Bluewater

Works available included original artworks, paintings, prints, fashion, handmade handbags, jewellery, art books, cards, gifts and many other items. Artists included Malcolm Allen, Jack Frame, Steve Harkin, Shane Record, Alan Smith and Kate Knight. Over the six week period the team opened daily between 10am – 6pm Mon – Fri and 11am – 5pm on Sundays. During this time the Creative Quarter pop-up attracted over 5,300 visitors and generated income of over £6,800 on behalf of the artists. The shop proved to be a hit with both Bluewater regulars and first time visitors, offering a unique range of goods, friendly conversation and a great insight into Folkestone’s regeneration. The shop introduced our artists and makers to a new audience and provided links between them. Visitors to the shop contacted artists and makers long after the end of the pop up to purchase works from them directly. We are aware of 16 such purchases that would not have happened if the pop up shop didn’t take place from customers as far away as London.

Several family-friendly workshops took place over weekends and bank holidays, encouraging families to join in with Folkestone artists including Strange Cargo, Fat Hen and Flo and Mark Sutherland. In addition participating artists also joined the team on weekends, demonstrating their skill, displaying works in progress and being on hand to chat with customers. Both workshops and visiting artists helped make the customer experience more enjoyable and highlighted the wealth of talent that Folkestone boasts.

Image Workshop with Folkestone Artists

Workshop with Folkestone Artists

By taking advantage of such a great opportunity the Creative Foundation was successful in promoting its five projects and the creative community to a broad demographic. The shop environment helped with this by allowing for one-to-one communication, ideal for passing on information and listening to feedback. Many people had heard good things about Folkestone’s rapid transformation through creative activity and it was fantastic to be able to reinforce this and encourage people to pay the Creative Quarter a visit.

Image Interior of Pop-Up Shop at Bluewater

Interior of Pop-Up Shop at Bluewater

Out of this experience the Creative Foundation learned a big deal about how the retail world operates. We communicated this effectively to all participating artists, who now have a good understanding of how shops are run in such a busy retail environment such as Bluewater and the high standards expected from all sides. One visitor after the other shared with us that our pop up shop felt like an oasis amongst all the usual suspects of the big retail brands and an unexpected encounter, where art met, harmoniously coexisted and had pride place in the a “cathedral” of shopping.

Open Data Has Many Forms (part 1): Ownership of Data

While Culture Kent aims to make cultural event data open online, enabling free access to dates, times, and locations of events, open data is not just restricted to this type of information. Museums and galleries similarly make their works of art and collections available to people around the world through their websites. Artworks and cultural objects have been globally accessible since the advent of the website, but they usually were in the form of images or videos.

Recent advancements in technology have led to the creation of 3D models of museum objects for research and preservation purposes. This led to the unique opportunity of potentially broadening a museum’s audience by adding 3D models to museums’ websites and making them accessible at any time of the day. Internationally-known museums such as the British

Image The-British-Museum-Website-3D-models

Screenshot of the British Museum’s 3D models

Museum and the Smithsonian have made 3D models of their collections available online. Additionally, there are websites dedicated to bringing together collections from different institutions, notably Europeana and Google Cultural Institute. These museums allow users to interact with the 3D models of cultural artefacts using a mouse to rotate, move, and zoom in and out of objects. Never before has one been allowed such a personalised and in depth look into rare and important museum objects.

 In the case of the British Museum and its utilisation of Sketchfab, users have the chance to select their favourite object and create their own, personalised museum, or even print out 3D copies of objects. By making their collections open, museums are allowing website visitors to have a sense of ownership over certain objects. This leads to visitors revisiting museum websites, and potentially even visiting the actual museums, because they not only trust the information made available online by museum personnel, they also made personal connections to a museum.

If cultural event personnel also make their event data available to anyone to re-share on their own websites to a new and broad audience, it can have comparable effects. Those sharing the data must trust the information they are sharing is up-to-date, which is reflected in users returning to their website for further event information. As a result, organisations and owners of event data will continue to share upcoming data with their audiences.  The importance of making cultural event data open has further effects, which will be discussed in Part 2 of this blog post.

Reflections on the Folkestone Triennial 2014

Image Alex Hartley

Alex Hartley (photo: Thierry Bal & Folkestone Triennial 2014)

Last year was the third edition of the UK’s most ambitious public arts project, Folkestone Triennial 2014, and it could be argued that it was the biggest and best yet. The Triennial was curated for the first time by Lewis Biggs, under the title, Lookout, which was more fitting than Lewis or the Creative Foundation (CF) could have expected. As predicted, Alex Hartley and a number of volunteers took their position looking out over the harbour from their Grand Burstin-base camp as part of Vigil. Triennial-goers looked out over the town from the exhibition’s wind-powered lift and over the harbour from Gabriel Lester’s bamboo observation deck. Something & Son’s sustainable greenhouse looked to the future, experimenting with alternative urban food production. The more surprising events included the thousands of people that came down to Folkestone to dig up Michael Sailstorfer’s treasure buried on Folkestone Outer Harbour Beach.

Image Folkstone Outer Harbour Beach

Folkstone Outer Harbour Beach (photo: Thierry Bal & Folkestone Triennial 2014)

The appropriation of disused spaces such as Emma Hart’s installation in a domestic interior and Tim Etchells’ neon text work in Folkestone’s derelict harbour railway station offered a renewed perspective on a familiar townscape. The Creative Foundation team took this one step further by inviting muf architecture/art to completely renovate an area of the Creative Quarter known as Payers Park. Previously a sloping wasteland, it is now a permanent park specially designed for the different needs of people in the local area. In addition to Payers Park, around the third of the works from this year’s Triennial will become permanent fixtures in the town, adding to the permanent collection of Folkestone Artworks that have been created from the previous two Triennials. Folkestone has amassed one of the most unique and quirky art collections in the UK, making it quite a special place to live, work and study.

Image Earth Peace 2014 by Yoko Ono

Earth Peace 2014 by Yoko Ono (photo: Thierry Bal & Folkestone Triennial 2014)

With 135,000 visitors, more people than ever visited Folkestone for the Triennial this year, cementing it as a one of the South East’s leading cultural destinations. The Folkestone Triennial public programme was buzzing with activity for the duration of the festival. With two conferences, field trips, artist-led events, historical and community talks, guided tours, family and schools workshops on offer, there was something for everyone.

Image Folkstone

Folkstone (photo: Thierry Bal & Folkestone Triennial 2014)

The Triennial in 2014 was a development on the first two Triennials of 2008 and 2011. These excellent exhibitions made a point of bringing great art into Folkestone in the summer; the high point of any seaside town’s tourist season. The exhibitions managed to bring a great deal of attention  to Folkestone that brought a significant number of visitors, a number of whom made a commitment to the town by renting property from the Creative Foundation.

For 2014 a new strategy was adopted. The Triennial was moved to the autumn, opening at the end of August and closing in early November. This decision represents a significant change for the Triennial and a change of emphasis for its promotion and audiences. There were four key audiences for the Triennial; locals who live in the region, education including schools and higher education, arts specialists, and tourists to the region.

The new strategy was supported by the research from Visit Kent that made it clear that Kent receives few international tourists and those that come are mostly interested in heritage. If people do visit the county it is predominantly for a day and those who stay overnight mostly do so by staying with friends and family.

The Triennial plan adopted has therefore been to use the press particularly for the art world, to build an education plan that includes two conferences and a marketing plan that aims for local engagement through the local press and lastly a campaign for visitors already in the region. Much of this was done through locals by encouraging them to invite their friends and family to the Triennial. This plan excluded any campaign for the hard to reach people from outside Kent or the country who show little propensity to visit.

The Triennial partners who include the artists and arts organisations of the Open and Fringe, the local businesses, including retailers and restaurateurs, along with hotels wished to see a plan that included those outside the region. While our partners appreciated the move to autumn to extend the Folkestone season, they felt that no other event in Folkestone, part from the Triennial, has content and a reputation that will bring attention to the town from outside the region. This only happens every three years and felt this opportunity should not be missed. The value of any greater plan would be of creative benefit to some partners and business benefit to others.

Culture Kent supported Folkestone Triennial and allowed this plan to be reconsidered and extended and its funding has enabled the Triennial to:

  • Work with new partners in order to attract new visitors to Folkestone and the Triennial.
  • Engage with audiences from within and outside Kent and capture the essence of the new Folkestone.
  • Increase the number of national and international visitors to the Folkestone Triennial.
  • Increase the coverage of the Triennial in international websites.
  • Achieve 30 blog sites mentioning the Triennial.
  • Measure the number of audiences who also visit other cultural destinations in East Kent.

It also enabled the Triennial to work on an outreach project with Visit Kent and achieved:

Image Rochester Cathedral
Rochester Cathedral (photo: Thierry Bal & Folkestone Triennial 2014)
Image Port Lympne
Port Lympne (photo: Thierry Bal & Folkestone Triennial 2014)
  • Having a presence at the St. Pancras International Station over the opening weekend of the Triennial (30 & 31 August), as well as on the first weekend of October to promote the show, deliver an interactive activity and promote the town, local hotels, restaurants and the Creative Quarter.
  • Working with Southeastern Trains for an extensive poster campaign throughout Kent to promote Folkestone & the Triennial.
  • Working with Southeastern Trains to secure free train tickets for 50 national and international press journalists for the press day of the Triennial on Thursday 28 August.
  • Printing and distributing Folkestone Triennial branded Do Not Disturb cards to be used in all Folkestone Hotels.
  • In collaboration with the Turner Contemporary, Folkestone Triennial commissioned an installation by Krijn de Koning which was also replicated in Margate and cross-promoted this work through press material and e-flyers.
  • Monitoring audience attendance and demographics and undertake extensive market research.
  • Working with P&O Ferries and DFDS to distribute Triennial maps on all ferries and encourage international visitors to stop at Folkestone.

As part of all of this, the Triennial gained:

  • Extensive coverage of Folkestone Triennial and the town in the Visit Kent website, dedicated e-newsletters in English, French, Dutch and German, and across all social media platforms.
  • Extensive coverage of Folkestone Triennial and the town in Southeastern website and dedicated e-newsletters.
  • Extensive coverage of Folkestone Triennial and the town in Eurotunnel website, blogs and newsletter.
  • Extensive coverage of Folkestone Triennial and the town through Visit Britain, Visit England and the French Tourism Boards.
  • Cross fertilization of audiences between Margate and Folkestone
  • Developed relationships between the CF and local hotels.
  • Developed relationships between the CF and other tourist attractions in Kent.

This was the first time that the Creative Foundation sought to develop strategic partnerships with all these organisations, travel operators, hotels and other culture and tourist attractions. Culture Kent enabled us to do so and we are now in the process of deepening these relationships and entering into conversations for future joined working on projects about Folkestone Artworks and the Creative Quarter. The Culture Kent funding came about only months before the opening of the Triennial. As a consequence we didn’t have the time to pursue further partnership projects with organisations such as Eurotunnel, P&O and Southeastern that would have added extra value to the project and would have enabled us to reach even more people. We commissioned Visit Kent to broker these relationships for us but due to limited time some of them didn’t come to fruition.

Our relationship with the local hotels especially benefited and now we have an ongoing dialogue about how art and the hospitality sector can boost tourism in Shepway. After the end of the Triennial we donated the bamboo from Gabriel Lester’s installation The Electrified Line to Port Lympne Safari Park. They are using it to build a new structure for their wild cats. This partly came about after the Triennial Kiosk visited Port Lympne during the show and the two organisations started talking about partnership working and cross promotion. In April and May 2015 the Creative Foundation was invited to have a pop up shop at Bluewater Shopping Centre for six weeks showcasing the work of 26 artists and makers from the Folkestone Creative Quarter, attracting more than 6,000 people through the shop’s doors and promoting the town and its creative force. The Bluewater staff told us that we came under their radar due to the work we did for the Triennial and Culture Kent when they came across the kiosk during its tour.

Did you attend the Folkstone Triennial?  Please leave a comment on your experience or thoughts!

Many thanks to the Creative Foundation for partnering on this post

Digital Walkshop – Understanding How Visitors Utilise Technology

In March, Visit Kent held a Digital Walkshop aimed to explore the various ways visitors use technology. Led by the Digital Tourism Think Tank, participants were divided into four groups representing different types of tourists. For example, the Young at Heart group represented tourists who were older and not as familiar with current technologies. Each group was given three tasks to complete during the day, which started at 10:00am. From an initial starting point of the Marlowe Theatre, each group had to pretend that they weren’t familiar with Canterbury or its cultural and tourism offerings. Instead, groups had to plan out their day as if they really were visiting from elsewhere.

 The first task for the Young at Heart group was to plan a day out from Canterbury. Many tourists initially plan on visiting one location, but are eager to explore nearby places as day trips. As ‘tourists’ to Canterbury, we had to figure out where to go, how to get there, and whether it was open. We first Googled ‘tourist information Canterbury’ to see what places others suggested to visit while in Canterbury.  The results linked us to a directions page, but unfortunately the directions were not available, which was frustrating. We next decided to ask someone at a tourist office or visitor centre in person. We went back to the smartphone to Google maps to see where we were and how far we were from the tourist centre. However, the online map was confusing with too much information appearing, so we quickly looked around High Street and found out that Canterbury has very good signage set around the city, and were able to find the Canterbury Visitor Centre, which was located at the beautiful and historic Beaney House of Art and Knowledge.

Image Canterbury Signage

Canterbury Signage

The visitor centre had maps, brochures and guides on display, offering a wide variety of options for places to see both in Canterbury and nearby towns.  We perused the brochures and picked out the brochure on Leeds Castle as it was a nice day and we wanted to visit somewhere outdoors, but we still needed to know how to best get there. Instead of using a smartphone to look up directions, we thought it was best to ask someone at the help desk. She told us that is was not easy to get there if we did not have a car. She gave us a brochure for Dover Castle instead, along with bus and train options. The brochure said the castle was open everyday from 10-6, and if we took the bus, it would take us closer to the castle, although there was still a big walk up a hill. She gave us bus options, including how to get to the Canterbury Coach Station where the bus we had to take was located.

Image Canterbury Map

Canterbury Map

Along the way to the coach station, we tried to look up bus times and ticket costs but the connection to the Internet was spotty. We found that there was free Internet at Fenwick’s, so we stopped by to check our smartphone. Unfortunately, there were still problems connecting to the Internet, but luckily we saw that the coach station was nearby. After speaking to an employee, who gave us different, but more convenient, bus instructions than the lady at the visitor centre, we decided that visiting Dover Castle was a good idea, and Task 1 for Young at Heart was completed!

Image Dover Castle Brochure

Dover Castle Brochure

Although this task seemed like a simple one, it proved that it can be frustrating and complicated for those who are not familiar with Canterbury and had to rely on signage, assistance from people, and spotty Internet service. Although many people own smartphones, they provided no extra help when no Internet connection was readily available. Even when the Internet did work, we could not depend on links since they were either not working, or search results were not what we were looking for.

Acting like tourists in Canterbury really helped us understand what a tourist might go through when they are visiting a new place and want to experience all that it has to offer, but do not know where to start. While many people do most of their planning beforehand, some may want to take a spontaneous day trip or change plans based on weather. In these cases, they may rely heavily on their smartphones to get information quickly so they can start their day out as soon as possible without wasting much time. Even though speaking with people is helpful, tourist centres might be closed if it’s a holiday or they might be located far from where the tourist is staying.

When thinking about how technology can best help tourists, places of tourism need to have reliable, up-to-date information on their websites. If all related data is centralised and standardised using the same vocabulary to tag cultural events, it would make online searches much easier for tourists.

This is the main goal of the Culture Kent project. By creating a data pool of all cultural event data in Kent, we can optimise users’ searches, making it easier for future tourists to discover all the cultural events Kent has to offer, and as a result, increase Kent’s profile as a cultural destination.

Did you have similar experiences while visiting a new place?  How has technology helped you, or would centralised cultural event data have been more useful?  Please leave your comments below!

Bridging the Gap Between Data & Audiences (part 3): Optimising Open Cultural Events Data

The previous post described different methods for organising related data and creating a website to make the open data accessible to others.

Image Turner Contemporary

Turner Contemporary

The potential benefits of standardising cultural event data and making it available online for anyone to access and implement are immense. First, local audiences become aware of the cultural events that are happening nearby, which can encourage them to support local events as well as invite friends and family to visit them. Second, a more global audience can find events that they might not have heard about without someone publicly sharing the event information. For instance, organisations can implement cultural event open data into apps, making it easy for travellers abroad to find cultural events in any country they visit.

An example of an app that allows users to find cultural events is Culture Finder App. With this app, users can:

  • Explore the City through its museum collections, cultural events and venues with this free app
  • Can follow ready made tours or plan your own
  • Can add locations of places, signs indicating where notable people lived or spent time, etc.

Another app is Time Razor App. Its three main features are:

  • smartEVENTS – Shows what’s happening around you
  • travelTIME – Takes into account traffic and alerts you when you need to leave to get to an event
  • easySHARE – Publish events to Facebook, email, SMS, or Twitter

This app also can be integrated with your smartphone’s calendar, making it easy to receive reminders of upcoming events.

An app that focuses on all events happening in one location is Plymouth Artory App. This is being billed as the ‘Ultimate guide to Plymouth’s art and culture’. In addition to featuring a calendar of events, this app offers visitors incentives for leaving feedback about what they thought about the show, the exhibition, the film or the attraction. Feedback can be left as ‘moods’; users can submit their feelings and emotions about the art and culture they’ve just viewed.

These are just a few ideas about how open cultural event data can be implemented in an engaging and effective way. The more data available, the more valuable an app can be. It all starts with organisations’ collaborative efforts to standardise event data and make it available online.  Do you know of any interesting cultural events apps or have an idea of your own?  Please share your ideas in the comments!

Read the previous post: Bridging the Gap Between Data & Audiences (part 1): Background for Creating an Open Data Source for Kent Cultural Events

Read the previous post: Bridging the Gap Between Data & Audiences (part 2): Building an Open Source Website