Not Just About the Past: Looking Towards the Future of Kent as an Arts & Cultural Destination

Image Turner Contemporary

Why dedicate an entire project on arts & cultural events in Kent, as Culture Kent does?  It seems that Kent is already known as the ‘Garden of England‘, as Visit Kent highlights on its website header, and a place with important historical connections going back thousands of years.  Yet, it offers more than just beautiful gardens and World Heritage sites such as Canterbury Cathedral, St Augustine’s Abbey, and St Martin’s Church.

Kent refers to an area in southeastern England that comprises 13 districts: Sevenoaks, Dartford, Gravesham, Tonbridge & Malling, Medway, Maidstone, Tunbridge Wells, Swale, Ashford, Canterbury, Shepway, Thanet, and Dover.  Within these districts are truly unique places that support the arts & culture that may not be as well-known to people in other countries or even counties in England.

Among these districts, tourism in Kent resulted in the following statistics:

  • Welcomed 57 million visitors
  • Worth £3.4 billion to the local economy
  • Supports over 65,000 jobs

Culture and Heritage in Kent
Thanks to research by Visit Kent and Visit Britain, we can identify some key factors in tourists’ motivations, behaviours, and perceptions of Kent.

Motivation

  • 63% are motivated by heritage, which is the top reason for visiting the county
  • 25% are motivated by culture and the arts
  • 9% are motivated by special events

Behaviour

When in Kent:

  • 9% visit a heritage attraction
  • 22% visit a cultural venue
  • 16% attend a special event

Perception

  • 59% associate heritage with the county
  • 25% associate Kent with cultural events and festivals

What can we learn from these statistics?

Of these millions of tourists, a majority of them still equate Kent with cultural heritage.  However, the perception of Kent as an arts & cultural destination is continuing to grow.  After Visit Kent and Turner Contemporary conducted a marketing campaign aimed to increase awareness of culture in Kent,  awareness grew from 4% to 10% – the biggest increase for any one area.  We need to continue audiences awareness of Kent as a place to visit for arts & culture.

In upcoming posts, we’ll spotlight organisations and events that are unique to Kent.

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.

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

Summer of Colour (part 4) – Reflections

Feedback from artists, organisations and visitors
We used Survey Monkey both before and after the festival to measure, awareness of the Summer of Colour, its aims, branding and marketing, impact on partners and to gain more detailed feedback from artists and organisations who were involved in the delivery.

Overwhelmingly we had a positive response from all partners for the idea and motivation behind the Summer of Colour, as well as a strong call for a festival to occur each year, in some form.

“There people who probably got involved in a deeper way than they were expecting to. They chanced across something and got involved. There were two people for example who came around the Tudor House when I had a [knitting] workshop there who saw it going on and said “can I join in?” and then went back to London and sent their pieces and then came and saw the exhibition when it was on and took photographs of it and have this relationship with the town maybe slightly more deeply now that they have contributed to something that was happening here. I think that for both residents and visitors, opportunities were created for a more meaningful engagement.”
~ Artist

Nearly all of the Summer of Colour events and commissions were delivered by Margate and Kent artists and organisations. In most cases where this was not so, artists based in and around Margate were instrumental in the delivery. An example would be Follow the Herring and the opportunity within that project to employ a lead artist to develop the local response. It was useful to have this learning echoed in the post event survey

“What worked best was where the activity was a product of local arts organisations or practitioners, or collaboration with local, as opposed to the bought in projects. So, more of the local/ collaboration with local should be a future ambition…and of course it takes more time and resource”
~ Funder

Not all feedback was unqualified praise however and we received useful and constructive feedback. There are some key issues to consider which came up more than once from partners and within Turner Contemporary and include:

Longer lead time – to allow for more joined up planning, more collaborative projects, a better understanding across all sections of the town, not just the Old Town and to develop collaborative funding applications to TDC, KCC And ACE to create projects with greater impact.

“Everyone was invited to a meeting back in October, which was the initial time that the idea for Summer of Colour was announced, October 2013. But then there was no further communication until January time. I think that whole three months, people could have been brought together more, and more frequently to start building ideas, to start developing ideas, start joining things up – certainly in terms of funding – same old chestnut is money to do things – is that then somehow there could have been a greater chance of trying to gain a bigger pot of money as a joined up event, rather than lots of people all going after little bits of money”
~ Artist

More printed information. Budgetary constraints meant that we were limited in how much we could produce – also the fluid nature of the program meant that we drove as much publicity through social media and the web. However on several occasions, in conversations with visitors, we were made aware that this meant we were failing to reach as many people as possible. Simple measures such as more obvious signage outside the gallery for late night openings would have helped and there has been subsequent discussion about the development of a weekly ‘What’s on’ flier which could be available at cafes and shops across the town.

Art in unexpected places. One of the key ambitions of the Cultural Destination pilot was to work with non arts venues in the visitor economy, bars, hotels, shops and cafes. Some early ideas, such as installing a Spencer Finch work at the railway station, stalled and failed to proceed. Others such as a planned intervention off the High Street (Andrew’s Passage) were affected by closure of the public right of way. There were some successes including the support for Shades of Colour workshops at Proper Coffee.

“One of the good things that happened was lots of new people coming together who had similar interest and coming to place when some of them had been, some of them hadn’t been and making new contacts, being involved in something that is for the town for the good of the town. It was really nice to have that in our shop.”
~ Violet Prig, owner Proper Coffee

Conclusion
The Summer of Colour met its aims. It demonstrated the value and benefit of working collaboratively, cross art-form and with partners and their appetite for more work of this nature. It brought new audiences to the gallery and gave some visitors the opportunity to deepen their engagement with Mondrian and Colour and with Turner Contemporary. That’s not to say that it was a complete success and there are a number of key learning points which will go into future plans. Discussions are underway about how to build on the partnerships and activity for Summer 2015.

image Turner Contemporary

Turner Contemporary (photo: Carlos Dominguez. With thanks to Zumtobel)

Read the previous post: Summer of Colour (part 1) -Background and Headlines

Read the previous post: Summer of Colour (part 2) – Delivery of The Framework

Read the previous post: Summer of Colour (part 3) – The Projects

Summer of Colour (part 3) – The Projects

Cross artform: Working with Tyneside based Customs House to support their ACE funded Strategic Touring project Follow the Herring (FTH) enabled us to employ Margate based artist Dan Chilcott, to create a new work and utilise his art practice, knitting, to deliver Coat for Boat. We made new relationships with a community of highly skilled knitters who were not existing Turner Contemporary visitors and worked closely with Theatre Royal Margate to develop audiences for the performance element of the FTH tour Get up and Tie your Fingers.

“Seeing something that was made using a craft that they are masters of was really personal, so it made that gallery space a really personal experience for them and I think demystified some of that aura around the gallery experience that is quite set up for certain types of art activity and certain types of discussion and I think that Summer of Colour made that more accessible through some of its projects” ~ Dan Chilcott

Image Coat for a Boat

Summer of Colour: Coat for a Boat

Image Coat for a Boat

Summer of Colour: Coat for a Boat

Animating the exhibitions for a wide audience. We achieved this through our approach to programming with partners across art forms and in numerous and varied locations. Pairs of events on and offsite, such as bringing dance to gallery were an excellent example.

There was notable variety in the programming within the gallery from Shiva Nova’s Equator festival event as part of July’s First Friday, to Tom Thumb Theatre’s On Margate Sounds both of which brought their existing audiences into the space. Part of Shiva Nova’s event included a Bollywood dance workshop led by Ash Mukerjee.

Image Red by Shiva Nova, First Friday

Summer of Colour: Red by Shiva Nova, First Friday

Responses to Shiva Nova event; contemporary Indian dance and music in the Sunley Gallery.

“The dancers were amazing and I loved the interactive dance workshop prior to the show. Gorgeous venue. More please! Thank you.”

“Just thoroughly enjoyed it. Brilliant dancers. Fantastic venue for this kind of music”

“The dance was exceptional and the backdrop of the tides made it a magical setting”

Offsite: The Summer of Colour delivered giant windmills across the town, knitting in the Tudor House and in libraries, workshops at Proper Coffee and dancing in the Old Town working with South East Dance who delivered Les Danses de Dom’s Cubing Bis ; Red Ladies in helicopters, boats and on the roof and jazz on the terrace. There was a steamroller printing in the High Street and installations of artworks from the gallery to Cliftonville. We took workshops out to Ramsgate and Broadstairs and installed the windmills at the Powell Cotton Museum as part of their Vintage Vibe event. All of these events were designed expressly to ensure that the Summer of Colour created multiple opportunities for the public to get involved and be part of the wider festival.

Image Red Ladies by Clod Ensemble

Summer of Colour: Red Ladies by Clod Ensemble

Image Red Ladies by Clod Ensemble

Summer of Colour: Red Ladies by Clod Ensemble

We commissioned a film as part of the Summer of Colour evaluation and invited partners to be interviewed for the film which has given us some incredibly useful material for reflection and to plan future activity.

Read the previous post: Summer of Colour (part 1) -Background and Headlines

Read the previous post: Summer of Colour (part 2) – Delivery of The Framework