Summer of Colour (part 2) – Delivery of The Framework

Delivery of Summer of Colour was led by a freelance Creative Programmer who was appointed in late December 2013 and started in post in January 2014. Much of the delivery was in partnership with external artists and organisations many of whom are based in Margate.

What we did, how, with whom
The Creative Programmer established a framework under which the Summer of Colour programme could be broadly divided into three types of activity.

  • Turner Contemporary projects: many of these were core to Turner Contemporary’s summer programme and were led by and delivered by Turner Contemporary’s staff and team, some were already programmed and discussions under way eg, Carlos Cortez “Moving with the Wind”
  • Turner Contemporary co-delivered/co commissioned: these were projects which, based on the aims of the Summer of Colour we were keen to bring to Margate. These included projects which we instigated and some where the Turner Contemporary’s team assisted in delivery – either through part funding, assistance with securing Arts Council’s Grants for the Arts funding or other support.
  • Partners’ delivery: these were projects, events, installations or performances which made a significant contribution to Summer of Colour and were key to the success of the programme. Turner Contemporary supported these projects though funding, marketing, support in kind, use of Turner Contemporary as a venue. These were almost entirely led by and instigated by partners, using Summer of Colour as a framework in which to situate the work or as a catalyst for it. We supported projects where there was a clear link to the Summer of Colour aims, for example the presentation of work already commissioned by South East Dance – Cubing Bis

In addition we wanted to encourage those planning and delivering their own events to share that information and use the Summer of Colour as a platform for marketing and comms, to contribute to the sense of a vibrant and exciting series of summer events and to enable them to benefit from our promotion. We commissioned the Summer of Colour website, using a re-skinned One in a Million site with added functionality to allow easy upload for events, plus photos to the Gallery page.

image Moving with the wind by Carlos Cortez

Moving with the wind by Carlos Cortez (photo: Manu Palomeque)

How we delivered the festival
We created a clear framework, based upon the overarching aims (cross art-form, paired events, inspired by colour, offsite and in unusual spaces, aiming for non-arts and local audiences) and invited ideas and contributions to the programme through a series of face to face meetings.

Over the first three months (Jan-March), the Creative Programmer made contact with over 70 individuals and organisations and had meetings with at least 30. This face to face approach, often off site and in the town was beneficial in demonstrating the commitment of Turner Contemporary to work collaboratively. Over a third of the partners had not collaborated with Turner Contemporary before and 100% of partners have now said they would like to collaborate with Turner Contemporary in future.

We gave a clear message that whilst Mondrian and Colour was Turner Contemporary’s exhibition, the Summer of Colour belonged to Margate. The clear framework and the aims, plus the commitment within the aims to collaborate with external partners, across art forms, made it easier to say yes to projects and ideas and to take creative risks, and it made it easier for artists to approach us with their ideas.

The ownership that we feel and that hopefully the town feels, has been in place before now, but this, the Summer of Colour feels like it’s very much a kind of “here’s the platform, now stand on it” – so we can have people semi-autonomously putting proposals forward from commissioned based pieces of work, shops got involved and as artists and creatives and as a member of Resort Studios up in Cliftonville we felt like part of, an integral part of, what was happening”
~ Emrys Plant

Image On Margate Sounds, First Friday

Summer of Colour: On Margate Sounds, First Friday

In addition to sharing the overarching aims and ambition with partners we devised an approach to the programme with ‘pairs’ of activity on and offsite. The intention being to encourage two-way traffic between events which took place at the gallery and those delivered by our partners in their locations, to broaden our reach and attract a more diverse audience. We focused on programing non-visual arts activity by seeking out music, dance and theatre partners and delivering work such as the newly commissioned tango, inspired by Mondrian developed by Morgan’s and delivered in the gallery.

As well as thematic or art-form pairings, we aimed to create clusters of similarly themed activity in order to create high points in the programme, days or weekends when multiple activities would take place in several locations. An excellent example was the Margate Jazz Festival in mid June which took place across the town over three days, popping up in bars and cafés, as well as on the terrace at Turner Contemporary and in the gallery spaces.

Image Jazz on the terrace of Turner Contemporary

Summer of Colour: Jazz on the terrace of Turner Contemporary

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

Tracking Down Cultural Data in Kent (part 2)

The last post talked about how difficult it is to define the categories of “cultural” data and decide what information to collect. This post is all about the problems of gathering information from lots of different sources. A much more detailed explanation can be found in the Culture 24 report – available to download at the bottom of this post.

“The mapping exercise attempted specifically to identify sources that either aggregate cultural data or publish aggregated cultural data” (Culture 24 report p9).

So how is data aggregated? And how is it published?

As the report outlines, there are three main ways to gather information:

  • Collect and input it yourself
  • Get people to input their own data
  • Automate the process

There are pros and cons with all three methods. Collecting it yourself is time-consuming (therefore expensive), and there is no guarantee the information is fully accurate. If you want to get people to input their own data you need to give them a very good reason for taking the time – so you have to prove your website(or other digital platform) reaches more people, or a specific group of people, than they can reach through their own sites. Automation can be useful but it can be costly and you still need to have a good, ongoing relationship with the providers.

And once you have the information? Online data sources themselves need to be marketed, so the way the information is presented may be:

  • Targeted at people with a particular interest (e.g. folk music or visual art)
  • or Centred on a geographical location (e.g a directory of information for local people or the tourist attractions of a specific town or city)
  • or For people with common needs (e.g. families).

Some sites just list the venues or organisations, while others include event information too.

In deciding how to collect and present data, Culture Kent will prioritise the way that best delivers the intention to increase the number of visitors to Kent’s cultural organisations.

Read the full report here: CKP Culture24 Data Mapping Research FINAL

Read the previous post: Tracking Down Cultural Data in Kent (part 1)

Only Connect

On a rainy day in September, I attended the Let’s Get Real conference in Brighton. This was the second Culture24 Let’s Get Real conference and is the culmination of ten months of collaborative action research by a group of 24 cultural organisations in the UK. The group is made up of national and regional museums, galleries, performing arts venues and arts agencies. Culture24 has led the research, with international expertise from Seb Chan (Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian) and Rob Stein (Dallas Museum of Art).

It was a day of musings, concrete examples of work and a space to really look at what it means to be digital in a fast changing world. The report of the action research is available here.

But for me, what really struck home was Culture24 director Jane Finnis’s key note speech. As she said:

“We are increasingly in a continuous online and offline dance, that sometimes feels almost fluid as we dip in and out, moving between our phones, the street, a train, a cafe, an office, an exhibition, a kiosk, a TV, a tablet, a walk.”

“Understanding how we, as consumers, experience things as a whole, the off and the online, is crucial to how we in the cultural sector curate our content for our audiences. This is really important, particularly if your core business is a building or a physical space that you want people to visit. Our audiences’ experience of us is no longer just about that space physically, it is about all of the other places where we put ourselves – or where others put us online without our permission, like Google place pages, Trip Advisor, Wikipedia, Foursquare, Twitter etc.”

What does that mean for us as cultural organisations? It means we don’t necessarily always have “control” over our digital “image”. But that’s no bad thing – think of the way that travel trade has actually benefited from TripAdvisor. And also it means we can speak to multiple audience segments with multiple voices. It means that we truly CONNECT with audiences – that we can have a dialogue WITH them rather than just talking AT them.

I’m old enough to remember being delighted at the prospect of being able to mail merge letters so that they could be addressed to Mr Smith rather than Dear Patron. All those years ago that felt like a real step forward and I was excited by the idea of creating a seemingly personal connection with Mr Smith.

Now we can connect with our audiences in a much more meaningful way. We can see and hear and respond to their comments. We can develop marketing strategies that connect with specific audience constituents in particular ways. But there’s the rub – because it does mean you need to segment your audiences and clearly understand what they want, how they want and how you offer this digitally. You can’t just send a brochure off to print and pop it into the post to the 1000s of people on your mailing list.

And that was what the conference was trying to emphasize. In order to connect to your audiences you need to understand them first. You need to accurately segment and only then can you begin to connect with them in a meaningful and productive way.

The constant dance of digital information and also means that we, as cultural organisations, are constantly fighting for attention amongst a myriad of other offers. We are competing with offers from other products vying for people’s scarce time. At any one moment, I can look on my laptop for films, books, entertainment of all sorts – and be “instantly” satisfied.

Where does that leave the arts organisations? It could leave us quite vulnerable if we don’t do anything pro-active. As Jane said:

“We need to stop feeling that each arts organisation is in competition with each other “

It is other industries and sectors who take our attention share online: BBC, eBay, Netflix, YouTube, Amazon, Wikipedia, and Trip Advisor. These are our real competitors online, not each other.”

What can we do about it? We need to do more TOGETHER. We need to join up our offers, join our systems, our data. We need be easily accessible to our audiences and their multiple choices. As creatives we are so often at the forefront of innovative thinking, we need to nurture that creative spirit but break out of our self-imposed silos and constraints. Let the digital world enable us to dance together in partnership.

All this lead me to think about E M Forster’s rallying cry:

“Only connect the prose and the passion, and both will be exalted… Live in fragments no longer

He was so right.

Words, Language and Culture

We have already learned an incredible amount during the pilot phase of the Culture Kent Project purely from our early discussion about what we were hoping to achieve. One thing we have discovered is that before we even start finding out answers to some of the key questions, we need to be clear about what the questions are and, as importantly, how we ask them.

Before we even start thinking about data structure and information flow we have realised that we have to understand what “culture” means and how different people talk about it, or if they even do.

Early on in the process, the relatively straightforward task of thinking about what categories to use on the pilot website led to a quick review of how different websites and newspapers categorise their “culture” sections. What do they include, how do they describe it and what words do different people respond to: is it books or literature? Theatre or performing arts? Heritage or Museums? Both? Neither? Maybe it depends on which side of the gallery reception desk you are sitting?

There is an interesting article in the Guardian about “International Arts English”, based on a paper by Alex Rule and David Levine in the American art journal Triple Canopy looking at the language of gallery handouts, exhibition announcements and flyers describing artists and their work.

The article makes some interesting points about “Art English” – an often opaque language of insiders, ridiculed by the general public and sometimes a source of “feelings of bafflement, exhaustion or irritation” on the part of occasional gallery-goers and a potential source of power, status and one-upmanship for those “in the know.”

A very clear challenge that emerged from our discussion of language and categories was finding ways to describe culture that appeal to venues, practitioners, audiences, cutting edge contemporary artists, people who have arrived by accident and everyone else. The way people find cultural information, whether it is a website, app, smartphone enabled search engine or poster needs to appeal and at the very least not put people off, whatever their interest or background.

The first step is working out what’s already there, what already works and what doesn’t. That’s why we are taking time to explore the landscape. We’ll publish initial findings on this website soon and see what people think.

In the meantime: what is culture? What words do you use to describe it?

Tim le Lean, 29 January 2013