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.

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Singing from the Same Song Sheet

image Big Sing

As if I needed any more persuading that the arts and tourism sectors need to work more closely together, I read some interesting statistics the other day from the Visit Britain website.

Did you know that British Tourism was forecast to be worth £127 Billion in 2013 (9% of the UK’s GDP) growing to £257 billion by 2025? And that in the 2014 Anholt GfK Nations Brand Index, the UK retained the 3rd place top nation brand (out of 50 nations) and that looking at the dimensions relevant for tourism, the UK ranked 3rd out of 50 nations in terms of a ‘Tourism’ brand and 5th for Culture.

So tourism is a fantastically lucrative market to join and our “culture brand” is already a well recognised global brand. Joining tourism and the arts together in more productive and positive ways makes sense financially. Didn’t someone once say “it’s the economy stupid!”?

The stats I have being reading also suggest that the South East has a particular market share that might be worth looking at more closely. The South East apparently attracts more holiday visits that include children than any other area in the UK. An interesting stat. Why would the South East be particularly attractive to children? It definitely needs a bit more in-depth examination as to the whys and wherefores. I wouldn’t be surprised if the ferry/coach trips for schools has something to do with it as well as the huge number of language schools in the area that attract school children from across Europe. This market share is something Culture Kent and Turner Contemporary wants to understand and explore further. We want to work in partnership with our language schools. We’ll let you know how we get on and what we find out in more detail later.

Image Folkestone Triennial

Folkestone Triennial

Whilst the South East might be good at attracting children, what is slightly more alarming is the fact that, although museums are notably often part of a visit to the South East, other cultural activities are faring much less well. Around 15% of visits include going to an art gallery as opposed to a national average of 26%. This comes despite the significant investment in the cultural infrastructure in the South East (Jerwood in Hastings, Folkestone Triennial, Turner Contemporary in Margate, to name but a few). The South East also attracts relatively few visits which include going to theatres, live music or festivals. Again we don’t know the details of why this is the case but again some of the research that we will carry out of over the course of the next two years will hopefully build a better picture of our understanding of South East tourists, their motivators and their spend.

What the research does indicate however is that cultural organisations have an opportunity here to grow our market place and to build our attendances. Kent, in particular, has a great opportunity as it attracts the most overseas visitors in the South East of England, not including London. By working with our tourism partners we can open our doors to the world, increase footfall to our cultural venues, increase spending to the local economy and help ensure that the UK not only remain one of the top global cultural brands but perhaps becomes THE top brand.

The point of Culture Kent is to try to do some experiments, pilot some initiatives which target those tourist markets, and find more about the tourist markets, their motivators and their behaviours during their time in our wonderful county. Joining the culture and tourism sectors makes sense nationally and locally. By doing things on a micro or smaller scale we can perhaps try things out that we wouldn’t otherwise have a chance of doing nationally. And we can monitor results more easily.

None of this should be done in “glorious isolation”. Audiences (whether they are specific tourist audiences or locally based audiences) are key. And so Culture Kent is also joining forces with a new initiative, “We Love Our Audiences”, and we will explore more ways of joining together our understanding of audiences – particularly looking at cross-fertilisation of audiences and potential audiences (for example – do visitors to Port Lympne Zoo go to the Gulbenkian Theatre in Canterbury? How can we help entice them to if they don’t?). We’re having an exploratory session and bringing together some brilliant examples of collaborative work to provide inspiration for discussion. The plan is to challenge ourselves to agree on what we want to do next and how we can make that happen. This session is happening on 5th February at the Marlowe Theatre in Canterbury. We will update you on our discussion via this blog.

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 2) – Delivery of The Framework

Delivery
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

A Warm and Friendly Kent Welcome

Culture Kent pathfinder organsations are busy experimenting with different ways of showing people what Kent has to offer. Here, Cheryl Parker (Head of Development, Partnerships and Funding at Visit Kent) describes a recent innovative training programme for people involved in tourism.

image VisitKent

Visit Kent is a delivery partner in the Cultural Destinations programme managed by Turner Contemporary and funded by Visit Britain and Arts Council England.

An element of the programme is to train local staff, volunteers, businesses and organisations to be passionate and knowledgeable about their town, give an exceptional level of customer service and promote the cultural activities in the area.

The first training course was delivered on 7 and 8 May 2014 at Turner Contemporary where over 25 delegates from the Thanet area received a half day World Host Ambassador workshop with a focus on building knowledge on Margate’s Summer of Colour.

Visit Kent is a licensed World Host training organisation and delivered the Ambassador Workshop which gives staff, volunteers, businesses and individuals key skills to deliver a warm and friendly welcome to customers and visitors, it is particularly focused on their role as an ambassador for their local area.

Participants learnt how equipping themselves with knowledge about what’s on offer in their local community, such as the Summer of Colour can take their service to another level.

We encouraged them to think about what’s available in the local area, and how a positive and enthusiastic attitude can have a real effect on the visitor experience (and ultimately, visitor spend).

This programme was used to train thousands of local ambassadors for the London 2012 Olympic Games and Paralympics, and is perfect for training staff and volunteers at sport, cultural or tourism events of any size.

  • Why their role as an ambassador is so important, and how powerful their connection can be with visitors to the community
  • How to demonstrate a warm welcome to customers and visitors and respond to their different needs
  • The importance of maintaining a positive attitude
  • How to become more familiar with the community they represent, equipping them with the knowledge to answer customer queries in particular on the Summer of Colour and other cultural activity as part of the Cultural Destinations Programme

The Delegates received their World Host badge and were all presented with a World Host Certificate by Mark Dance – Portfolio Holder for Regeneration – Kent County Council at Turner Contemporary on Thursday 19th June in the presence of Cheryl Parker – Head of Development at Visit Kent and Bryony Bishop, Head of Marketing at Turner Contemporary.

Margate was looking particularly glorious today with superb weather, stunning sea views with the Summer of Colour street banners providing a blaze of colour to an already colourful spectacle – if you haven’t been to Margate recently you simply have to go – visit the Mondrian at Turner Contemporary and take in some of the superb vintage businesses that are springing up along Margate Seafront.