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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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.

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.