Rebecca Farkas from Meadow Arts, a Fellow on Audience Diversity Academy 2.0, is remaining strong and creative whilst cracking onto the next plan to identify and engage a different target audience in open conversations.
Gather feedback from older people about their attitudes to and opinions of contemporary art.
Older people might not be as open to contemporary art as other audiences?
What I learned:
Yes they are!
After discussions with Rachel Grossman, my mentor and superhero, the next experiment was planned. We have had a few setbacks in our programme which had a knock-on effect on the Audience Diversity Academy experiments and it has been hard to stay positive at times, so it was great to have something solid in the diary: a stall at an open event for older people.
With the help of our new Youth Trustee, Katie, we had already polled various small groups of older people on what they think when we say ‘contemporary art’, and we had some very useful feedback. It was time to expand our operation!
I had contacted the Senior Citizens’ Forum in Telford during the summer and asked them if they could help me access a group of older people that I could talk to about art (Telford is near the exhibition we had during the summer, about an hour and three quarters from where I live). I was invited to a new event they were organising, called ‘Celebrating Age’ in October.
Rachel helpfully suggested that I incorporate some kind of creative activity into the day, so that I could engage people in conversation as they had a go at doing something. An excellent idea, Rachel! This ties into some of the creative evaluation I have organised for our projects over the past year or so. I had a bit of a think and I decided on a ‘big draw’ idea that I have seen done before: I sketched out some words on big sheets of paper, to spell out ‘contemporary art’, so that people could colour them in, add their own drawings or write something down. If you try this yourself be wary of using a twelve-letter word as part of your scheme (don’t try this at home, kids…)! Luckily, I did spell it correctly.
I was a bit worried that this wouldn’t work with the age group that I was going to be talking to: I really didn’t want to seem condescending, but I need not have worried. People do like drawing and adding something, but even those who didn’t want to draw or write came over to have a look. A few people started off by saying to me, “I can’t draw…” and this was a good opportunity for me to ask them if they liked seeing art. Interestingly, one lady told me that she wasn’t good at reading or writing, so I asked her if she would like me to write her comment down for her, which we did.
I assumed that older people would be less open to the kind of art that we exhibit, but I would say that there was the usual mix of people who are very excited about new ideas and those who are a bit wary of it all, on a comparable level to other age groups in our audience. Even the man who came over eyeing one of the blown-up photos I had brought along, saying, “I saw that. I didn’t like it. The painting underneath is good, so why spoil it?” turned out, after a few minutes of conversation, to have enjoyed some of the outdoor artworks in the same exhibition.
The set-up of an activity and some visual aids really helped to create an open dialogue with people: I introduced myself, explained briefly what Meadow Arts does and told people I was there to talk to people about art. Visitors mainly offered up their own information then: quickly aligning themselves with some aspect of art and creativity, or telling me that they weren’t ‘arty’ or ‘couldn’t draw’. The relaxed atmosphere and drop-in nature of the day allowed for different kinds of conversations to happen. This is different to the structured evaluation (surveys) that we do, but is more than anecdotal, because it is a day that focuses specifically on a particular part of your audience. Understanding your audience is a major part of marketing, so it is great to put aside some time to talk to people and get to know them a bit better.
Some practical things came up too, that I was aware of to some extent, but really hit home:
- Lots of people need glasses to read and see small details when they get older. We need to have some magnifying glasses available to help exhibition visitors see the art more clearly.
- A lady walked right up to the photos on our banner, almost with her nose touching it. She told me that she used to love art, but she can’t see much any more. I would like to find a way of providing something valuable for her and others like her: we have experimented with having a recording of our curatorial information available, but maybe we could go further and have an audio description of artworks.
- We need to make sure that there is always a large print version of our materials available in our exhibitions (this must be requested at present, but it should be right there for people, so they don’t necessarily have to ask).
- This is something we consider at our exhibitions and something that the venues we work with try to accommodate. Sometimes it is very challenging in historic properties.
- A care home worker at the event told me that it is a real challenge to get her elderly residents to leave their homes to go and do things, even if they are physically able to. There are mental barriers to mobility, as well as physical ones.
- I would like to investigate whether we can take art to people in our education and engagement programme. I would love to see an artist commissioned to create a work with a community, with an artwork that is then mobile enough to be taken to more communities for their projects to be based around.
- Most people are participating in the arts at home, through hobbies and crafts. This is important too!
What I have also learned:
There is no single solution to many of the challenges that our audiences face. We need to think about solutions in terms of layering. We shouldn’t just have a large print version of our interpretation materials available, we should have that AND an audio version AND a magnifying glass. This way, we can be helpful to more people and ensure that what we do is accessible to everyone.
“The older you get, the less you care about what other people think of you,” wisdom from one of the visitors at ‘Celebrating Age’.