ADA 2.0 Fellow Rebecca Farkas from Meadow Arts is playing her Agile experiment out with her audiences. With this they are warming up slowly to the idea of how the use of language can entice them in or turn them off visiting heritage spaces and art exhibitions.
After a rather slow start due to an intensely high workload, we have really got moving now. The idea is to create some ‘relaxed curator’s tours’ at our exhibitions that would appeal to older people or people who are isolated in the rural areas where we work. We have seen the great work that lots of theatres and performances are doing with relaxed performances and wanted to know if we can translate that into the visual arts.
Meadow Arts has just gained a brand new ‘Youth Trustee’ on our board, recent graduate Katie Hodson, who we have roped in to help out on the ADA project. An advantage for me is that Katie lives quite close to our venue, whereas I am a two-hour drive, along country roads, from the recent exhibition, Synthetic Landscapes!
Working in a rural area is tricky as everything is so far apart and public transport is often not good. I had a mentor session with Rachel Grossman and we discussed why I had asked other people to do a series of quick interviews and not done them myself. Rachel was surprised at how far away from the venue I am based: this is the reality for Meadow Arts as we don’t have our own venue, so our exhibitions take place across the West Midlands and sometimes even further afield. Other arts organisations in rural settings have similar issues with distances and transport: a simple meeting can take up a whole day because of travel times. This is one of the reasons that I knew I could apply for ADA: the training and meetings are all online, so I knew that it would be much easier to fit in than a course I would have to attend physically.
The experiment we tried this time for ADA was to gather opinions from the audience we are targeting. We decided to go back to basics with our older potential audience members. We know that older audiences attend our exhibitions, which are often at historic venues like stately homes, but we have not asked this section of audience what their specific needs or requirements are, beyond assessing the physical accessibility of the venues we work with.
The aim was to target four groups of older people and ask them a couple of quick questions, to gather opinions on Contemporary Art, which we know is a challenging art form for many people. We approached groups who provide services to older people in our area, but did not get a successful response, so Katie and I had to rethink our approach (we knew we needed to get things moving somehow), so I asked a family member to approach a Women’s Institute group that she has ties with and Katie approached elderly family members.
Although this was a small initial group, the responses were encouraging and flagged up some initial concerns that the people we asked had. We asked them firstly, “When I say Contemporary Art, what do you think?” Responses were divided and included, “Art we don’t usually understand,” and, “Could be exciting.”
The second question was, “If there was a stately home with a friendly art tour, would you go?” Half of our respondents said “yes” and half “no”.
Katie’s respondents also said that ‘curator’ is quite a specialist term, so they wouldn’t feel it was aimed at them. They suggested using something less formal such as, ‘public tour’ or ‘exhibition introduction’ would be more appealing.
The next steps are to get feedback from a lot more people, to give us really useable data. We also intend to target people who are not that keen and get them to visit an exhibition with us, so that we can understand what their concerns are and ask them directly, “What would make you feel more comfortable with this?” We will probably use a bit of bribery as encouragement: tea and cake, anybody?
There is also an idea of playing with tour formats, suggested by mentor Rachel, including doing things we wouldn’t normally do. A bit of brainstorming could bring up some slightly off centre ideas, to add to the normal routes: different text guides, audio guides, post it notes on things, a tour where visitors give scores and the tour leader loses points when they use jargon and even the ‘Stupid Questions Tour’ – a kind of ‘Exhibitions for Dummies’ idea!
Lots of ideas to play with before next time and the Holy Grail of ‘The Most Comfortable Exhibition Tour Ever!’