ADA 2.0 Fellow, Rebecca Farkas from Meadow Arts is liking this agile way of approaching her ideas and experiments. She is liking it alot!
The first part of the Audience Diversity Academy time period has been a whirlwind at Meadow Arts, with our main exhibition for this year opening at two venues in June. This has left less time than I would have liked for ADA, but we have overcome that hurdle now and started to get things moving beyond the theoretical.
My initial session with my mentor, Rachel Grossman, was enlightening. We had a transatlantic Skype conversation (Rachel is based in America) and got to know each other a little bit. Rachel is quite frank and funny, as well as being really astute and able to see around an issue.
We talked about audiences Meadow Arts would like to reach and I explained that we are a rural organisation, bringing contemporary visual art to people and places where access to this kind of work is limited. We work hard to engage with children and young people and would like to improve what we do in this area, but Rachel advised that this might not be a good set of people to experiment with, as they do not have direct control over the activities they undertake.
We do have a higher proportion of older people living in the areas we work across: the rural West Midlands counties of Herefordshire, Shropshire and Worcestershire are our home counties. There is a low proportion of ethnic minorities in the population of this area but it has lots of people living with long-term health conditions and disabilities. We know that the transport system in rural areas is not very good and there is a problem with rural isolation, which has a particular impact on older people.
Meadow Arts has older visitors making up part of its audience, particularly in our work with partner venues in the heritage sector, like National Trust. I think that we have never concentrated specifically on this demographic and we take them for granted, to an extent.
The idea for an experiment has come from the work that theatres and performing arts have been doing with ‘relaxed performances’. This is when the lighting or sound levels might be different and it is not necessary to be so quiet as audiences need to be in a mainstream performance. Relaxed performances sometimes cater for people with specific needs, for example being dementia or autism friendly.
I liked the idea that something that is challenging to a certain section of an audience, could be adjusted to make it inclusive. I was thinking about the public engagement we do through curator’s tours. Here a curator takes a group of people around the exhibition and discusses the work of the artists involved and the curatorial themes of the exhibition. How about making this a bit more casual and a lot more inclusive: a relaxed curator’s tour?
The idea is to make it something that a visitor could come to on their own and know that there would be other people to talk to – and that you don’t have to know all about contemporary art to take part. There could be a chat session afterwards, where everyone could share a cup of tea in the café, maybe a bit of cake too!
The Agile Planning online training session was useful: new terms like ‘scrappy working’ came up in this way of quick planning, quick results and quick feedback. It is good to remember that we gain so much from feedback and it is worth testing out ideas that are not a complete, finished outcome. “Avoid the ‘ta-da’ moment,” of unveiling a huge final thing, we were told: this is not about the ‘big reveal’ but the agile ideas that can be tried out and adjusted.
So on to the doing of things… we are just getting started!