July 2018’s Yorkshire Network meeting was hosted by Hannah Mason, at The Art House in Wakefield. Members of the Art House marketing and curation team spoke about engaging new and more audiences through their latest artist’s residency. The following extract is from Jen Garrick’s talk.
Using Artist-led Play to Engage Audiences: an extract from AMA Yorkshire Network Meeting
Jen Garrick, Communication Officer, The Art House, Wakefield
We’ve got a huge creative hub that we work with to find opportunities and support – and community, effectively. We also run a whole programme of residencies, workshops and classes, so it’s a real diverse offering. We do lots of different things.
With our artists in residence, they live here, they have a studio here, and they work for a month and at the end of that month they put on a show of some sort. It can be a work in progress, it could be finished work, in the main gallery space. That’s what we’re going to talk to you about today, is the experience of one of those residencies in particular.
Up to this point, ‘play’ has not been a big factor for us here at all. In fact, we’ve been quite insular. It’s been about the art and the artist, which is amazing, but there’s certainly been lacking an audience component to that. As marketers we all know that the audience is really, really crucial and activates the work. It brings life into the space. As one of our studio holders described it, “When it’s really good, it feels ‘fizzy’ in the building”. When people are getting it right, you’ve got that energy. That’s what’s really important, and the audience is what makes that happen.
Play is a really big part of how we get them to come in and interacting and engaging, on lots of different levels, but that’s not been a big part of our intentional process before. We open Monday to Friday 9-5 at the moment (although we have plans to extend our opening hours) so it’s not like we’re the Hepworth or other galleries like that, that open 7 days a week.
This residency, and I’ve only been working here for a few of them, definitely felt different from the ones we’ve done in the past 8 months. The thing which made it different was the play and creativity. For me as a marketer, it made it incredibly exciting to talk about it with audiences, especially the diverse audiences we’re wanting to reach. The highbrow ‘art for art’s sake’ crowd will keep coming, and they’ll probably be middle-class, and they’ll probably be white, and we know those audiences. They’ll show up whatever you do anyway. It’s everybody else – that doesn’t necessarily work for them, and quite rightly so. So to be able to talk about art in a different way, and to be able to talk about how they should or could interact with us – and the freedom that that involved in terms of the copy I wrote around it, in terms of the social media we did around it – all of that felt very different this time around, because the outcomes were going to be so different.
It’s always a challenge because residencies are only a month long, so you don’t actually know what you’re promoting until about a week before it happens, which is very stressful. But that’s the thing, people just instantaneously got it, as soon as we started to put pictures up of this show. Because it’s so bright, it’s so colourful, it’s constantly changing shape and form – I found we could show more and say less about it. People understood it better instinctively, which was a really exciting idea.
It was something we wanted to lead to – how do you start to produce experiences for audiences that are more intuitive somehow? That don’t need rules and regulations – or feeling like you need a degree to walk through the door – and Yelena’s show, Townlets has definitely been that for us.
It’s one of the best privileges of our job here at The Art House, getting to work so closely with artists. It’s actually a really rare thing. As marketers we often get handed something by our programme team, who are always lovely and working extremely hard to produce things, but you can often be at a bit of distance from what’s being produced and why it’s being produced. So, to be able to work with artists, to be able to interview them, to be able to hold things up against the wall like I did with an artist a couple of months ago, because she needed to see what it would look like – you’re passively and actively involved in the production of the work and it changes the way you want to talk about it. It’s been a real pleasure for us and we definitely want to do more in relation to play.
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