Our latest guest post comes from Ella Lewis-Collins, and looks at how a change of plans meant the Jerwood Gallery had to rethink their Museums at Night event idea … and what they’ll be offering visitors instead.
Last year, the Jerwood Gallery won the Chapman Brothers in the Connect10 competition for an event during the Museums at Night festival. Our evening with the Chapmans consisted of a party with a giant game of consequences.
Participants made hideous, amusing and often obscene ‘exquisite corpses’ on 6 foot pieces of paper, passing them around to strangers to complete, with Jake Chapman jumping in and helping people add weird and wonderful details to their creations.
This was so much fun that we decided we had to go for another artist in the competition this year. We picked the photographer Spencer Tunick with the hope of bringing him to Hastings for a mass participation nude shoot on Hastings fishing beach.
Our campaign to win Spencer was one that got lots of support – the wonderful people of Hastings and beyond got behind the ‘Vote Jerwood, Vote Hastings’ campaign and we even had a flash mob strip completely naked on Hastings beach to help promote the vote, which made international news!
Despite almost doubling the number of votes that we got last year, it sadly wasn’t to be and George House Gallery, Folkestone won Spencer. After we found out that we hadn’t won Spencer, we didn’t want the opportunity of doing something for Museums at Night to pass us by. The tricky thing was working out to do instead.
Devising a new event idea
A few members of the team got together and we decided what we wanted was to create a gallery experience which allowed visitors to explore the gallery in a completely new way. We wanted it to have a distinctive evening atmosphere and we wanted people to remember ‘that time we went to the Jerwood Gallery’. Essentially something atmospheric, unique and creative. So then we thought of the Baron…
The Baron is a wonderful, slightly dark and magical character who we had the pleasure of working with when we celebrated the gallery’s first birthday in March last year. He transformed the gallery’s studio into ‘The Baron’s Art School’ for the weekend and took families on a magical journey – following the character of ‘Christina the Astonishing’ in a performance workshop incorporating painting, puppetry and animation. The event sold out and was hugely popular with both children and adults.
We approached the Baron’s creator, Chris Gilvan-Carwright, to see if he would like to work for us on a special commission for Museums at Night this year. We met with Chris and Isobel Smith of Grist to the Mill, a puppeteer who often collaborates with the Baron on his performance projects, at the gallery.
Tips on working with performance artists
It’s hugely important when planning these sort of performative events that those who are delivering the performance can get a sense of the space. This is not only for practical reasons but because so often the space and the art on the walls provides new inspiration.
Chris came up with the idea of running a Baron’s Art School in which participants journey into the paintings, transporting the audience into another world. This provides the audience with a completely new way of looking at and experiencing art in the gallery; the activities will also make them active participants rather than passive observers to the works on the walls.
I really believe if you find the right performer, then the best thing to do is trust them with the development of the performance or the event. Whilst practicalities need to be considered by the venue, it’s usually best to allow the artists to work and get their creative juices flowing – the event will be all the better as a result.
Marketing the mysterious
In terms of marketing the event, I wanted to convey a sense of excitement and anticipation. I did this through providing snippets of enticing information without giving too much away. There’s more excitement if there’s a bit of mystery!
I always try to listen to the words that the artist or performer uses to describe their work in order to help me develop the marketing copy. Sometimes even writing down verbatim (or recording – with their permission) what they say in planning meetings can be incredibly useful, as their passion and enthusiasm for what they do really comes across and helps to enthuse the audience too.
Images are also hugely important. People find it a lot easier to imagine themselves at an event if they have a visual sense of what it will be like. This can be tricky if a similar event hasn’t taken place before, however some sort of image conveying the atmosphere of the event is essential. Fortunately Chris had a number of great shots from previous events with the Baron, which we were able to use.
I think this year’s Museums at Night with the Baron will be a magical one. Our event – The Baron’s Art School presents Bringing Painting to Life – will take place on Friday 16 May. Tickets cost £15, and you can find out more about the event here: http://www.jerwoodgallery.org/whatson/events/79/the-barons-art-school
Ella Lewis-Collins is the Communications and Marketing Manager at Jerwood Gallery. She joined the gallery in January 2012, prior to the gallery opening in March 2012. Before this Ella worked at FEI, an arts consultancy company. She has an MA in the Reception of the Classical World from UCL. You can follow Ella on Twitter @ellalc, and the Jerwood Gallery @jerwoodgallery.
If you’d like to write a guest post or share a case study about any aspect of audience development, event planning or marketing in the arts and heritage sector, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.