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Around the world in 50 museums

In Museums on February 23, 2015 at 7:30 am

I’m taking some time out from the day job working on museums and visitor experience to take a round-the-world trip. Some might call it a sabbatical, but it’s actually more of a vacation.

Phileas Fogg was set the challenge of journeying around the world in 80 days. I’m doing it in 50, mostly because I can’t really justify taking 12 weeks off work. And also because the world is a smaller place now. I will cross paths with Fogg only twice – once in San Francisco and again in Hong Kong. It took him 28 days to get between the two cities – it’ll take me just over 11 hours.

But in Around the World in Eighty Days how many museums did Fogg visit? It’s been a while since I read it*, but I don’t recall many museums or galleries on his trip. I think he stopped at a landmark or two, but there were certainly no trips to the museum café or gift shop.

So, to bring the challenge up to date, I intend to try and visit 50 museums in 50 days on my travels. Fogg left London by train at 2045. I’ll be on Virgin Atlantic 1100 to Los Angeles, but like Fogg the clock starts when I leave the UK. We’ll see how I do.
If you want to keep up with progress, I’ll be posting the museums I visit on Instagram museumofsteve.

*I say read, I mean watched the movie and the cartoon adaptation.

Audiences within audiences

In Museums on November 1, 2014 at 10:15 am

A large part of my work time is spent thinking about audiences.

We tend to think of audiences in terms of theatre-going audience, but in the wider heritage and cultural sector we use the word audience to mean anyone who interacts with an organisation – museum visitors, library users, participants in community arts projects etc.

It’s only when we truly understand who the audience for a cultural product is that we can create content that’s suitable for them. It might not be rocket science, but it’s really important. There’s little point an art gallery putting on an academic display if their main audience is mums and prams. Likewise there’s little point offering soft play if you’re audience is professors.

Those are rather extreme examples. And the kinds of organisations I work with tend not to have just one audience – that’s why we talk about audiences. Plural.

The trend over the last decade or so has been to carve the audience  up into audiences – something we might call an audience segmentation. This can be done in a variety of ways. You can sort your audience by gender; by age; by postcode. You can arrange by height order, if you like (not actually as silly as it might sound if you’re a theme park!)

Audience segmentations are generally arrived at in a more though way though. A motivational segmentation might look at why people come to your institution. A behavioural segmentation will respond to what they do when they are there. Or you could combine them both.

It’s only by doing audience research that we can arrive at these segments. And then we tend to give the individual segments hilarious titles such as ‘Cultural Explorers’, ‘Learning Families’ or ‘Inspiration Seekers’. Names aside, it’s a really useful way of thinking about who your audience – and audiences – is/are.

The majority of orgasniations I work with who use a bespoke segmentation might have, say half a dozen key groups that they look at. It means when they’re planning a project they can consider how each of the segments might behave, what their needs are, how they learn and what their expectations might be. Great stuff.

But at a conference this week I was introduced to the notion of micro-audiences. These are segments within segments – or even tiny groupings of people who move between segments. Dr Who fans. Electronic music fans. Great British Bake Off fans. Ex-pats. Diplomats. Red-heads. Transsexual wheelchair-users. Public transport fans from Oxfordshire. Weavers from Perthshire. Left-handers from Northern Ireland.  etc. (NB: at least two of these are audiences I have worked with recently.)

Now there are audiences within audiences, I’ve got a whole new working philsophy to get through. And it’s going to take some time. But if you’ve been playing with the notion of micro-audiences of late, I’d love to hear from you.

Malevich at Tate Modern

In Museums on September 10, 2014 at 4:31 pm

Tate Modern’s exhibition about Kazimir Malevich is much more than just a black square. Although you’ll know a lot about black squares when you’re done.

Malevich (1875-1935) is not an easy artist to create an exhibition about. While his work might be rather straightforward to look at, looking at it is only part of the experience. To view his work and understand it – the nature of Suprematism and the philosophy underlying it – one needs to go on an art-historical journey to early twentieth century Russia.

Suprematism is mixed up with politics, identity and notions of the future, along with a healthy questioning of the very nature of art. It’s not a quick win.

I suspected Tate Modern would go on an intellectual rampage with this subject – as they are want to do – but was actually pleasantly surprised. Their curator has managed to tell the story clearly and concisely at each stage, allowing visitors to understand what they need to in order to make meaning in front of the art pieces.

If you don’t have time to see the exhibition before it closes on 26 October, you might want to watch Zaha Hadid’s programme about Malevich and his influence on her work. The Russian Revolutionary is on iPlayer until 16 September.

In other news, Zaha has today been confirmed as the designer of the Science Museum’s new Mathematics gallery, which will open in 2015.

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