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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 Рor 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.

Revealing secrets

In Museums on July 3, 2014 at 6:02 pm

Last year I wrote a blog post about a secret that had managed to come my way about a forthcoming exhibition. At the time I thought it was incredibly exciting and wondered whether I would spill the beans, or even if someone else would.

Now the wait is over – the secret is out. Indeed, it has been released in the proper way by a press release. I managed not to tell anyone, and am feeling rather smug about that. But I’m also enjoying the fact that other people are getting excited about this news too.

It’s the news that the British Library’s temporary exhibition next year about Magna Carta: Law, Liberty, Legacy will feature original copies of both the US Declaration of Independence and the Bill of Rights. Here’s the full press release. The New York Public Library and the US National Archives are both making historic loans of these items and I, for one, am really looking forward to seeing them displayed alongside Magna Carta.

For those who wonder why Magna Carta is an important document, these items coming on loan to be alongside it are surely proof enough. Magna Carta changed history and without it we wouldn’t have these landmark pieces of legislation. And of course they give rise to things like the UN and EU Declarations of Human Rights and countless others. Seeing them all together in one room next will be a real treat.

And I didn’t spill the beans once!

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