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The Art of Staying Connected

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KAWS, COMPANION (EXPANDED), in Brooklyn, New York, 2020, Augmented reality. Courtesy: KAWS and Acute Art.

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How do you bring culture to audiences in unprecedented circumstances? We share 5 strategies

Visiting museums and art galleries, and participating in culture, is usually an uplifting and inspiring part of our normal lives – one which is proven to play an important role in our wellbeing, according to recent research. While coronavirus has prompted many cultural institutions to close their physical spaces, it has also sparked new initiatives, as the world pivots towards digital platforms.

At Sutton, we develop creative cultural and digital content strategies that help institutions to bring their stories to life and engage audiences, which is especially important in times of disruption, such as the current crisis.

Here, we share five tactics to keep audiences engaged at home – at a time when the wellbeing that cultural engagement bestows feels particularly vital.

1. Recreate your offer digitally

Following any necessary clear communications about closures, it’s important to look at new ways to inspire audiences via your digital channels.

Many institutions have launched initiatives that allow audiences to experience programmes online.

The Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam is among them:  a section of its website is entitled ‘We bring the museum to you’, and features educational content for children of all ages as well as a link to a tour of the museum, developed through Google Street View.  The doors may be closed, but audiences can still visit.

Hauser & Wirth has launched ‘Dispatches’, a new digital programme providing audiences with original video, online features and events which connect audiences with artists, while creating opportunities for learning and engagement online. An online ‘Viewing Room’ makes it possible to browse artworks online which otherwise would have been exhibited in physical gallery spaces.

Art fairs have also innovated new approaches. In March, the creation of Art Basel’s Viewing Rooms allowed galleries to connect with collectors and display works that they had originally planned to exhibit in Hong Kong.

With lockdowns set to continue for quite some time, now is the perfect moment to look at your existing content you have already amassed and explore how it can be developed and repurposed in response to these times. There may be many insights for the future to be gained from arts organisations creating new, digital initiatives for audiences to enjoy from home.

2. Be thoughtful with long-form

Time is one thing that has increased flexibility, as art’s audiences stay home. So aside from access to exhibitions and collections, consider whether you can also provide new forms of content, developed with their adjusted schedules in mind. Longer-form content is perfect for those with more time to fill, who click on the ‘Read more’ button, keen for an opportunity to discover unfamiliar subjects or gain more in-depth knowledge.

Von Bartha Gallery has launched ‘Stories’ – their new online magazine, featuring longer reads to immerse yourself in, from celebrated writers and artists including Bob & Roberta Smith. Likewise, podcasts are an inspired way to provide audiences with access to first-hand commentary from artists and industry experts. Sean Kelly’s Collect Wisely shares insights from the gallerist plus a host of collectors, influencers and artists, valuable perspective on the wider art market.

3. Tap into your audience’s creativity

With most children being home-schooled, now is a perfect time for cultural institutions to help shape the next generation of artists and reinforce the value of creativity for all. The Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden has launched #HirshhornInsideOut on their social media channels, providing artist and curator-led conversations, as well as Hirshhorn-inspired, hands-on activities for kids of all ages (and adults!).

Other institutions are offering fun, social media challenges that draw upon their follower’s artistic talent. The Royal Academy is running daily drawing challenges through its Twitter account, inviting interpretations of subjects from the Mona Lisa to ‘a picture of your mum’. In the UK, Channel 4 will broadcast ‘Grayson’s Art Club’ – art lessons for viewers self-isolating, led by celebrated artist Grayson Perry. The hope is to exhibit the public’s artwork once the pandemic is over.

4. Join the AR revolution

Of course, not all art is created to be experienced inside the four walls of a gallery. Acute Art have teamed up with the artist Kaws to create a series of augmented reality (AR) sculptures, which can be experienced at home through the Acute Art  . Even Pharrell Williams has got involved, sharing a picture of himself with Kaws’ virtual creation with his 12.5 million Instagram followers.

5. Spread positivity

Digital isn’t the only way to bring culture to audiences in these unprecedented times. We love ‘We All Rise’ – an initiative from the Library Street Collective, who are delivering free dinners to Detroit Public School Students. Each meal package will come with a new sketchbook, produced by the Library Street Collective, filled with drawings and graphics by artists including Virgil Abloh, Nick Cave, Shepard Fairey and Carole Harris. By connecting with children most in need, who may not have access to digital resources, is an inspired way to provide access to.

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