Monday, June 27, 2011

Connectedness and museums

We are inundated with information on how the digital world is changing our lives on almost a weekly basis, and one of the issues I struggle with is making sense in a practical way of what we hear and read, i.e. what these changes mean in our professional lives working in museums.

So it is good to report on two interesting documents which have appeared in the last week which provide some hard data to help cut through what it all means.

The first is a report from the Pew Foundation of Washington DC. I blogged about their presentation to Museums and the Web in April, and this is a useful update on internet use. What they have found from their most recent survey is that:
  • 79% of US adults now use the internet.
  • 47% of US adults use at least one social networking site (SNS), which is 59% of those who use the internet. This is close to double those using a SNS in 2008.
  • The average age of SNS users is now 38, up from 33 in 2008, with over half SNS users over 35.
  • 92% of SNS users are on Facebook, 29% on MySpace, 18% used LinkedIn and 13% Twitter (up from 8% a year before).
The second report, which ties in well with this has been produced by the Australia Council. Entitled Connecting://arts audiences online it is a most useful survey of how new technology and platforms are making connecting and engaging with the arts quicker, easier and more open. No surprises there, nor the ability of this technology to enrich the experience, but what I was looking for was up take of this technology. For instance Twitter may appear to be prevalent as a SNS but Pew tells us only 13% of SNS users in the US are engaged with it.

So what I usefully learnt about the Australian online scene is as follows:
  • Half arts audiences have an internet engaged phone and this is growing fast
  • 64% of arts attendees aged 55 and over actively use Facebook
  • 90% of arts organisations have a Facebook presence and 69% had made a wall post in the last week
  • Although 25% of arts audiences have used Twitter, half no longer use their account
  • One in three arts attendees are going on line and engaging with others DURING an arts experience
  • 34% shared photos, audio or video after the event
What do I take from all of this?

Social media provides a new way for audiences to express their affinity for the arts. Arts audiences want to engage with the event before, during and after it to extend, relive and remember the event. Such behaviour is spontaneous amongst younger audiences but needs prompting amongst older audiences.

Museum web sites need to easily link to social media, both to provide a functional means to reach their social media presence, but more importantly to respond to a comment often made during this survey that simply seeing key social media brand logos on an organisation’s web site immediately gives it street cred.

I am doing lots of work with apps and visit tracking at present through our technology company Smarttrack RFID (see the latest announcement), and in my view we are already beyond just producing apps that provide a guide to the exhibit or museum.

Apps now need to allow users to share the experience and interact with the exhibit. This is a world where we need to encourage SNS use big time, as it has the potential to draw a demographic into the museum which is currently not well represented. Whilst I hesitate to draw parallels with the new SNS view on classical concerts (listeners being allowed to photo and tweet during performances), the upside for engagement with artworks, objects and exhibits is enormous and so exciting.

Julian Bickersteth
Managing Director

Monday, June 20, 2011

The free entry debate

I had dinner last week with senior staff from the Natural History Museum in London, here in Australia for the opening of the new Scott exhibition at the Australian National Maritime Museum. Do make time to visit it if you are in Sydney until October or catch it after that in London at NMH or mid next year in Christchurch at the Canterbury Museum. And spare a thought for our colleagues at the latter museum, who had just finished getting straight after the February 22nd earthquake when another one struck last week and took them almost literally back to square one again.
But coming back to NMH, they have a nice problem of over crowding. At weekends and on public holidays they can have as many as 22,000 visitors a day and that is significantly compromising the quality of the visit. Overall numbers grew by 10% last year taking them over the 3 million visitors a year mark , and fourth in the UK museum popularity stakes behind the British Museum, Tate Modern and the National Gallery. So their focus is now on how to fill the Museum on quieter days and also ensure the quality of the visit is maintained. Bear in mind that all National museums in the UK are still free entry, despite political murmurings of doing away with this.

Meanwhile on the other side of the Atlantic, achieving growth in visitor numbers is taxing senior museum executives, with numbers either plateauing or sliding at most major museums. One significant difference is that they are almost without exception ticketed entry institutions. The Met may still be the third most visited museum on the planet (after the Louvre (8.5m) and the BM (5.8m) at 5.2 m visitors per annum), but they have decided they need to raise the entrance fee on July 1st from $20 to $25.

That is causing some interesting debate as reported in the NY Times last week. Perhaps the most interesting are: a) whether public museums have a moral obligation like libraries to be free, i.e. should the public have to pay to see what belongs to them and b) how should an entrance fee compare in value to say a cinema ticket or a meal.

No one has a definitive answer to these issues, but there is little doubt that the acres of treasures at the Met remain good value for hours of edutainment even at $25. The bigger consideration is whether the rise is going to discourage lower income visitors, and indeed whether the price hike is in fact a way of limiting over crowding. The Met says very much not and points out quite validly that the entry fee is only recommended, and voluntary. Either way it is going to be interesting to watch their visitor numbers.

Julian Bickersteth
Managing Director

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Sydney Ice Bear in perspective

It has been a phenomenal week, with the Sydney Ice Bear’s impact being much greater than we ever thought possible.

To recap, we craned it into position at 2.30am last Friday morning:

Started carving at 7.30am:

And completed carving at 12.30pm that day:

Each night it has been complemented by the Vivid Festival’s illumination of Customs House, seen well on this 360 degree image of the ice bear in the middle of the Customs House forecourt.

Then on Sunday as the ice bear started melting we had a public rally at which Katie Noonan performed:

Followed by an ice carving masterclass on Monday:

The story has gone round the world from the Times of India to Xinhua Newsagency - see the clip here.

I am still trying to digest how we have achieved so much media and public attention, but it appears to be a mix of the incredibly power of this art installation and the skill of the media and marketing company Momentum2.

Catch it if you can before it leaves Customs House on Saturday.

Julian Bickersteth
Managing Director

Thursday, June 2, 2011

The Sydney Ice Bear is arriving tomorrow

The Sydney Ice Bear is finally about to happen tomorrow, Friday June 3rd! I first came across this wonderful project in late 2009 when my sculptor friend Mark Coreth was developing it for the Copenhagen Climate Summit in December of that year. It ended up being the centrepiece of the WWF exhibit there and seemed to be the back drop to almost every news story from the Summit. Thence to Trafalgar Square in London, and Toronto, Montréal and Manchester.

Mark’s concept, drawn from watching polar bears in the wild in Canada, was to create an ice sculpture that people could touch, thus allowing them to metaphorically touch the Arctic, feel the problem of climate change, and be inspired to become part of the solution. So tomorrow a block of ice, weighing 9 tonnes and containing frozen in it the bronze skeleton of a polar bear, will be placed in Customs House Square in Sydney. From 7am Mark and his team will carve it into the shape of a polar bear, which will take about 4 hours.

With the inconclusive result of Copenhagen, the heart went out of the climate change debate, and getting funding for such a project proved nigh impossible in Australia. So it’s been fantastic to have found the wholehearted support of Rob Purves and the Purves Environmental Fund to make this happen. Rob has been tireless in his efforts to promote this project, working with Momentum2 to raise funds off the back of it for WWF- Australia, 1millionwomen and the Australian Youth Climate Coalition. It’s a complete eye opener how this world of not-for profit fund raising around environmental issues works, I can tell you!

Tomorrow I’ll post some pictures of the bear arriving and being carved.

But for today check out this promo the National Geographic have done for us, and if you are in Sydney do come on down to see the Sydney Ice Bear at Customs House.

Julian Bickersteth
Managing Director