Communicating the Museum 2014 | PART 3, SUCCESS STORIES & BRAND STRATEGIES

Communicating the Museum 2014 – a journal

Brand strategies and success stories: Going on my very first trip to Australia I want to share my experiences with you: not only the latest trends and issues being discussed at the conference Communicating the Museum, but also the cultural diversity of this astonishing continent as well as its nature and people. Be part of it!

Part III: Communicating the Museum continues – brand strategies and success stories.

After a lively lunch at the Art Gallery with the possibility to mix up and meet museum professionals from all over the world, I come up with two insights. First, no matter whether you work in the US, the UK, Australia, China or the United Arab Emirates, we all are confronted with exactly the same challenges: There is a kind of culture clash between the curating part and the marketing-communications part which still needs to be solved. Second, there are more and more people performing marketing and communication at museums with a corporate background which reflects the culture’s desire to professionalize and keep up with corporate marketing. Time to get to the next panel!

Panel “China unlimited: Understanding the museum boom in China” with Clare Jacobson, author of “New Museums in China” and Kingsley Javasekera, Director of Communications, Marketing & Digital at West Kowloon Cultural District of Hong Kong, chaired by Lesley Always, Director of Asialink

Since 2008 the Chinese government has provided $800 million to build new museums. In addition to this there is an impressive amount of privately financed museums. In 2011 400 museums were built in China and every year further 100 are added to this making a total of 4.000 museums up to now. To compare: In 1949 under the control of the Communist Party China only had 25 museums. So there is an unbelievable museum boom which can be called “museumification” and which obviously not only serves as a catalyst for economy but also to establish a profile for this rapid growing country. Yoo Jin-ryong, South Korea’s minister of culture, once stated: “Building an economy without culture is like building a house on sand.”

Despite the fact that the museum boom in China is continuing, it is not responded by a visitor boom even though half of the museums offer free admission. What could be the reason? Does the cultural education of Chinese people correspond to the museum evolution? Do Chinese visitors even know Western artists? The result of a big Andy Warhol exhibition at Power Station of Art in Shanghai which attracted only 6.000 visitors as compared to the city’s population of 23 million could be an important hint that there needs to be more effort done with respect to education. Another issue is about sustainability: Many museums are opened with a huge event and after a few months do not open regularly any more or even close down. This might be due to a lack of art works and permanent collections which has historical reasons. In 1948-49 after the Japanese invasion and the outbreak of civil war more than 230.000 art works were shipped to Taiwan where they remained. This is a painful loss which now results in many empty museum halls.

Has China’s museum boom been influenced by the Western world? This question can clearly be answered with a yes! Many Chinese museums seem having European or US institutions as a role model, for example the Power Station of Art in Shanghai resembling Tate Modern in London. Even the museum evolution is comparable to that of the USA at the end of the 19th century but in China the development happens at a much quicker pace.

Why is China in a pursuit of such a massive “museum attack”?

What are further challenges of such a massive “museum attack”? First, China as one of the fastest growing economies and ancient cultures wants to defend its position among all the other Western countries. In order to fulfill this purpose an actively practiced culture is one of the most important assets. Second, China has recognized its importance of culture as an economic factor for the development of a country making cities attractive for investors, tourists, residents and the industry. Only a few years ago the State Council revalued culture to be a strategic industry by describing it as “spirit and soul of the nation”. Nevertheless, opening a museum does not only require constructing a building. It is far more than that: educating people, setting up collections, doing research, planning exhibitions and last but not least building up a philosophy and a brand.

A good example is M+, the new museum for visual culture in Hong Kong and part of West Kowloon Cultural District.

West Kowloon Cultural District is one of the largest cultural projects in the world bringing together art, education and public space and extending over 40 hectares of land and including 17 cultural venues. M+ is one of them and even if the museum building designed by Herzog & de Meuron will not be ready before 2018, M+ has been presenting exhibitions and building a permanent collection ever since 2012. That is, M+ is being built from inside out starting with the museum team, setting up a customer relation management, digital strategy, fundraising, ticketing and sales. Kingsley Javasekera, Director of Communications, Marketing & Digital, extends the definition of a museum: “A museum is not a building. It is the relationship between content and audience.” In his opinion the four decisive factors to build a museum from the inside out are a team, a collection, a building and audiences. He states a clear vision and perspective to be the essential factors within such an extensive process in order to achieve sustainability. It can be so simple!

Success Story: Optimism. You build them.

They’ll come by Emma Cantwell, Communications Manager, Museums, Culture Sector United Arab Emirates and Firas Barden, Graphic Design Manager, Abu Dhabi Tourism and Culture Authority United Arab Emirates

The most celebrated architects, the most iconic buildings and the most renowned museum names – big, bigger, Saadiyat: This is Saadiyat Cultural District based on an island only 500 meters off the coast of Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates. The main museums on Saadiyat Cultural District will be Louvre Abu Dhabi, Zayed National Museum and Guggenheim Abu Dhabi. Louvre Abu Dhabi which is designed by Pritzker Prize winning architect Jean Nouvel is opening in 2015, the other two museums are about to follow in 2016 and 2017 which leaves Abu Dhabi enough time for a testing ground. It is obvious that Abu Dhabi pursues a consistent strategy of becoming a cultural hot spot. It is all about staying attractive for tourists, about offering a unique experience for visitors and about slowly becoming independent from the oil economy. It is about creating a new vision of culture, education and science.

Taking a closer look at Louvre Abu Dhabi we learn that the framework of the cooperation with Agence France-Museums (AFM) not only contains loans of art works from the French museums but also the loan of the name as well as a vital exchange of expertise. All points are temporarily limited which means that Louvre Abu Dhabi gets some assistance in the beginning but needs to stand on its own two feet after several years. It obviously was a good deal for France who benefited from 400.000 Euros for the name rights only.

Emma Cantwell and Firas Barden show us the vision and mission which is based on dialogue and transcendence of geography, nationality and history as there are more than 200 nationalities living in the United Arab Emirates. The museum pursues the idea of the so-called universal narrative by telling the story of the humans. Most importantly, there will be no censorship.

Abu Dhabi has realized the outstanding power of culture and arts and is acting very professionally with a clear vision. On the other hand there are no benchmarks to rely on, so it is all about trying and testing and being optimistic.

Success Story: The Making of the MONA effect by Pr Adrian Franklin, Anthropologist and Professor of Sociology, University of Tasmania

The next presentation is about MONA, short for Museum of Old and New Art in Hobart, Tasmania. Please let me anticipate just one thing: MONA is an absolutely extraordinary museum! Watch this ABC News video for a first impression.


Opened in 2011 by David Walsh, an art collector, millionaire and professional gambler, MONA breaks out of all existing museum conventions. It is different, provocative, wild, scary and mind-changing from the windowless building to the metathemes sex and death. Furthermore it is Australia’s largest privately funded museum which catapulted Tasmania to the focus of the art scene.

Professor Franklin offers us a glance behind the scenes of this fascinating museum and its exceptional founder. Starting with the Western approach to art and artists which tends to put the artist over the art, David Walsh does the exact opposite. On MONA’s website you will find the following quotation by Walsh “Working with artists is just like working with human beings, only they’re not as smart.” Is it provocation? Or is it simply part of the game? We will never know for sure.

The disturbing and fascinating MONA experience starts right at the entrance of the windowless building: visitors climb a long stair deep down into the earth and finally arrive at a bar that might be understood as a kind of suggestion to have a drink before continuing. The atmosphere has been described by many people as ominous and the walk downstairs was compared to descending into a tomb. Walsh, according to Wikipedia, wanted a building that “could sneak up on visitors rather than broadcast its presence … ‘a sense of danger’ that would enliven the experience of viewing art”.

Every visitor is equipped with the so called O – that is an interactive guide in the form of an iPod touch – offering navigation and information on the artworks. The iPod also offers „Love or Hate“ buttons which can be used to evaluate the artworks. Walsh wants to know exactly which artworks are preferred by the visitors – in order to get rid of them.

The overall theme of the presentation is sex and death, the desire for sex and the fear of death being probably the strongest human motives which have been used by artists ever since. By using these strong motives MONA succeeds to offer the people an extraordinary experience: On their tour through dimly lit rooms without signs visitors encounter creepy artworks like Stephen Shanabrook’s “On the road to heaven the highway to hell” showing remnants from a suicide bomber cast in chocolate or “Cloaca Professional” by Wim Delvoye, a vitreous machine that transforms meat into evil-smelling excrement. According to Walsh MONA is a “subversive adult Disneyland.” Sounds like a good comparison.

Fact is: MONA intends to encourage the subject position of the audience with a vision of carnival. At MONA visitors are not ordinary visitors any more, they become part of the game. This museum is different. I truly think there is no other museum in the world like MONA!

Interview: “I have nothing to say and I am saying it” with Damian Borchok, CEO Interbrand

Many years ago I attended a keynote by a marketer of a renowned German orchestra who claimed that cultural institutions are literally expected to promote their projects in a wild, crazy and unconventional way. Just in the same way their “products” are. This simple truth accompanies me ever since. Damian Borchok’s presentation goes in the same direction and all delegates are totally fascinated by the simplicity and universal truth of his theses.

Damian takes a closer look at consumer goods as opposed to museums: while consumer brands follow the simple rule of being unique and distinguishable within a huge market of comparable products museums tend to act in a very conventional way. Their branding mostly follows existing fashion standards: either they focus on architecture or artists using them as a brand surrogate or they clutch to graphic stereotypes. Moreover, if you visit museum websites you will find an enormous amount of related mission statements which use the same ritualized words. Finally, if all these conventional branding efforts do not work out museums simply enlarge their logos. This is an unmistakable hint on MoMA. The crazy thing about all this branding issue is that especially museums have millions of options to strengthen their branding: by giving the people behind the scenes a voice and turning this slightly sterile system into an emotional and vital experience.

Damian considers Tate to be one of the most exceptional examples and role models. Indeed Tate caused a tiny scandal by introducing a diffuse, transparent logo 14 years ago. This logo might be understood as an indication of Tate’s vision of openness. According to its website Tate’s ambition is about “shifting focus from the collection to the experience, to democratize without dumbing down and to act with a constantly fluid perspective responding to the nature of the world in which Tate resides, always changing always fresh.” Examining Tate’s activities it becomes obvious that these are not empty words: Tate’s branding is perfectly orchestrated across all channels involving not only communications, but also all products and services, people and behaviors as well as environments. Tate always strives to offer extraordinary experiences to the visitors showing mind-blowing artworks such as Doris Salcedo’s “Shibboleth”, a 167 meter long crack in the floor of the main entrance. Furthermore Tate engages new generations and uses digital power to stay relevant in today’s world.

In spreading its vision to the farthest corner and taking into account every detail Tate is not a mere brand but an overall communication system involving all touchpoints. This kind of holistic approach seems to be essential to create a strong, sustainable and relevant brand.

Full of admiration for Tate’s approach to branding I am eager to learn more about this institution and decide to attend Sabine Doolin’s working session about young audiences.

Session “Are you ready for young audiences?” by Sabine Doolin, Research & Insight Manager at Tate

At one point during the conference one of the conference’s delegates suddenly spells it out loudly: “We all want young audiences.” Indeed that’s a long-existing fact: no matter whether museums, theatres, festivals or concert halls – we are all in pursuit of young audiences. Tate’s ambitions to attract young audiences are stated as follows by Sabine Doolin who is Tate’s first research and insight manager:

• Make a positive difference in the lives of young people
• Increase young people’s ownership, agency and authenticity within the museum setting and society
• Increase the social, cultural and creative diversity of Tate
• Evolve museum practice

In addition to all these factors there is another simple one: Our traditional audiences will not last forever and need to be replaced by new ones!Not only that you cannot rely on the impact of the old “Bildungsbürgertum” any more, the world has changed drastically over the last few decades: globalization, digital revolution, political conflicts, relocation… Due to these developments the lives of young peoples have changed and culture most often does not play a role any more. Museums not only have to deal with a shift towards digitalization but also with an ethnic and socioeconomic diversity.

Tate makes a great effort in analyzing and evaluating young people and their motives, barriers and relationships with respect to art. Young people are clustered into specialists, embracers, sociables or participants depending on their intrinsic motivation and range of activity. In fact, Sabine’s position has been deliberately installed to find out more about audiences and to set up the overall strategy based on these insights for all Tate branches.

One of the insights is the importance of events which are a great instrument to offer young people a first encounter with culture. Events provide a different atmosphere: a different set-up, a different lightning or even music create new ways to engage with art. Most importantly events should generate first-time visits instead of one-time visits by finding the link between event, location and art. In order to do this you need to change the type of experience you offer. To achieve this Tate makes use of the so-called peer group effect by introducing special projects for young people. One of these projects “Tate Collective”, a space for young people to discover, share and discuss art which offers digital workshops, special events with free live music. For Tate it was important to “make everyone who comes feel involved, and like they are part of the gallery space… Visitors can sit on the sofas, chill out, and create their own soundscape“.

According to Sabine it is all about creating authentic experiences relevant to the lives of young people. Moreover, things are blending: marketing becomes programming, programming becomes marketing etc. In order to succeed cultural institutions should consider the ENTIRE offer not only parts of it! They should go away from marketing to building audiences. “Building audiences needs all of the organization cross-disciplinary collaboration.” Tate’s vision for the future seems just perfect!

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