Tuesday, 11 January 2011

Blog closed

Hello anybody that happens by.

This blog is now closed on blogger and has moved onto Wordpress here

See you there.


Monday, 14 June 2010


Hello readers,

I'm aware that it's been a while since I posted so I thought I'd better get something up that suggests I haven't completely disappeared.

Work has been crazy for the last couple of months but I actually think it might be easing off a little bit. In any case I've got a number of things that I want to write about in the next little while so keep an eye out for those. In the meantime, check out the two sites below, one completely new, one a redevelopment and both still developing, to see what I've actually been doing for the last few months.

Developing these sites as well as a number of other things that I've been working on has given me plenty of opportunity to focus on the how, what, why, to whom and to what end questions around communication
and I'll be reflecting on those questions here as well as all the usual.

Thanks and more soon.........

Iris Contemporary Art Network


Wednesday, 17 March 2010

Guest blog post

I was recently asked to contribute a guest blog post to Culture 24's Museums at Night blog on the Arts and social media. So just in case you've missed out on me (repeatedly) linking to it on Twitter and Facebook, here's the link.

Comments as always welcome.

Tuesday, 2 March 2010


77 Million Paintings by Brian Eno. Image: Lumen London
We're gearing up for the Brian Eno show 77 Million Paintings which has its preview on April 1 and opens the next day. I worked out today (March 2) that from tomorrow it's 30 days to the preview. I've also been thinking about different things that we could do to build on last year's work around social media and the arts and putting the two together I came up with the idea of 30 days - 30 tweets. Essentially I'm planning a series of 30 tweets, one per day, about the show. They might be facts, observations, links, pictures, audio clips. The tweets might touch on the practicalities of the process of putting the show together, some of the themes, interviews with people involved, the artist, etc. The aim is that they'll have a light touch. Although the primary platform that I'll be focussing on is Twitter the tweets will also be expanded for Facebook.

Then I thought it'd be great to hashtag them so they become findable and at the end of the time form an online resource. Hopefully on the way they'll be an entertaining and informative way to get people engaged with the show. The hashtag is #thirty30.
As per usual I'll report back at the end and give some thoughts on how it turned out but I'd love to hear any thoughts in the meantime.

Friday, 15 January 2010

Belated (kind of) review of 2009

I was intending a look back over the year with some carefully thought out analysis of our adventures with social media during 2009 but frankly I haven't had time and 2010 is already ticking by at an alarming rate. We've had Brian Eno in the gallery today filming a piece for the Brighton Festival and talking about the work that he is showing here in the spring, 77 Million Paintings.

So I've been thinking very much about the year ahead and how we take things forward. The exhibitions that we've got coming up and the opportunities that they offer. We've got two big names in 2010: Brian Eno in the spring, Martin Parr in the autumn and sandwiched between a lesser known but equally exciting Belgian artist whom I won't name as it's not 100% confirmed.

The social media opportunities that these three shows offer are as different as the shows themselves will be. My focus is therefore identifying and making the most of those opportunities to get people engaged, building on the creative participation ideas that we played around with last year and having some fun with it. Oh and probably boring people to death being evangelical about the future of social media and the arts.

I was recently asked to contribute a chapter and a case study to a book that's being rapidly developed (as we speak) on museums and galleries using Twitter. I'll post when it's available (I'm not getting commission so this isn't a sales pitch) but I'll also make the chapter and case study I wrote available somewhere. Maybe as a download if I can work that out.

A year ago Fabrica had no presence on Twitter or Facebook and I'm proud of the significant progress that's been made in that time. Social media has become central to my thinking about communication with our audience both current and potential, as well as creative participation and all the other things it offers. More importantly it's starting to become embedded into the organisation.

Thank you to those that have followed us or become fans in 2009 - it's been great to start to get to know you and I'm looking forward to more dialogue in 2010. I am officially excited.

Tuesday, 1 December 2009

Broken Whispers

Whisper 1 - She smiled happily at the man who had sold her the amazing shoes and he smiled back, shyly.

Returned - She shocked everyone, for the man had given her piercingly sharp scissors, and she bled on them.

Whisper 2 - Smile and the world smiles with you, cry and you cry alone.

Returned - Celebrate after the river turns to custard, swim if you feel lucky

Whisper 3 - The shouting outside in the street was making them tense

Returned - Brown flying pterodactyls over the turkey was faked for Xmas.

When I was looking for an image to illustrate this post it occurred to me that it would have been great to have a cartoonist commissioned to come up with something to respond to the returned whispers. I'd love to have a cartoon of Gordon Brown piloting a pterodactyl over a giant turkey. Oh well, perhaps if I had, oh I don't know, a budget?

In some ways money, or rather the lack of it, is central to why I love these social media platforms and the opportunities they offer us at very little cost other than my time. And as I think I may have mentioned before, I come pretty cheap. At heart, I think that the way we use these social media tools should be playful. Interesting, engaging, informative to be sure but also playful. I'm very excited by the idea that our followers or fans are no longer just an audience but also a community, visible not only to us but to each other.

The idea of the 'Broken Whispers' game came to me as I was listening to Tina Gonsalves talk about Chameleon, the work she was going to show at Fabrica and the ideas behind it, broadly the idea of contagion, about things being passed on from person to person. The reality of course is that emotions are not passed on as perfect replicas, my happiness doesn't transmit itself to you intact, it's filtered by your emotional state. This reflects the way that the tech in the exhibition worked. It didn't just reflect your mood, the portraits weren't mirrors, the emotions were filtered and affected by the prevailing mood of the whole gallery. (For those that didn't see the show, you can see some information about it here.) So I started to think about the idea of memes and things being passed on imperfectly and then I thought about 'Chinese Whispers', the game that was pretty common when I was a kid. We called it 'Broken Whispers' at school, I think. I obviously went to a pretty PC school.

Then I got interested in how that might work as a game on Twitter. Obviously, the messages would be digital and the human intervention would have to be deliberate rather than a question of mis-hearing but I thought it'd work pretty well. I put out a call for people that might be interested to play a game based on the themes of the show without really saying what it was for. I initially intended to limit numbers to ten but in the end it got nearer to twenty and at that point I called a halt to adding more people, mostly because it was a kind of experiment and I wanted to retain control over it.

The idea of the game was pretty simple. I would send out a message from Fabrica and the next person in the chain would change two words and then send it on. Finally the last person in the chain would return the message to Fabrica.

It took a while to set up because I then had to email everyone to let them know about the game and the rules, confirm they were still interested and then DM them (direct message via Twitter) to tell them who they'd receive the message from and who to pass it on to. I had toyed with the idea of doing the whole game by DM but then it got into a confusion of people having to follow each other and it all started to feel a bit hidden and laboured. I also liked the idea of these slightly random messages being out there that other people might see. When drawing up the chain, I tried as much as possible to make it so that each person didn't know the person on either side of them, so that it became an opportunity to discover new people with whom you shared a common interest.

I should probably declare at this point that I had the idea of doing this before the exhibition started but what with one thing and another, didn't get round to setting it up until the last week of the show. That wasn't ideal considering that one of the stated aims was to get people thinking about the themes of the exhibition as a way of deepening their experience and understanding of it, but in the end I felt it was worth doing anyway as an experiment. In fact this is a good illustration of the problems that many small arts organisations face when engaging with social media, which is one of capacity. I devote quite a lot of time to it, have made development of it a priority this year and still don't have enough time to spend on it, enough time to carry out ideas.

So finally the first whisper (twhisper?) went out and I obsessively watched over its progress like an overly-anxious parent. I tweeted about its progress a lot, I prodded people in the chain to move it along. On top of my anxiety about it working, I am also extremely impatient and I couldn't wait for it to get back. In fact it got to the point that one of our followers who wasn't involved messaged to say that as a follower he was feeling alienated by the game. I apologised and tried to dial it down a bit. We didn't lose any followers so I guess it wasn't too bad but it's a reminder that Twitter is a public space and you do need to think about what you're putting out there and what it means to all your followers.

I put out three whispers over three days and they all came back, thankfully. I'd like to say that I got less anxious and less proddy but that wouldn't be true, though I did try to keep it to myself a bit more.

So did it work? Did it do what I wanted it to do? On the scale on which it was set up, I'd have to say yes. I think that our followers will have been aware of something going on, that we were looking for people to participate in something and hopefully that awareness and maybe even discussion about it from participants will have spread out further into networks that I'm not aware of. The more of these activities that you undertake, the more I think that people get the idea that a gallery isn't just a place that they go to see exhibitions, that it becomes something that they can engage with, play with. Something more accessible.

It seems that the people involved were pretty excited about the game, enjoyed it. I received a lot of messages from them saying so, I know that at least one of the other participants was following the progress of the whispers and I was able to see people talking to each other about it. I enjoyed the sense of community that that engendered. I was particularly excited by two participants who, to the best of my knowledge didn't know each other before being placed next to each other on the chain but who are both Brighton - London commuters, tweeting each other to discover if they were on the same train during some fairly typical train problems. Sadly they weren't but it would have been awesome if they'd been able to meet up. I'm hoping that some of the participants will post a comment when they read this and let us know what they thought. Hint. In fact I'd like to get one of them in to record something about their involvement. Another hint.

You could argue and you wouldn't be wrong, that the people that joined in are already engaged. Of course that's true but their engagement was, hopefully, deepened. After all, audience development shouldn't just be about finding new audiences. It should also be about the development of your current audience, providing new ways for them to engage that are interesting and fun and that encourage them to be advocates for you. In fact, in this case, one member of the chain was new to the gallery and was encouraged to join the game by one of our followers who thought he'd find it interesting.

So back to the question of success. I guess my benchmark for success for this type of activity, being as I don't know of any meaningful impact measurement could be defined as follows (at least for today)-

  • Assuming that people have the tech, what you're asking them to do needs to be as easy as possible.
  • The time commitment you're asking of people should be commensurate with the idea. In this case, for a simple fun game, a couple of minutes was all that was required.
  • It should deepen the engagement of your audience and hopefully engage new audiences.
  • Give people a different way to engage with an exhibition and its themes.
  • Develop the idea of your audience as a community.
  • Demonstrate an openness to engagement.
  • Demonstrate a commitment to other people's creativity and encourage their creative participation in the gallery.
So, check, check, check, check and check. Job done.

Seriously though, I am very passionate about the possibilities and working with our audience, to play with them. Our next challenge is to develop something that goes out into the social media world that has the ability to engage people beyond our current fans and followers. There's going to be a lot happening over the next years and dependent on funding we want to research the possibilities of developing an exhibition that is generated through social media in some way. So, you know how it goes, watch this space. In the meantime we'll continue to play around with ideas like 'Broken Whispers' and the remote drawing activity we did for White Night about which I wrote in the previous post. I'm very open to ideas from other people and I'd love to hear them because I'm just one person and much as I hate to admit it, I'm sure there are limitations to my imagination.

Just remember though, there's no budget.

Twitter follow stuff-

Wednesday, 28 October 2009

Carrots for eyes (thoughts on the remote drawing activity)

The remote drawing activity was conceived to sit alongside Fabrica's other activities for White Night as previously posted. The focus for the evening in the gallery was drawing and I wanted to offer something to sit alongside that using social media, specifically Twitter in this instance. The basic premise was that we would send out tweets with prompts for people to draw something, take a picture and send it back to us. The results would be displayed in the gallery during the evening.

After toying with a number of ways of achieving this I decided to use Posterous to display the work in the gallery. Posterous is a blogging site that can be updated by email and therefore from anywhere, which was handy because I wasn't going to be at the gallery for the whole evening but could still update it from elsewhere. It also had two further advantages for this particular activity. Firstly, the resulting blog is very clean with little to distract from the images. Secondly it can be set up to automatically update your Twitter feed meaning that all your followers can check out what's being displayed. The resulting projection was a bit rough and ready but ultimately that worked really well with the rest of the activity in the gallery.

I was very excited about the remote drawing idea because for me it delivered in a number of areas that I think are crucial for the arts using social media. The low barrier to engagement as ever is really important, in this instance it meant that people could take part in Fabrica's White Night drawing activities without having to come to the gallery or even be in Brighton. In addition to driving participation in the arts in terms of attendance, it's also about creative participation, you could very easily make a piece of work that would end up as part of an exhibition. (We tried to stress that we weren't expecting people to be fantastic at drawing or have expensive materials to work with, that they could use what was to hand - that's one of the reasons that I chose the image above to illustrate this post. Also because it made me laugh out loud when it arrived, so thanks to @blogbookblog for that). What I also want to put across with everything that we do with social media is a sense of fun, a sense of play. I think it's hugely important for contemporary visual arts which often need to overcome people's self-imposed barriers, the idea that cva may not be for them, that they won't get it or that it's too serious, too intellectual. Failing to have that sense of play I think is failing in an opportunity to engage. It also helps to open up the organisation and I hope make it feel more accessible. You could argue that we are only followed by those that are already engaged or willing to be engaged and that's certainly true but it misses the wider issue and the power of social media networks. We are engaged not only in a dialogue with our followers but potentially with their followers and beyond and everything that we do or say has the potential to engage, to intrigue, to start to chip away at those barriers.

And what, I hear you impatiently asking, was the result. (Well ok probably not, but a boy can dream, right?). The initial announcement went out via Twitter to a flurry of excitement and some opportune retweeting, a general air of excitement and feeling that it was a cool idea. On the night we asked people to draw faces, which seemed appropriate for the exhibition and indeed mirrored the activity in the gallery, which was also centred on drawing faces. In the end we had some 15 responses which are posted in a gallery on Flickr, there's a link at the bottom of this post. We sent out the prompt three times through the evening and had vocal support from one of the participants who was urging other people to take part. There's a tiny competitive part of me that was a little disappointed, that wanted to receive hundreds of drawings but also a much larger more pragmatic part of me that knew that wasn't going to happen and was actually quite pleased with the number that we did receive.

This leads me on neatly to some thoughts about engagement through social media and in some ways continues on from what I've discussed earlier about measuring achievement/impact of that. Ultimately, I'm not disappointed by the response to the remote drawing activity for a number of reasons. By doing this kind of activity, by putting it out there we demonstrate a commitment to the dialogue with our audience, a commitment to engaging with them, to welcoming their creative input and there is huge value in that. Unmeasurable right now to be sure but I'm convinced huge nonetheless. Secondly, whether we had received one or one hundred drawings it demonstrates neatly the power of online, the power of the long tail. The Long Tail is a theory/book developed by Chris Anderson, which for those of you that aren't familiar with it, I will try to summarise very briefly. It's really an online business model and Amazon is a prime example. Because it's an online business Amazon can afford to 'stock' very obscure books. These books may sell only one or two copies a year but what the customer gets is 100% satisfaction in finding something very easily that they would never find even in their local mega-bookshop. Obviously Amazon don't make money from selling those books, they make it on Dan Brown etc but they provide satisfaction to that person who will likely go on or carry on buying books from Amazon. Physical bookstores are never going to be able to provide that service. So, slightly round the houses, I come to my point. It's very easy for us to set up these online activities, it's free in financial terms, costs some time for sure, a bit of brain power but it's largely free and if we can engage one, or in this case fifteen people in a deeper way with the gallery, if we can encourage them to participate creatively then they will undoubtedly be more likely to come to the gallery, to recommend it to their friends, to talk about it on social networks and that word of mouth cannot be bought. To me it's more powerful than advertising or press coverage or any of the traditional (and dying) routes through which we market ourselves because it's about engagement and dialogue and not about push marketing.

I'd like to say thanks to all those who took part in the remote drawing activity. Please take a look at the drawings which are posted in a gallery here. I'd love to hear any thoughts from any of the participants or others in the comments.

A reminder that you can follow us on Twitter @fabricagallery or me @laurencehill - the two are sometimes interchangeable.

A late disclaimer - I'm aware that I probably repeat myself slightly in these posts but in my defence this is all new and I don't have it all worked out yet. Probably never will, but it's fun and fascinating trying to get there.