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.


Myfanwy Nixon said...

You know, the project did involve a "low barrier to engagement" in one way, but in another, it required familiarity with a number of different interfaces: Twitter, image uploading, and potentally mobile phone posting. Even for me, who uses these things daily, it took a little bit of working out and patience to get you an image.

This sort of project does have the power to spread like wildfire, thanks in part to the inherently cliquey nature of Twitter, but that same cliqueiness (of which I consider myself a part) could also be offputting for newbies. As Twitter gains more of a foothold, this kind of project may well become more viable. Let's look at it this way: at least you were at the forefront of a new arts movement.

Laurence Hill said...

Hi Myfanwy,

You make good points. This does of course assume a certain amount of technical know how, which is why it will only ever be part of a strategy of audience development/engagement strategy but I think an important one. In this instance the low barrier to engagement was really just about the physical opportunity to come to the gallery or not.

I also take your point about the cliquey nature of Twitter though I'm not entirely sure I agree for reasons that are way to long to go into here. In any case I'm happy to be at the forefront of something new. Thanks for your comments