Saturday, 12 April 2014

On the radio

This week on the radio I talked about Robert Leonard's 'McLeavey Sat Here' exhibition at City Gallery Wellington, and the Art vs Bear video game. All the links are on the Radio NZ website (click the Show Notes tab).

Friday, 11 April 2014

High rotate

So, novelty albums for kids by indies are hardly my bag. But I'm finding some small sentimental spot of me keeps replaying tracks from Walter Martin's forthcoming album: first this ditty with Karen O (Yeah Yeah Yeahs), and now this collaboration with Matt Berninger (The National).

I mean, it even has hand-drawn lyrics ...

Thursday, 10 April 2014


Despite not being there, Museums and the Web this year gave me two things. One was some deeper thinking about the DMA Friends programme (already talked about that). The other was the announcement by Shelley Bernstein from Brooklyn Museum of changes to the Museum's social media focus.*

Now, that might not seem like a big deal in the scheme of things. But if you've been following Shelley and the Brooklyn Museum for as long as I have - and with the same level of admiration for her/their smarts, insight, bravery and sheer ambition - then it's a bit like being told ... oh, I dunno, that Bruce Willis has been dead all along or something.

Shelley explains the switches in this way:

As part of a social media strategic plan, we are changing gears a bit to deploy an engagement strategy which focuses on our in-building audience, closely examines which channels are working for us, and aligns our energies in places where we feel our voice is needed, but allows for us to pull away where things are happening on their own. 

In the rest of the post, she details what this really means right now - from leaving Flickr and the Commons to deleting their FourSquare page. As Shelley said at the time in a tweet: 'we owe it to the active when the community is. we owe it to them to leave when we can't be.'

Where this links inside my head to that DMA stuff is that phrase 'focuses on our in-building audience'. The amount of time we spend online having fun with people who might never (or only very irregularly) visit us is something I think about frequently these days. Those thinks are still cloudy, but they're coming together in something that I hope will make a rational appearance soon.

*The announcement wasn't made at the conference, but I daresay the timing is not coincidental.

Wednesday, 9 April 2014


So, on Monday I pointed to (salivated over?) the Museopunk interview with Maxwell L. Anderson, director of the Dallas Museum of Art. Two things really struck me in his discussion about the DMA Friends programme.

First, his statement that he didn't care if they discovered that their 600,000 visitors per year were actually 280,000 people visiting multiple times. As he pointed out, it's only a tiny fraction of the museums in the States that are tourist destinations - those places you feel you ought to visit, even if you "don't care about art". Most are like the DMA; actually used heavily by the local population. In which case, repeat visitation isn't just good - it's to be encouraged.

The second was Anderson's observation that when he joined a little over two years ago, the DMA was running 8,000 programmes a year (exhibitions and events and education visits etc). Now it's running 5,000. Again, he sees this as a good thing. Everyone inside a museum has things they really, really want to do. Every museum has things they do because they feel they should, or out of habit. The DMA Friends programme is partly about finding out what visitors value. As Anderson says - he doubts anyone has noticed that 3,000-event drop.

The Museums and the Web conference was held last week, and Rob Stein and Bruce Wyman presented on the programme, with a special focus on repeat visitation. They don't reveal how to make it happen, but they do share a bunch of stuff, including slides on Slideshare and a bunch of graphs.

Sometimes I feel very far away from my museums-and-the-web days (apart from being heavy social media users at The Dowse, we're pretty much non-digital, and I'm more than okay with that). But this one-two combination of interview and overheard-on-the-internet presentation have given me the kick in the pants that I needed to get my A into G and get started on some lightweight visitor research. And that's what this community always does me for - so thanks, y'all, from a distance but with deep gratitude.

Monday, 7 April 2014

Listen up

I have a dirty-great director crush on Maxwell Anderson of the Dallas Museum of Art. I strongly recommend you henceforth, nay, immediately, make thirty minutes in your day to hear him interviewed on the Museopunks podcast on making membership free at the DMA (and much, much else besides). Tune in from about minute 12 - it will make you feel good about working in the cultural sector (or at least, hopefully, feel good about the best of the people who do, if you don't).

You can find the back catalogue of Museopunks podcasts on their website, and subscribe on iTunes.

Wednesday, 2 April 2014


It’s warm and sunny in the gallery, there’s a nice breeze, everything is OK, and there’s some beautiful works of human achievement to look at and listen too.

Max Cooper has put together a list of ten tracks to walk around art galleries to. It opens with Steep Hills of Vicodin Tears, a personal fav.

Monday, 31 March 2014

Things I catch myself wondering

From the 'cool story, bro' files, the other day, as I was skim-reading Michael Lopp's exhaustive advice for the beleaguered frequent international flyer, I found myself wondering if the life-hack your packing advice and artfully arranged photos of suitcase contents are a contemporary phenomena, one of those quirks that will be looked back upon my our descendants in bepuzzlement.

Then I thought - no. Surely wealthy men of parts embarking on their Grand Tours had packing advice. (I doubt they made watercolour sketches of their trunk contents though.) And then I remembered one of my favourite lists ever, from the Hand-book for intending emigrants to the southern settlements of New Zealand (1849). Here clothing and linen lists are set out for the Husband and the Wife, in minimalist and maximalist versions, from tablecloths to pea coats. Unfortunately there's not a good image of the lists available online, but Te Ara has a digitised version of the book's opening pages.

Friday, 28 March 2014

High rotate

Whoops. Late for this week, but everything you need is right here ...

Wednesday, 26 March 2014

On the radio

Today on the radio I'm going to recap the 2014 TrendsWatch report for musuems - from collaborative consumption to robots. More interesting than you'd think, I swear.

I also wrote up my observations - with lots of links - on The Dowse's blog.

Monday, 24 March 2014


It never rains but it pours. After ranting last week about photography in museums, here's another chance, courtesy of The Art Newspaper. The Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam has reintroduced its photography ban, due to complaints from non-photographing visitors and because photo-restrictions from loan institutions were hard to police.

I have some sympathy here - one of the reasons cited for reintroducing the ban is visitors' frustration with people taking photos of themselves and their friends in front of the artwork. In a thronged gallery, that would get up my nose too. And I admire the Van Gogh Museum for trialling something and then making a decision based on visitor actions and reactions. TAN surveys the photo policies of the world's ten busiest museums in the article and finds a range of approaches, from the Tate's stance that photography "opens up possibilities of dialogue and engagement" to London's National Gallery's opinion that it "could spoil the visitor’s enjoyment of the art".

All of which makes me realise that photography policies aren't just an issue of visitor service, artist's wishes and copyright. They're about how you brand yourself and the kind of institution you promote yourself as being.

Friday, 21 March 2014

High rotate

From the 'just good fun' files

(Also, don't forget this Sunday is the Big Day Dowse music-and-more festival. We'd love to see you there!)

Los Campesinos! cover Blink 182's 'Going Away To College'
Major Lazer feat Pharrell - 'Aerosol Can'
CHVRCHES cover Bauhaus' 'Bela Lugosi's Dead' (pretend you can't see that movie it's soundtracking)

Monday, 17 March 2014

At it again

The Telegraph is running a click-bait series of articles about how to do museums right. Following on from Tiffany Jenkins' call to ban kids (and fluffies), we've got Rupert Christiansen fomenting for the (re)banning of photography in museums.

I shouldn't keep reacting to these stories, but I do. The overweening sense of entitlement and NIMBYness that oozes from them drives me crazy. Sure, I don't want my museums "dumbed-down" to attract teens or to be stuffed with tourists in lock-step photographing every work and label (though from Mahara Gallery to MOMA in the past year, I've not seen that kind of behaviour in evidence, unlike the turn of the century, when I worked FOH at Te Papa and certainly did see it). I do want museums to feel special - but I want them to feel like a special part of your everyday life, not a place where you stop being you when you visit.

This is why I'd argue, against Christiansen, that most visitors I see these days taking photos aren't revealing that they "don’t know what to do when confronted with a work of art beyond visually registering it: the click is a way of acknowledging its authority and clicking it off the list without having to engage with it further." I'd say instead (and I have, a few times now) that our photo-taking behaviour is often subtle, nuanced, and social.

Because do you know who I've seen taking photos in The Dowse? Tourists. Parents (including my parents). Teachers. Students. Collectors. Curators. Artists. Ambassadors. Do you know who I've seen objecting? No-one. Perhaps it's just time to accept this as the new normal, and move on ...


For a different take: the eminently sensible Russell Davies suggests a show on the simple premise Things You Can Instagram.