Saturday, 23 May 2015

To charge or not to charge - that's not all of the question

An article on Art Info about ticket prices at the newly opened Whitney starts off quite same old-same old and then rapidly gets more interesting.

Take for example the increase in inflation-adjusted dollars for movie tickets and MOMA tickets since the 1930s. An institution like MOMA can raise prices steadily because the tourist market they cater widely to (the 56.4 million tourist visitors to NYC last year) is price-insensitive; a visitor to New York expects to pay and (generally) isn't going to stress about five dollars here or there.

There's also a fascinatingly discussion at the end of the article about alternate pricing models. Scotch discounts for seniors in favour of residents, or start defining 'adult' as 'over 25' in order to reach the more visit-inclined university-aged audience. Or - possibly most intriguing - demand-led pricing, a la Uber.

Saturday, 16 May 2015

Public radio and public museums

There's some not-entirely-joined-up thinking floating around in my head about public radio (American, especially, but ours as well) and public art galleries and museums. Something about how radio is moving from broadcast, time-based listening to podcasts, and the way we're all thinking about how to maintain or increase physical visitation (upon which we are funded) whilst appealing to the online audience (which is connected to us by interest and inclination - but not necessarily geography). About how the web feels like the easiest, and most rewarding, place to be innovating. About how the ever-increasing choice of what we as consumers of culture can do with our leisure time, and the worlds upon worlds we can access online, makers us increasingly pickers and choosers - curators, if you will* - of the things we deem worth of attention, and how we can love things, but how we express love through retweets and favouriting - and not through actions that count towards the objects of our affection's bottom lines.

Like I said - it's hazy at the moment. But this afternoon my thinking has advanced a bit thanks to this article by Niemann Lab visiting fellow Melody Kramer, on her research project about public radio membership.

The concepts of membership and loyalty have a long history in the fields of social psychology and organizational behavior. In general, this research shows that people who identify with an organization describe themselves to others in terms of the organization. (For example, people who identify with public media are likely to describe themselves as NPR listeners on social networks and on dating websites.) And when people identify with an organization, they exhibit higher and longer-term levels of loyalty and are more likely to formalize their identification by becoming members through donations. 
Though membership has always been a core part of public media, over the past several years, public radio has been grappling with new questions concerning membership and listener loyalty. The traditional form of building membership and leveraging organizational loyalty — the pledge drive — has declined in effectiveness, and new conversations are beginning about how to recruit and retain members who access content off-air.

Kramer is documenting her fellowship on Github (I love the daily blow-by-blows where she struggles to stay on top of her inbox AND kickstart her residency). Most interesting so far is this thought experiment about what a public radio station would look like if she started one from scratch - because blow me down if it doesn't sound exactly like what one of my museum friends would write.

Anyway. I'll keep following Kramer and if her thinking helps mine get clearer ... well, that would be a godsend, and you all will be the first to hear it.

Thursday, 14 May 2015

Pay day

When I listen to my favourite podcasts - Slate Culture Gabfest, 99% Invisible, NPR Happy Hour - I feel bad when the sponsored ads come on. Not bad because I don't want them there - bad because 90% are products I can't use (, anyone?) and therefore I feel like the hard-won sponsorship dollar, based on listener numbers, isn't being followed through on by this particular listener.

In the Kickstarter-environment, I've come to see these sponsored ads as a way that I can support the podcasts I enjoy. I donate my ears to them. I never skip them, because I appreciate that these businesses are helping make sure that something I really enjoy continues to exist. It is unlike any other advertising relationship I can think of in my own life.

So on that note, this article on The Awl is fascinating: Podcasting and the Selling of Public Radio.

Monday, 11 May 2015


A solid article from the Economist on the demographics of American museum directors (check out those age stats) - pity it ends on the over-tooted "or risk becoming irrelevant" note.

Monday, 27 April 2015

Weekend reading

I often wonder what the word is for leisurely, pleasurable work: I guess it's a hobby, even if what you choose to do isn't potting or gardening but, say, wireframing, or reading research reports with a cup of tea. Maybe it's just work, without the deadline, in a nicer setting. But still - whatever we call it, one of my pieces of leisure-pleasure-work this weekend was reading the AAMD's new report, Next Practices in Digital and Technology

The report features 41 case studies on digital projects in American art museums, from interpretation to collection management to social media. To be up front, I thought some were just cheaty - especially entries for projects, like the CRM being produced by two San Francisco museums, that are still in the design phase, all written in the future tense ("users will be able to ..."). It doesn't matter how good your requirements document is if you haven't shipped yet. 

Then there are some gimmes, like the Cooper Hewitt's pen and underlying planning and infrastructure - frankly, Seb and his team are lightyears ahead of where I'm able to put my mind. If you want to try to wrap your head around what 'digital at the centre' might really look like, check out Seb and Aaron's Museums and the Web paper from this year.

And in the middle were a couple of projects that, Three Bears like, fit me just right at the moment. One of these is the Rhode Island School of Design's (RISD's) Channel app - using Soundcloud to host short snippets of commentary on works on display, which are then produced in a web app that can be used as an audio-guide in the gallery. RISD have made a point of trying to pair voices on each object, presenting an art historical take, and a perspective from a maker. This project interests me because we've been using Soundcloud to host The Dowse's podcasts and I've been toying with the idea of trialling an audio guide for a coming exhibition with a longer than usual run, using Soundcloud to host a playlist of short tracks.

Then there's the San Diego Museum of Art's work around a still life painting by Juan Sánchez Cotán, Quince, Cabbage, Melon, and Cucumber (c. 1602), which unfortunately I can't find any mention of online.  The still life is one of the central works in the museum's collection, and they have built a 'please touch' experience around it designed for people with visual impairments that crosses over into other audiences as well. The objects in the painting are reproduced as a bas-relief sculpture that can be explored with your hands, and the touch triggers spoken commentary, music, and other kinds of interpretation. It's a lovely idea and when you look at the painting you can imagine it would be very successful. 

Saturday, 25 April 2015


For a good critic, listening to a recording should be like a skeptical stroll around the new-car lot, not an unwrapping frenzy on Christmas morning. Listening alongside fans on social media, racing toward a verdict, too many writers seem to be getting swept away in the lovefest. 
This establishes a hasty and formidable wave of acclaim, and to speak out against it at a later date is to out yourself as a hater, a contrarian, a click-baiter or a troll. Somehow, we seem to be growing more comfortable with this grody polarization of taste. Disagreement is now perceived as a demonstrative act instead of a natural and necessary position.

Rockism, poptimism and music criticism: a Washington post story on internet-incubated insta-love and the failings of critics to be critical is discussed in a Grantland podcast triggering a WaPo response-podcast and all in all forming a chunk of my weekend pop culture consumption.

Thursday, 23 April 2015

Listen up

I can't quite believe we're up to our 15th episode of our podcast (or, frankly, that the two people behind it have managed to pump out one a week for 15 weeks in a row).

This week's podcast is an interview with artist Bronwynne Cornish who was with us at The Dowse recently installing her survey exhibition Mudlark. This is the first time I've worked with Bronwynne and I found her to be one of the most articulate artists I've met: she has a gift for explaning her work to an audience and talking about the things they want to hear - and also for considering how her earlier works might be seen today.

On that note, in the podcast Bronwynne talks almost about her 365-piece ceramic installation work Home is where the heart is, the key work in Mudlark and one of the star pieces in The Dowse's collection.

Wednesday, 22 April 2015

On the radio

Today on the radio I got squeezed for time by #ponytailgate but still got a chance to run through the current show at Toi Poneke, Ornament/Artefact.

Saturday, 18 April 2015

Weekend ponderings

Collections and interpretation

Two Way St, a new tool for exploring the British Museum's collection, has got me quite inspired. I'm fascinated by the emphasis on 'date made' and 'date acquired', which gives an inkling of the shape of the collection: when items came in, what kinds of items, from where and who (whence and whom?).

Rarely these days am I jealous of another institution's online projects, but I'm green as a grasshopper about the new videos from the Met.


This article about Joanne Heyler, director of the forthcoming museum to house the Broad collection, also grabbed me, for this paragraph:
There is no reception desk, for example; visitors — who need to make reservations, although there can be some walk-ins — will be checked in by greeters in the lobby with iPads and iPhones à la Apple retail stores. 
“We had the opportunity — which I wanted to seize — to do things a little differently,” Ms. Heyler said, adding that it would feel “much less formal than visits to other museums."
An extended interview (part one, part two) with Arnold Lehmna, who leaves the Brooklyn Museum after 17 years this year.
Artists were put on this earth to help us think beyond what we normally are able to think about. As such, I for one believe that they are a protected species, and need us all to support that. There’s really no choice—whether it has to do with David [Wojnarowicz’s] work or Chris Ofili or anything else we do, those artists are safe here.

Saturday, 11 April 2015


An interesting article on the design of the new Whitney museum, where floors are ready to be nailed into and ceilings ready to be suspended from.

Of course, whilst the artists aren't in yet, the patrons and party-crowd are.