Bhavani Esapathi speaks of creative engagement techniques that sparks genuine interest between museums and its audiences that is built upon a mutually sustaining relationship.
Museum Visitors Metric in a Digital Publics Era
The growing curiosity in the future of museums is often tied closely with technology, finances and a whole host of pre-existing models, where as we believe the future lies within the digital publics. Extrinsically, the future might be related to other industries, however, digital technologies are giving rise to emerging audiences that outdate marketing tactics that have served us well over the last hundred years.
First of all, who are the digital publics and which models are we referring to? The digital publics, even in its plurality, includes me, you and everybody else. A good example is a craftsperson living in south India, perhaps exhibiting her work in a commercial art gallery in New York, whilst speaking about the status of indigenous crafts in Canada. The same person will have a plurality of narratives that make up who they are: animal rights activist, social media guru and Spanish food lover. This very person then curates her audience through her works and interests, online and at art spaces, and they in turn bring another mix of audiences that makes categories of a typical museum visitor or profile invalid.
Digital Publics necessitates the understanding of the concept that there is no “one” type of audience anymore, whom curators or directors can define and curate for. It’s a plurality of publics, who straddle both the physical and digital. We live in times where we have to embrace these indefinable characteristics of our audience to form nuanced understandings of what it means to be a creative institution responding to such changes.
The only mode of engagement between museums and audiences is to spark genuine interest built upon a self-sustaining relationship. Image: Rereeti conducting a workshop for school students at a museum in Bangalore.
This is why the Art Public was created. We are not affiliated with any organization and neither is the goal to find audiences that fit our preconceived categories. Since the digital publics don’t fit into an existing model, it is only fair to anticipate the future by exploring these developments in detail.
The Art Public is an exploratory experiment in dwelling deeper into the workings of the digital publics, we need to acknowledge that there’s no strategy or tactics to attract consumers, rather, the only mode of engagement is to spark genuine interest built upon mutually sustainable relationships between museums and its audiences. This is true for museums and galleries than any other sector; we are not interested in securing one ticket sale or selling an item from the gift store, rather the most valuable metric is the number of people who return even after a sale has been made.
With this in mind, it doesn’t make sense to focus on the number of followers on social media or visitors to the website but to explore why people return to your space, be it virtual or physical. Of course, this becomes even more intriguing for those museums built on engaging audiences to promote arts education and learning; how do you cater to the digital publics who are so wide and varied amongst themselves?
Narrowing the Digital Publics and Engaging the Audience
There are possibly three main types of consumers you should most certainly talk to on a daily basis:
The Supporter: In the age of social media, you really want a group who regardless of their ability to support you financially, are fanatics of your work and will leverage any and every medium out there if/when you are in need. If social media could create positive social change and reframe governments in developing countries, it most certainly can help you in challenging times.
The Devout: People do crazy things when they’re in love and the internet is THE place if you are to go crazy. You definitely want one who is madly in love with everything you do, so much so that they’re willing to give you their time and resources above and beyond the call of charity, regular volunteering, or fundraising drives. This is the kind of audience you really can’t buy and is a gift when you continue to do amazing work.
The Networker: The networker is an evolved version of the social media influencer. The influencer shared a celebrity status capable of harnessing large groups of people at will, where as the networker is one who is able to wisely bring together a carefully selected few who will be indispensable to your organization.
If you have paid attention, each of these audience type are inherently based on a time of crisis, when organizations might (and in fact, already are) in need of public support and this is very intentional.
We’re no longer in an age where hierarchical structures dominate; social media has enabled a horizontal arrangement of relationships that calls for sustained engagement with audience. We need to consistently nourish the relationships with our audiences instead of responding/calling for support just before or during a time of crisis.
Image: We have seen the most dramatic shifts in our understanding of the world in the last four decades and the same holds true for how we engage with museums. Image: Visitors at New York Public Library exhibition. Photo courtesy Nilofar Shamim Haja.
Future of Museums
What will become of museums in the future? The Art Public survey is an initial response in anticipation of the future of museums and galleries that reflect sparks of change but haven’t discovered an outlet to express it at length. That’s why we need to listen and reciprocate to build the future museum as a social collective for the digital world.
Of course, there is no ‘one’ pre-determined future, for the world in general, and for the future of museums in particular. We have seen the most dramatic shifts in our understanding of the world in the last four decades, especially with techno-communicative advances that have altered our imaginations and modes of living and engaging with the environment.
As we stumble and attempt to find our footing towards a future that continues to evolve, the assured state is one of crisis and by that, I mean positive crisis. Positive crisis is when overwhelming change leads to unanticipated growth and in order to facilitate this growth, we need to be open and listen to what the digital publics want from museums.
Feeling inspired? Take the Art Public <www.bhaesa.com/social-media-survey> survey yourself and get your voice heard for the future of museums!
Bhavani Esapathi is a published writer & speaker on digital innovation within the creative sector. She currently leads all things social at ArtMapLondon (UK) and curates digitally immersive projects in the arts. To find out more about her work visit www.bhaesa.com, subscribe to her newsletter or say hello on Twitter.