Reflections on an Amazing Couple of Days on Stockholm

20 Oct 2012


I was fortunate to have contributed to Audiences Norway’s annual conference in Stockholm a couple of weeks ago. This was my 4th Scandinavia conference in a year. Each time I attend one there I’m deeply impressed and inspired by the depth of engagement with the underpinning issues, the intellectual generosity of spirit that fuels richly rewarding conversations, and the fantastic hospitality and sense of camaraderie they provide.

So, whilst they are still fresh in my mind, I want to create a compendium of high points which have been fuelling my thoughts in the week since the Arts and Audiences 2012 Conference.

1. BIOPHILIA (Iceland): Adda Runa Valdimarsdottir discussed a ground-breaking in-schools project where nature, science and music come together in a hands-on creative learning phenomenon that is spreading across Europe like wildfire. Conceived by the music artist Bjork, the project took just one year to set up and roll out to Icelandic schools. Impressive toolkits filled with iPads and music/song apps enable children to explore nature, science and music via the exploration and creation of immersive experiences.

This fantastic example of agile practice fuelled by passion, application and vision shows just how quickly you can realise a project when you put your mind to it. Why is agility important in this context? Well, because Biophilia relies on the latest technology to deliver the best, most advanced user-experience possible. This being the case, it needs to keep pace with the rapid evolution of available digital technologies in order to remain innovative and relevant. Great stuff.

2. ARKEN MUSEUM OF MODERN ART (Denmark): Christina Weber, Head of Education, bowled me over when discussing the ethos behind a family audience development initiative, The Arken Project. The project flowed out from the organisational mission which begins, ‘The museum visitor’s encounter with the art is our main concern…’ As soon as she said this my ears pricked up and what followed was glorious music to them.

The project was powered by thinking differently rather than spending lots of money. It focused on developing ‘the quality of the visitor encounter here and now’ rather than on getting them to come back. The project was designed to create ‘visitor autonomy’ where families could experience the work ‘under their own steam’ without the help of other staff through a ‘buffet of assignments’. This astute focus on the experience-in-the-moment, combined with the carefully planned-for freedom of family visitors to co-author their own experiences and meanings demonstrate a laudable emphasis on visitor-driven value-creation that is, dare I say it, all too rare in the UK.

3. STAVANGERMUSEUM (Norway): Helga Nyman gave a fascinating talk about the Art-O-Meter, created by the museum to capture visitor responses to a Bill Viola installation entitled Tristran’s Ascension. Visitors  first took part in a workshop designed to bring to awareness the deeper impacts of the piece before their thoughts, feelings and emotions in response to the work were recorded in an automatic touch-screen booth located nearby. The resulting film is a powerful testament to the human impact of art.

At a deeper level, the project challenges the museum’s interpretative authority by giving voice to people’s unique reactions, and in doing so, demonstrates internally and to the public that all views and interpretations of art are valid. It has also brought together an interpretative community where visitors can experience the full diversity of other people’s experiences. The video (see link) is in Norwegian. It doesn’t matter. Simply watch and feel the humanity and the impact of the work sing through.

4. NEW MUSIC : NEW AUDIENCES (Europe):Thomas Demidoff talked about an audience development project designed to re-imagine the concert platform and subsequent audience experience of contemporary classical music for a new generation of cultural listeners. Comprising 30 music ensembles across 17 different countries, this EU funded project will roll out over three years as a series of action-research projects. It looks absolutely fascinating and is very timely as our traditional audiences die off and go to the big concert hall in the sky. I will follow developments with interest on

5. INCLUSION & DIVERSITY:this was the over-arching theme of the conference, and throughout the whole event there was a rich seam of debate that raised too many interesting points to mention in this blog. Here’s a snapshot of the questions that caught my attention:

–How can arts institutions navigate the apparent polarity between creating an environment for art and creating one for audiences? What is the democratic responsibility of our arts institutions?

–Do we need to rethink our mission statements in order to be more audience-centric?

–How can we arrive at common goals that bring together artistic freedom/artistic quality with a focus on the audience and their experience?

–Should artists have the liberty to express whatever they want or should they be burdened with the issue of 'access for all'?

–In what ways can we create new platforms through which we can engage with audiences in a way that creates value for them?

–Are our arts institutions temples, and if so, is this a good or a bad thing?

–In what ways might we address the mismatch between funded diversity projects and what ‘diversity’ really means in today's cosmopolitan society?

So – rich food for thought there.

If any of these little snippets have piqued your curiosity, please do take a look at the Arts and Audiences website for details and video footage from the conference: