Monday, 19 January 2015

On loyalty

I was recently told of the Head of a Regional Service of Antiquities in Greece, whose work had been positevely appreciated by many of her colleagues and members of the public, but who was threatened with disciplinary actions and was later also transferred, what was considered to be a kind of discreet ‘punishment’. Why did she become “persona non grata”? Maybe because she repeatedly informed her superiors of the inadequate guarding of one of the most important archaeological sites in her region, which has actually become a pasture for goat and sheep herds, and, having received no answer at all, she informed the general public of the situation and made available photos of the site. Maybe because she had also repeatedly informed her superiors of the lack of guards in a specific museum, warning of the possibility of closure as from a certain date if no solution was found. Her reports having been met with silence, she went ahead and closed the museum, apologizing to the public and making the reasons of the closure known.

I happen to believe that this is exactly the kind of attitude we should expect from a person who has the responsibility of running a public (and in this case, cultural) institution: to strive for adequate management; to take appropriate, responsible, action, in order to safeguard what is a common, public, good; to keep one’s superiors informed of any issues that might joepardize the proper running of the institution and stop it from fulfilling its mission; and, when necessary, to share that responsibility by informing all stakeholders, including the general public, the citizens.

I was not surprised, though, to hear of the threats of disciplinary action against that person. What is, in fact, expected of those people – and this is not only the case in Greece – is to be loyal to their superiors, local authority or government. What is understood by ‘loyal’, though, is to embrace each and every decision and practice coming from above, and, in case of disagreement, not to question them in public or to keep the discussion in the ‘family’, where it can be easily ignored. Sharing the discussion more broadly, with the society, is rarely tolerated and the punishment is seen by all of us, even if not in agreement, as expected, inevitable, natural to occur. We don´t support our colleagues, we don’t openly question the punishment, we don’t join them, so that, together, we may become stronger. Thus, we are all witnesses of the management of public cultural institutions in a way that is little transparent, where plans and actions are not being discussed, where public dialogue is not encouraged and where the professionals of the sector themselves keep silent or express their criticism very carefully and discreetly. In this context, of fear and self-censorship, it’s not easy to be critical, much less when acting alone. It’s not easy and it’s not very efficient either.

When living in a democratic society, though, we should expect a public manager’s loyalty to lie first and most of all with their service and the citizens. They have the obligation to challenge or oppose any decision or omission that jeopardizes that service. When required, they have the obligation to share the information and to help shape the public opinion regarding issues that are of public interest. In the UK, there’s such a thing as the National Museum Directors’ Council, which represents the leaders of the country’s national collections and major regional museums. The Council acts as an advocate, it represents its members to Government and other bodies, it is proactive in setting and leading the museums’ policy agenda and it is the forum where its members can discuss issues of common concern. Although the members are national museums – thus, funded by the government -, the Council is an independent organization. How do they do it? Have we got something to learn from them?

Recently, David Fleming, Director of National Museums Liveprool expressed a wish on Twitter that museums may “find their voice in 2015 in alerting the public to the impacts of austerity on what we are able to do compared with before”. I was left thinking: What does the Greek or Portuguese society really know about the actual conditions of a number of public cultural institutions? About the lack of money for the execution of basic and essential tasks, the multitasking, the extra (unpaid) hours, weekends at work, so that the boat may keep going? And are they interested in knowing? Do they consider these institutions to be theirs? Would it make any difference to them if they closed tomorrow?

What is our role, as professionals, in this context? Can we expect to have critical and demanding citizens, though, if the professionals of the sector themselves are not being openly critical and demanding? How do we help form informed and responsible citizens? Is there democracy without critical thinking and public dialogue? How do we defend transparency, meritocracy and intellectual honesty? Where is our public forum? Where does our loyalty lie and why?

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Monday, 5 January 2015

To take 'no' for an answer

The Acropolis Museum (Photo: Maria Vlachou)
When I was last at the Acropolis Museum and while taking some photos in the sculptures gallery, I was approached by a guard who kindly informed me that I couldn´t take photos in that room and also quickly informed me of the  areas where I could take photos. No explanation was given to me as to why that distinction was made. When a bit later I took a photo of a label (not an exhibit, a label), another guard saw me and made sure to inform her colleagues that I should be watched. She also followed my every step...

All this being very uncomfortable for me – and, I am sure, for the guards too -, I took the opportunity of questioning an archaeologist who was in the room in order to answer visitors’ questions. She explained to me that some of the statues preserve their original colours, that flash could be harmful, and that, as it’s not possible for the guards to control the use of flash, the museum thought better to totally prohibit photography. I thought that I took her by surprise when I asked why the museum doesn’t actually assume its educational role and explain to visitors why flash mustn’t be used, instead of totally prohibiting photography in certain rooms (most digital cameras don’t need flash) and creating such an ambiguous policy regarding photography in the museum.

It was not something I invented at that moment. It occurred to me that, a couple of years ago, in the Workt by Hand exhibition at the Brooklyn Museum – composed of extremely fragile quilts, made in the last two centuries - the museum had chosen not to show the objects behind glass or surrounded by rope and at a distance. So, when entering the room, the visitor was asked to 

Brooklyn Museum (Photo: Maria Vlachou)
Some people might be thinking that this is a different culture, a more respectful one, but it is not the case. The Brooklyn Museum opens its doors to all sorts of visitors, with and without the habit of visiting museums, with and without specific knowledge regarding the objects and their preservation. It assumes its educational role, though, and doesn´t simply expect visitors to take ‘no’ for an answer, just because the museum said so, without further explanation.

Little after my visit to the Acropolis Museum, I read an article in the Guardian about the fundamental role of ushers in theatres, especially regarding disruptive audiences. In the article, we are given the example of Stratford East Theatre, where ushers and front-of-house staff are trained to deal with such situations. And more: at a theatre which has “a particularly high number of first-time theatregoers, who sometimes need to be helped to understand what effect their behaviour is having, not just on other audience members but also on ushers and cast members”, the management chooses to invite them back “for backstage and front-of-house tours and maybe even to meet staff and casts, so that they can understand more about how a theatre works and how their behaviour impacts others”.

I believe it is part of the educational role of cultural institutions to help people better understand the details of the work that is being undertaken, but also their own role – the spectators’ and visitors’ role – so that it may be carried out in appropriate conditions for everyone involved. I believe it can be much more effective than simply saying ‘no’ to a certain behaviour or asking people to leave and it can also make them feel co-owners of and co-responsible for that work.

Monday, 15 December 2014

The educational dimension

Last October, during the intermission of a performance of Brahms' “Requiem” by the Saint Louis Symphony, twenty three protesters sitting in various parts of the auditorium stood up and sang “Requiem for Mike Brown” (the black unarmed youth that was shot by a policeman in Ferguson). Some members of the audience were shocked, others applauded, the same happened with the musicians on stage. Noone interrupted the protesters, noone called the police. Maybe because what happened made sense, at that place, at that time, in that specific context. Music being an integral part of protest in Ferguson, this, acoording to one of the organizers, was an attempt to “speak to a segment of the population that has the luxury of being comfortable. You have to make a choice for just staying in your comfort zones or will you speak out for something that’s important? It’s not all right to just ignore it”. (read full article)

The recent killings of black people by police in different US cities have provoked an intense soul searching among cultural institutions in that country. In a recent joint statement from museum bloggers and other culture professionals regarding Ferguson and related events, one reads:

“The recent series of events, from Ferguson to Cleveland and New York, have created a watershed moment. Things must change. New laws and policies will help, but any movement toward greater cultural and racial understanding and communication must be supported by our country’s cultural and educational infrastructure. Museums are a part of this educational and cultural network. What should be our role(s)? (...) Where do museums fit in? Some might say that only museums with specific African American collections have a role, or perhaps only museums situated in the communities where these events have occurred. As mediators of culture, all museums should commit to identifying how they can connect to relevant contemporary issues irrespective of collection, focus, or mission. (...) As of now, only the Association of African American Museums has issued a formal statement about the larger issues related to Ferguson, Cleveland and Staten Island. We believe that the silence of other museum organizations sends a message that these issues are the concern only of African Americans and African American Museums. We know that this is not the case.”

Last August, serious controversy involved the decision of Tricycle Theatre not to host the UK Jewish Film Festival, for the first time in eight years. The reason was that the festival received support from the Israeli Embassy in London and, given the ongoing assault on Gaza at the time, the Board felt it was inappropriate to accept financial support from any government agency involved”. They offered to provide alternative funding, but the Festival did not accept (read full article). The conflict in Gaza was also the reason why participating artists in this year’s São Paulo Bienal (later supported by the bienal curators) called on the organizers to return funding from the Israeli Conusulate. Negotiations resulted in the removal of the conusulate logo from the general sponsors and its association only to the Israeli artists that had received that specific financial support (read full report).

We may agree or disagree with the decisions taken by these organizations. But the questioning of the role of cultural institutions in today’s society, especially their educational role, must be permanent, constant. Just like Rebecca Herz, I believe that they shouldn´t act irrespective of their mission (as it is suggested in the above mentioned statement of the US museum bloggers), but any museum collection or theatre /orchestra / festival programme can have a connection to contemporary life and help shape the kind of society we need or dream of. As the work of many contemporary artists is a response to contemporary life issues, it is not unusual to find this kind of connections, and the fertile thinking associated to them, in the programming of theatres, companies or galleries (the Maria Matos Theatre, the Gulbenkian Programme Next Future or the alkantara festival are the first to come to mind, among the organizations whose programming I follow in Portugal, but there are others). Museums or orchestras presenting works that are not contempoarary are not used to linking their collections or concerts to contemporary life though or, if they do, it does not become obvious to me. Quite often I find myself thinking “What is the point of this exhibition or concert?”, “Why is this relevant?”, “How does this connect to contemporary portuguese society and its diversity?” (the inspiring work of the Orchestra of the Age of the Enlightenment comes to mind once again...)

This brings me once again to a recurring issue on this blog: accountability and responsibility. I don´t see cultural institutions as islands, cut off from what is happening around them. I believe they should make it clear for people how what they have to say or show can be relevant to them and a way of finding meaning; they should share their vision and objectives publicly and take responsibility for fulfilling them; they should be a public forum, where people can find comfort, but also the necessary discomfort. They clearly have an educational role (in the sense of providing what the Ancient Greeks called “paideia”), one that I wouldn´t necessarily make depend on what happens (or doesn’t happen) at school or at home and one that doesn’t firstly depend on an education department, but on the director him/herself.

Two museums directors and a curator will be with us next Tuesday, 16 December, at the Gulbenkian Foundation conference “What places for education? The educational dimension of cultural institutions” (more information). Charles Esche (Director of Van Abbemuseum and one of the curators of this year’s São Paulo Bienal), David Fleming (Director of National Musems Liverpool and President of the International Federation of Human Rights Museums) and Delfim Sardo (Curator, University Professor and Essayist) will challenge us to think on our responsibilities and practices in the current social and political context.

Note: For those who cannot be in Lisbon, the session will be livestreamed from 10am Lisbon time. The link for the livestream as well as a number of papers, posts, interviews in english may be found on the conference webpage (in “Oradores” and in "+Info")

More readings :

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Monday, 1 December 2014

An apology of criticism

Critical thinking is a mental and emotional function in which someone - based on his/her knowledge and information available – decides what to think or do in relation to a specific situation. The result is a substantiated opinion. It is subjective. It may be positive or negative. It must be intellectually honest.

There is a tendency to associate solely negative aspects to the word ‘criticism’ and to see it as an attack. That´s why many times a critique provokes reactions such as “criticising is easy…”; or a hasty clarification by the ‘attacker’, such as “please, don´t take this as a criticism”; or even the need to declare that the ‘attacker’ has nothing personal against his/her ‘target’.

A couple of weeks ago, I reacted – critically - to the interview of a national museum director and, specifically, to a statement regarding an issue that is of extreme importance to me in our profession. This means that, based on my knowledge and the information available, I decided what to think of that statement and I shared that thought. Other people reacted to my criticism, agreeing or disagreeing or adding other aspects to the process of critical thinking. At a certain point, though, a colleague intervened to say: “One shouldn´t speak ill of colleagues on Facebook”. This intervention has kept my mind busy since.

I see a distinct difference between speaking ill and criticising. Speaking ill can only be negative and there is something too personal in it, something too sentimental, something that ends up neutralizing the strength of arguments and severely affects the credibility of the critic. Speaking ill is not constructive, it might be temporarily ‘therapeutic’ for the speaker, but it is ineffective.

Criticism is something different. Criticism is the wish to be aware, to put one’s knowledge in good use, to contribute for something better (through positive or negative appreciations) and also to assume responsibility. Thus, criticism is not easy.

Very little critical thinking is shared in public, with the exception, perhaps, of whatever relates to the governement and politicians in general – which makes me think that maybe we don´t feel as responsible for this country´s political life, thus, criticising (or speaking ill) becomes easy... In what concerns everything else, and considering specifically the cultural sector, public criticism and debate regarding decisions, positions, projects is rather limited. The professionals of the field might be feeling that all this is beyond their control and this feeling of impotence makes any intervention seem hopeless. Others might not like the exposure public criticism brings along, wary about personal/professional relationships that tend to get mixed up on these occasions. Others still might not like to take the responsibility of criticising publicly. Thus, as criticism is actually seen as something negative, as an attack, it is better kept behind closed doors, ‘in the family’, or, better still, untold. For some people, it shouldn´t be happening on social media. (I can´t help thinking that, when a couple of years ago I wrote positevely about an interview of the same national museum director, nobody told me I shouldn´t be doing it on Facebook; I suppose it was not considered criticism).

I envy cultural bloggers in (mainly) the US and the UK, who contribute to the open debate and criticism of all important matters, keeping the dialogue alive, their voice heard and the interested public informed. They are too intelligent to fall into the trap of ill speaking. This is an act of responsibility. This should be an expected act in a democracy. All important, major, things must be discussed openly, positive and negative things must be largely debated, responsibility must be assumed. The direction of all public cultural institutions concerns us all, starting from the professionals of the field.

Which brings me to another point: criticism is associated to accountability. When Nina Simon completed her first year as director of the Santa Cruz Museum of Art and History, she wrote the post Year one as a museum director... Survived!. Both accountability and criticism stem from a deep sense of responsibility and Nina´s text is the perfect example of what I would like to see happening here.  But it´s not happening. In a country where those holding public positions are not expected to be accountable – that is, to openly define their objectives and to regularly explain what it is that they do, how, why and how successful they are in it - criticism might actually make less sense and we enter a vicious circle. A circle where few substantiated opinions are heard publicly, having no impact whatsoever, and where things happen anyway, no matter what, and success is declared... no matter what. We even consider normal that someone with a public position might be defending the indefensible, might not be giving an honest opinion, out of duty to his/her superiors. A vicious circle, a game, where we sacrifice our intellectual honesty. What´s the gain? And at what cost?

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Monday, 17 November 2014

That´s advertising

What is usually understood as “advertising” among cultural institutions is an ad in a newspaper or a magazine based on an exhibition or performance poster and informing on what – where -  when. Sometimes, this concept is transported into a TV spot, where the poster gets to have some kind of “animation”, using the image and letters of the poster, and where the information on what – where – when is also transmitted orally. In other words, facts.

Last year, I saw on You Tube the advertising spot of an exhibition at the Czech National Museum in Prague and it got me thinking. It related to the 2008 exhibition of the original document of the “Munich agreement”, which had been signed 70 years earlier, in 1938. This was an agreement between Britain, Germany, Italy and France which allowed for Czechoslovakia’s German-speaking territories to be sliced off and handed to Hitler.  

This was definitely not the usual what - where – when tv spot. This was a museum transmitting a message and addressing an invitation with a clear knowledge of the social-political-cultural context in which it operates and with a sense of humour. Short, intriguing and rather bold, considering what museums in general have got us used to. It speaks to the citizens of the Czech Republic and to the rest of us, although no words are needed.

More recently, I was very pleasantly surprised with a “Made in Portugal” ad. The 3rd edition of the Montemor-o-Novo Theatre Festival was organized by the Municipality of Montemor-o-Novo together with a number of local theatre groups, in spite of the financial difficulties felt in the cultural sector, presented all over the town and with the objective – among others - to involve the local population, independent of age, education, previous knowledge or habits of attending theatre performances.

The sense of humour in this spot won my heart once again. The second thing that came to mind was how true it felt, considering the festival´s mission and objective, especially the concern to involve the local community, which becomes the protagonist.

The third example I would like to discuss is also “Made in Portugal” and it´s more than an ad, it´s what one may call a campaign. “Maria & Luiz” is the joint effort of Lisbon´s two municipal theatres (Maria Matos and São Luiz) to work together in forging a relationship with people, through the creation of a card that costs €10 to purchase and offers 50% discount for a year. The campaign is made of seven short films (with english subtitles).

Seven short films, seven stories of romance, vanguarde, drama, music, expression, charm, phantasy. The ingredients of the the everyday life of very diverse people reflected back to us once we find ourselves in a theatre room.

The objective of advertising is to build messages that may influence attitudes towards a product or an idea. Now that I put the three examples together, I realize that one thing they have in common, apart from a sense of humour, is that they are centred on the people they wish to communicate with. Not facts, people. The story is not just the document or the festival or the discount card; the story is not told by the curator, the artist or the manager. Common people become the protagonists and narrators. Common people is what cultural institutions are about. This is the idea I see behind the concept, this is the message. Being part of a sector that is used to communicating with “its own” – with those who are already part, with those who “understand” – I am happy to see that some of us have chosen a different way, a different relationship.

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Monday, 3 November 2014

Is Giselle a curator?

Giselle Ciulla, Clark Art Institute (image taken from the website)
Is everyone who feels dazzled by medicine, follows the news, marvels at the advances registered and shares them with other people, a “doctor”?

Is every person who is fascinated with the stars, reads about them, has a telescope and does observations, an “astronomer”?

Is every person who likes art, has some favourite pieces and wishes to share and discuss the feelings and ideas these works provoke a “curator”?

What distinguishes an amateur from a professional and an interested person from an amateur? This is not exactly an original question, but the context in which museums operate today puts it once again on the table.

When I first read about the project uCurate of the Clark Art Institute in Williamstown, USA, I was thrilled with the idea. I wrote at the time that this is also the role of museums in society, a role that allows for involvement, active participation, which recognizes that there are more than one versions of the ‘truth’ and creates a place for them to be shared. There was one thing, though, that I felt very critical about: the fact that Giselle Ciulla, an 11-year-old whose proposal won the 2012 competition, was mentioned on the institute´s website as the “curator”.

Is Giselle a curator? Does the fact that she is a young person with interests, ideas, needs, opinions, who chose a number of works from the Institute´s collection and put them together into an exhibition make her a curator? Or rather a curator is somenone who – together with the ideas, needs, and feelings – has got the technical knowledge that can help shape ideas and needs into interesting, relevant, inspiring exhibitions, open to discuss more than one truths, nowadays with the help of the people who wish to be involved? The Wikipedia is an impressive collaborative project, where people may contribute and share their knowledge. Behind the entries, though, there are “curators” who make sure the information shared is accurate, otherwise the project would lose its credibility. What kind of analogies to the world of museums and their crowdsourced projects can we find here?

In an article entitled What is photography when everyone’s a photographer?, Joan Fontcberta is quoted saying Taking a picture today is easy and little attention is given to craft. This means that the art quality no longer resides in the fabrication but in the prescription of meaning”. Who´s responsible for prescribing a “meaning” in museums and helping fullfil the intentions? Ed Rodley states in his post ’Outsourcing’ the curatorial impulse: “If I had to characterize the essence of present-day curation, it would be ‘sense-making’”.

Far from defending the “omniscient and all-powerful curator” and being very supportive of all attempts to involve all people interested in museum work (so that what´s presented in them may be the result of extensive involvement and contributions from a number of people, thus more relevant), I wouldn´t get to the point of not distinguishing or confusing the roles of those involved.

In a recent article entitled Everybody´s an Art Curator, Elen Gamerman points out some of the main issues in the current debate: “The trend is sparking a growing debate among artists, curators and other art-world professionals about everything from where to draw the line between amateurs and experts to what even constitutes a crowdsourced show. How far can museums go in delegating choices to the public? How tightly should they control the voting on exhibit content? And at what point does a museum start looking too much like a community center?”.

Community activities at the Santa Cruz Art and History Museum (image taken from Nina Simon´s blog Museum 2.0)

Good question... A person attending the course I am currently giving on museum communications asked me after watching Nina Simon´s TED talk Opening up the museum: “Does the museum [Santa Cruz Art and History Museum, where Nina Simon is the director] keep in the collection works made by people who attend their workshops?”. And I would take this questions further: “If they do, do they keep all of them, some, on what criteria?”. I am a great admirer of Nina Simon and her vision regarding participatory museums, but we should not limit our evaluation of what she is trying to achieve to financial gains and attendance. There´s much more to it and Nina is doing what many more museum directors should be doing: risking, experimenting, evaluating.

The context in which museums operate today is specific, but the whole situation is not exactly new. It occurs every time there is a significant change in the environment (social, political technological). There is a need to rethink things, to plan differently, to adapt. I believe that the current environment asks for museums to be as much about the present as they are about the past. It asks for curators to be prepared to cater not only for their peers, but also for the “normal” people who wish to enjoy the museum and see it as part of their lives and communities. Yes, this means paying attention and being sensitive to the changes taking place. Yes, this means sharing authority and creating space for different views of the world. Yes, this means experimenting and taking risks. Yes, this means developing new programmes and skills. No, it doesn´t mean that museums must become something else, something they are not (from community centres to health centres to youth corrective services and so on). No, it doesn´t mean that everyone´s a curator. No, it doesn´t mean mistaking crowdsourced projects for give-people-what-they-are-asking-for projects.

So, how to go about this? I believe museums and the professionals working in them should focus on their competitive position. They should focus on what makes them special, different from other institutions. They should capitalize on their strong points and develop the necessary skills to face and work with new realities. The ultimate objective is to remain alive and relevant. And that takes some courage. It takes some attitude too.

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Monday, 20 October 2014

Not to be missed? Mmm... why?

OAE, 2014-2015 season (images taken from the OAE Facebook page)

It has become very common when promoting a cultural event to mention what – when - where and then to add the magic phrase “Not to be missed!”. At times, a couple of lines are added to this information, basically to let us know that artist x is the best in his/her field or world known. Judging by the information sent to us by a number of cultural institutions, there´s nothing we can miss and there are a number of artists that are the best in their field and world known. The first statement is not true and the second is not precise.

Considering the growing offer of cultural events and activities, people have a lot where to choose from. For some, given their experience and knowledge, the choice is easier as they don´t need other people to tell them what they should see, what they can´t miss. For others, less knowledgeable regarding a number of artists and their work, there is some need for orientation. Some extra information that might help them understand what´s important and relevant for them, what they wouldn´t really like to miss.

Unfortunately, the statement “Not to be missed” - unless it comes from a friend, someone whose judgement we trust - doesn´t serve this purpose, it´s not enough. After all, everybody says the same. Likewise, to mention that the artist is the best is not convincing enough for those who don´t know him/her and doesn´t necessarily provoke an urge to get to know his/her work better. The truth is there are a number of artists who are very good in what they’re doing. Is there really a “best”?

Thus, the question in many people´s mind is “Why?”. Why can´t I miss the concert, the play, the exhibition? What´s so important, so special, so different, so groundbreaking, so touching, so appealing, so beautiful, so provoking, so relevant that it will be worth investing my time and money to see it instead of seeing or doing something else?

OAE, 2014-2015 season (images taken from the OAE Facebook page)
This poses a great challenge for those people working in communication. There is a need to move beyond the usual, beyond the obvious and easy information on what – when – where, and to search for the kind of information – as well as its visual representation - that might clarify, surprise, intrigue and appeal to the people cultural institutions wish to communicate with. There is also a need to choose the appropriate channels for making this kind of information available and easily shareable.

It is with great pleasure that I have been following the launch of the 2014-2015 season campaign of the Orchestra of the Age of the Enlightenment (OAE). Some essential background information before getting into this:

The OAE was created in the 1980s with the aim to start from scratch, to re-think the whole institution called “orchestra”: its rules, its codes, its restrictions (read their short biography) . In an early mission statement, one reads that the OAE is to “Avoid the dangers implicit in playing as a matter of routine; pursuing exclusively commercial creative options; under-rehearsal; undue emphasis as imposed by a single musical director; recording objectives being more important than creative objectives.”  [Wallace, Helen (2006). Spirit of the Orchestra]. Today, one reads on the website, “It still pushes for change and still stands for excellence, diversity and exploration. And over two decades on, there´s still no orchestra in the world quite like it.”

OAE, 2014-2015 season (images taken from the OAE Facebook page)

This whole philosophy is also applied on the relationship the OAE fosters with people, and especially younger people. At a time where a number of orchestras are struggling to renovate their audiences and stay alive and relevant  - not really knowing how to do it -, the OAE has long invested in this relationship. Among its various initiatives, I would highlight “The Night Shift”, a series of informal and relaxed late night concerts which break a number of traditions we tend to associate to the enjoyment of classical music. Over 80% of the people attending these concerts are under 35 years old and approximately 20% are attending a classical concert for the first time. Listen to what they have to say:

There is an easy, relaxed, accessible tone in the way the OAE communicates with people. It becomes obvious that they are clear about their mission and purpose, they are sincere, they enjoy sharing what they love most with all those who might be interested (including those who don´t know they might be interested). Their clear vision reflects on their language (both verbal and visual), as well as the platforms they use to communicate (for instance, a rich Vimeo channel and a very live and engaging Facebook page).

OAE, 2014-2015 season (images taken from the OAE Facebook page)

This season´s campaign has a clear and strong activistic visual. The musicians are part of the campaign, they´re the protagonists. The posters in the streets present a contemporary visual, beautifully integrated in the urban environment. The short messages on the posters are complemented with statements by the musicians and other members of staff who talk about their favourite piece in the season. The OAE’s horn player, Martin Lawrence, says: “I’m looking forward to this concert [the New World Symphony], mainly for the manic energy and spontaneity of conductor Adam Fischer. I am fascinated to know what his approach will be to these war-horse pieces – it won’t be normal… I am expecting huge drama, monstrous pianissimos and being on the edge of my seat.” Do you know of another classical music orchestra that communicates like this?

The OAE wants to be and to remain relevant. They don´t assume people will know, they´re there to make everything more clear, more understandable, more enjoyable. They are accessible, passionate, human. They have a good sense of humour and they´re not afraid to show it. They don´t tell people “You can´t miss us” or “We´re the best”. Their very suggestive motto is “Not all orchestras are the same”... And ooh... they´re certainly making it clear for me how sorry I should feel to be missing them!

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