Monday, 24 May 2010


Last week, I was invited to give a short lecture on audiences to a group of students of the Higher School of Theatre and Cinema. I started by questioning: Why do we talk about audiences? Why do we worry about them? Because they give our work meaning. At least to my work. Without visitors, there are no museums. Without audiences, there are no theatres. We practice, assist and engage in cultural activities because we all want to communicate, share, discover, entertain ourselves: museum professionais, performing arts professionals, audiences. This communication and sharing would not take place if one of the agents was missing.

For those who work in Communication, the relationship fostered with the public is fundamental. To get to know them well, to slowly create personal relationships, even friendships, is a way to build up on the relationship and also to reach further, to non-audiences. In the last ten years I´ve worked in two relatively large institutions. ‘Large’ also in the sense that there is a lot to do and few people to do it. I have often felt frustrated for having to spend much of my time in an office and not to be able to be closer to visitors and spectators, in the front-of-house spots, during the preparation of a visit, in the exhibitions or during the performances. I believe it´s mainly at these moments that we manage to evaluate, even empirically, the impact of our work, the way it is accepted and judged. It is also in this way that we can create closer relationships, at times personal, with the people we are working for.

Many times I thought that institutions dealing with smaller audiences are lucky to be able to work in such a personalized way, thus creating a feeling of sharing, of community and also of belonging, that influences a lot the quality of the experience, the way people experience both the space and its offer. And it is particularly compensating and comforting for those working so that can happen. That way, things make sense.

We can have this experience, even though less frequently, also in larger institutions. A think that, although I cannot remember the faces, I will never forget the experience of receiving the first group of children for the launch of the activity A Night at the Museum at the Pavilion of Knowledge. The way we all, employees and children, shared the adventure during the whole night, the way we came closer, making it so hard to say goodbye the next morning, the pleasure of meeting again on other occasions in the Pavilion´s exhibitions.

Also at São Luiz, in the almost four years I´ve been there, my most outstanding and fulfilling experience was one I could share with the public. It was in 2008, when together with CCB we organized the Pina Bausch Festival. One morning we assisted a workshop at the Centre for Animation and Pedagogy (CCB) on Café Müller, the piece Pina Bausch herself was going to perform that night in São Luiz. The workshop was attended by a dozen of children from dysfunctional families. When it was finished, having experienced the enthusiasm, interest, pleasure and creativity of the children, we thought that they should have the opportunity to see the performance live. So, in a practically sold our room, we managed to bring a few extra chairs and the children were able to assist. It will be impossible to forget their shining eyes, their fascination, the joy, but also their awe, mixed with fear, when they were allowed to go backstage after the performance and meet Pina herself, who signed all their programmes.

In this context, I particularly liked Nina Simon´s last post in her blog Museum 2.0 , entitled Complicity, intimacy, community.
I enjoyed it the way we enjoy when something is in our head and finally someone manages to put it into words and make it concrete. In her text, Nna Simon reminds is that even larger institutions have ways of allowing for experiences of complicity between the audiences and the institution, creating at the same time a feeling of intimacy and community. It is not necessary to provide a personalized service, the way we idealize it. It is enough to create the conditions for the visitor / spectator / participant to feel, first of all, orientated (to know where they are, what they can or cannot do) and to be able to have and share comfortably with the others the experience. People they know or complete strangers.

It is so beautiful the exchange of a smile of complicity.

A note aside: As I said, it gives me special pleasure to find things that I have in my mind, worries, ideas, put into words. And when I do find them, I can´t even think of not mentioning the name of the person who put them together, so that I can use them as well. In this blog there are no original ideas. There are opinions and feelings, the result of my studies and experiences, that I am looking to structure and share in this space. Even though, it would be nice if, when my words are being quoted, the person quoting also mentioned his source. I was asked by a museum to indicate the link for my post on free entry to museums.
Last week, I read my words in a newspaper, in the statements of that museum´s director. Maybe the director mentioned the source, but the newspaper did not include the reference in the article. Maybe not.

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