Monday, 29 October 2012

What - or who - is the barrier?

Mertola Castle (Photo: Fátima Alves)

A family arrives at the foot of Mertola Castle. They have four children. The mobility of one of them, a 10/11-year-old boy, is quite conditioned. One of his brothers picks up the stroller and runs to the top of the steps that lead to the entrance of the castle. The mother supports her son from the arm and they slowly start going up. Half-way, she suggests they took a rest. The boy prefers to continue. He´s making an enormous effort to place his foot on the next step; he´s tired and his foot is trembling. I don´t want to overtake them; I follow them, I go along with their rhythm. Once at the top of the steps, the boy finally takes a rest. His mother moves on a bit, trying to evaluate the difficulty of the rest of the way.

I witnessed this ‘ascend to the castle’ at the end of a week where I attended two meetings on museums and accessibility: the annual seminar of GAM –Group for Access to Museums, entitled Programming for Diversity, and the 1st Crossborder Encounter of Museum Professionals in Alcoutim.  A few days before GAM´s seminar, I had met with a Polish colleague who asked me: “What do you expect of these meetings?”.

Among museum professionals, accessibility is more and more of an issue. And the concept of ‘accessibility’ constantly grows and widens. It´s not only about being concerned and also obliged to attend to the needs of people with disabilities (physical and cognitive), but to a wide spectrum of intellectual, social and cultural needs of all citizens. It´s also about managing and being able to take advantage of people´s growing wish and need to be involved in the process of decision-making, so that they may feel represented in the final products museums propose to their audiences (my presentation on this subject in Alcoutim is available on the right-hand column).

I am writing this text approximately one week after and I realize that the issues that marked me the most in these two meetings and which made me think more were all related to mentality, our mentality, that of museum professionals.

Fernando António Baptista Pereira, a professor at the School of Fine Arts and curator of a number of exhibitions presented in Portugal and abroad, was the keynote speaker at GAM´s annual seminar. When asked which was his best and worst exhibition, he didn´t hesitate to admit that his worst exhibitions, although extremely beautiful, were those he had done for his peers, those which were not done with the general public in mind. Hearing this from someone who has curated and will curate in the future exhibitions which attract large numbers of visitors is a sign of hope. And just like Fernando António Baptista Pereira, there are surely more professionals in this field (curators and museum directors) who, even though they don´t say it, they know it is so. So, one wonders when we can expect to see in portuguese museums, especially national (public) museums, exhibitions which may be understood by the non-specialists who visit them and form the majority of visitors. When can we expect to see exhibitions which may be a source of new knowledge, true pleasure and discovery, instead of being a means of communication and dialogue among the ‘initiated’ few, while a source of frustration for the rest?

In Alcoutim, we had the opportunity to hear Maribel Rodriguez Achutégui talking about “Writing exhibition texts for all audiences”, which reminded us that it is possible, yes, to write for all, without making it sound childish, without vulgarizing, without compromising the scientific accuracy of the information we present. And to some of us, this brought back memories of GAM´s first annual seminar, back in 2006, “Do you know how to write for all? The accessibility of written communication in museums”, which was marked by two very special speakers: the late Helen Coxall (a museum language consultant – yes, the specialization exists, just like there exists extensive bibliography on this issue, part of it available on GAM´s website) and Julia Cassim (a designer associated to the Helen Hamlyn Centre for Inclusive Design). Later in that same year, Helen Coxall did a memorable workshop, Am I Communicating? Writing effective museum texts, organized by GAM at the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation. What has been the impact of these initiatives in Portugal? Those working in education services frequently complain that it is very difficult to convince museum directors and curators of the need to write texts in a more accessible language (not just exhibition texts, but texts for all sorts of supporting materials museums produce in order to communicate with people) – I can think of some exceptions, though, like the texts of the exhibition on automobiles at the Transport and Communications Museum in Porto or those at the Batalha Community Museum, to mention just two. One wonders, why is it so difficult to convince them? Have they never heard their visitors´s complaints? Or they don´t mind about them?

Another brilliant and very ‘educational’ presentation was that of graphic designer Filipe Trigo, who brought to us a number of examples we have all encountered during our visits to museums and exhibitions: books on the wall, small font size, labels which are hidden or placed too low or too high, constrasts that make reading impossible, a total anarchy in the presentation of contents (placed wherever it might be more convenient, without any logic), inadequate lighting. This presentation deserves to be seen by curators and museum directors, as well as graphic designers, as there doesn´t seem to exist consensus as to who imposes solutions on whom. There is distrust, though, and maybe also a somehow vague definition of the role of each one and, between the two, that of the museologist and/or education and communications staff. Woudln´t it make sense that each one was heard in the area of his/her speciality, with the final aim of offering visitors a better service?

Today I would be able to give a better answer to my Polish colleague´s question “What do you expect of these encounters?”. I expect that next time there is a meeting to discuss accessibility (any kind of accessibility) there are more museum directors, curators, architects and designers in the audience. This does not concern just the education staff. I would even say that it concerns more and more those who make the final decisions. What is the point of raising awareness among and giving technical preparation in museum studies courses to future museum professionals, who only in 20-30 years from now will be in a position to make decisions, if in the next 20-30 years they will be encountering the greatest barrier of all inside museums themselves? If these meetings go on being an opportunity for those already aware to get together and agree between themselves, their impact will continue being limited, almost inexistant. There is a need to make commitments and not just politically correct statements. There is also an obligation to abide by the law. And it has to be now, not in 20/30-years time. It doesn´t cost anything (and it doesn´t cost more...).

Joaquina Bobes, Textos expositivos y visitantes: ¿hablamos el mismo idioma? (with english translation from minute 14´35´´)
Julia Cassim, Inclusive design

Monday, 22 October 2012

Guest post: "Festivals, the new face of Zimbabwe", by Nicholas Moyo

It´s always a great pleasure having a conversation with Nicholas Moyo. Not only because of his sense of humour, but mainly because of his wisdom and experience, his calm and balanced way of analyzing the realities around him, his belief in a better future. In this post he writes about the proliferation of arts festivals in Zimbabwe and the efforts of the National Arts Council to create some guidelines in order to ensure that all arts festivals are held in accordance with the country’s aspirations as far as the development of the creative industries is concerned. mv

Intwasa Arts Festival (Photo taken from 
The establishment of Arts Festivals in Zimbabwe has been in the past decade the in-thing for the exhibition of arts and culture products in the Southern African country. As much as people can agree on what a festival is, in Zimbabwe an arts-related festival is projected as a platform for the celebration of the arts, where artistes and cultural practitioners come together for a specific period to showcase their products in a carnivalesque and celebratory mood.

The above definition holds because festivals are, in general, a time for celebration and enjoyment. It is an event usually and ordinarily staged by communities focusing on some unique aspects of that group of people. As far as the arts and culture sector is concerned, each festival is moulded around a particular group of people. These then make the nucleus of the market or audiences thereof.

Current scenario

There are just about twenty five festivals in Zimbabwe: six international, eight national, six provincial and five district festivals. Most of these festivals started in the last decade, when the generality of the political landscape was on a meltdown, especially the economy.

Within the said period, Zimbabwe witnessed a proliferation of arts festivals, being hosted country-wide. Admittedly, some of the these were established to deal with issues related to human rights. Others were hosted by fly-by-night festival organisers out to fleece funds from the ‘easy to appease’ donors. This scenario resulted in the National Arts Council of Zimbabwe starting a consultation with the sector, crafting some general guidelines for all arts festivals to be held in the country. The guidelines were meant to ensure that all arts festivals are held in tandem with the country’s aspirations as far as the development of the creative industries is concerned.

Harare International Festival of the Arts (Photo taken from

Festivals are in general a massive platform created for the establishment of a transaction between audiences and the organisers through the trading of art. Firstly, all festivals have been recording a steady increase of audiences every year. There is a growing market and a new relationship between this market and the creative sector. Audiences are beginning to exchange their time and monetary resources for good art.

Secondly, art creators have found it important and necessary to create new and exciting ‘good art’, while producers, directors and artists have begun to up the game because of the competitive nature of the creative industry. Festival organisers are contracting new productions mostly from reputable producers, as these tend to attract more people to specific productions.

Harare International Festival of the Arts (Photo taken from

The creative industries have had a fair share of market challenges. Top of the list is failure to attract meaningful partnerships that will either render financial support to the festival or underwrite even in kind some of its components. Some festival organisers are not well skilled to scout and sign-in partners, leading to failure to lock-in regular dates on the calendar. Thus, one tends to see festivals having to cancel dates they could only go ahead with only if they could get a last-minute funder.

Sponsors, especially from the corporate sector, have not been forthcoming generally for the support of the arts. Festivals are not an exception. Some, like the Harare International Festival for the Arts (HIFA), have created business synergies with the Corporates. One is tempted to say that the economic challenges Zimbabwe is facing as a nation have a bearing on the money circulating for the purpose of entertainment. The disposable income of Zimbabwe’s workforce is below the poverty line, and, therefore, this on its own has a global effect on people´s buying or spending patterns.

Intwasa Arts Festival (Photo taken from
In conclusion, festivals in Zimbabwe are a necessary good in the development of the creative industries in the country. With the different thrust by different festivals, it is evident that these are carefully designed to target particular consumers for specific artistic products. However, the festivals need to be re-engineered as business enterprises for the creative products. The growth of festivals in Zimbabwe will also ensure that the arts are undoubtedly seen as a contributor to the GDP of the Southern African country Zimbabwe.

Nicholas Moyo is currently the Deputy Director at the National Arts Council of Zimbabwe. He has substantial experience in arts management - as a director, producer and administrator. He has also participated in various arts training programs and short courses, including script writing, arts management, leadership, directing, and fundraising. He has expertise in leadership, team building and management, program management, project planning and management, financial management, strategic planning and review. He founded the fast growing and second largest multi-disciplinary festival in Zimbabwe, Intwasa Arts Festival koBulawayo, and currently sits on the Board of Trustees. He is also a Board Member of Tusanani Cover Trust, a welfare support organization for underprivileged children. Nicholas Moyo was one of the consultants for the first arts and culture festival of Zambia, the AMAKA Arts Festival, which took place from 8 to 14 of October.

Monday, 15 October 2012

Naked men, sex, condoms, orgasms. Interested?

Greece. No special warnings required. (Photo: mdtili on Instagram)
So many 'keywords' in just one title... I wonder, will this post be read by more people than usual precisely because of its title or the photos that illustrate it? It´s quite possible, yes. Most of us cannot resist titles or images like these and the ‘promise’ behind them. Sex attracts; nudity does too.

Cultural institutions – well, the people working in them – are equally attracted to these subjects and sometimes they are actually willing to work on them, looking for the most imaginative associations. Who would have ever expected to find an exhibition on “love and passion on the coast” at a Fisheries Museum in a small coastal village in Belgium? It was called Zeerotica and it presented mermaids, mythological sea monsters and their intimate lives; seafood aphrodisiacs and the lovelife of fishermen; erotic images of more than a century of life at the beach.

The curator of Zeerotica said in an interview that, despite what people might have expected, this was not an obscene exhibition, it was, actually an exhibition for the whole family. There are different ways of handling these subjects, as all others, as there are different interpretations of what might be obscene or shocking or pornographic. Apart from the curatorial decisions, one must also consider marketing options. And culture marketeers, just like everyone else, cannot resist the temptation of using (or even ‘abusing’) certain subjects in order to attract more or new audiences.

Two upcoming cultural events were news recently. Both will open this week. Both deal with spicy issues. Both have designed provocative marketing campaigns. But, the more I think about it and read people´s comments, the more I feel there is a fundamental difference in their approach. Which will probably also be reflected on the outcomes.

"Mr.Big" by Ilse Haider, at the entrance of the Leopold Museum. (Photo taken from Delirium Clemens:)
The exhibition Nude Men opens next Friday, the 19th, at the Leopold Museum in Vienna. One reads in the museum´s website: “Previous exhibitions on the theme of nudity have mostly been limited to female nudes. With the presentation ‘naked men’ in the autumn of 2012 the Leopold Museum will be showing a long overdue exhibition on the diverse and changing depictions of naked men from 1800 to the present.” At the museum entrance, “Mr. Big”, a male nude model by Ilse Haider, attracts attention and publicizes the exhibition. It´s not a painting, it´s a photo; so it´s more ‘real’, not simply ‘art’, if you know what I mean... Across the city of Vienna, people may see two different posters: one rather ‘traditional’ – showing Egon Schiele´s "Preacher" – and another one, less ‘traditional’, the work of  French artists Pierre & Gille, entitled “Vive la France” (again, a photo...).

Posters of the Nude Men exhibition (Images kindly made available by the Leopold Museum) 
I followed the discussion on the museum´s page on Facebook regarding this latter poster. People were able to vote on the version they liked best. The museum was actually forced to present a censured version of the various options (due to Facebook rules that led to the elimination a number of posts), but they were promising their fans that all would be ‘out in the open’ both in the streets and in the actual exhibition. There didn´t seem to be any other concern here, everybody seeming to be in a good mood and looking forward to the exhibition. Once the posters were out in the streets, according to the Lepold Museum Head of PR, Klaus Pokorny, people did start complaining, especially parents who didn´t like to see the poster next to their children´s schools. Last Thursday, the museum put once again the poster on Facebook (the special Facebook version), not just to defend their option, but rather inviting people to talk about it: “Regarding our exhibition, we are showing naked men... Nothing more, nothing less. We are now discussing if we should have covered the sensitive parts, just like here on Facebook. Is the depiction of a penis something absurd for our society?”. It didn´t take long for people to react and, once again, the dialogue was quite open and good humoured and concentrating on the actual issue, which was: is it not OK to show something like this in a public space?
Censored version of the Nude Men poster on Facebook.
Two days before the opening of Nude Men, on the 17th of October, Don Giovanni premieres at the English National Opera. I´ve found out about it after receiving in my news feed, among hundreds of other articles, one entitled Opera and orgasms (I couldn´t resist...) And it was not so much about Don Giovanni, as about the poster: an open condom wrapper next to the words "Don Giovanni. Coming Soon."

(Image taken from LATimes).
According to a ENO spokeswoman who talked to the Evening Standard, “the theatre wanted a smart and catchy ad-campaign for the opera. We came up with this idea which we think is brilliant, funny and captures the idea of Don Giovanni in a witty way”. They don´t convince me. I think it´s a poor idea, even a lazy idea, probably aiming at shocking and nothing more. And this actually seems to be a general line in the way the ENO is trying to approach ‘new’ audiences: they try to necessarily make it sound sexy. An iniatiative that aims to bring new people in is  actually called Undress for the Opera... There is a very passionate video with director Terry Gilliam telling us why opera is fascinating, but was that (deceptive) title really necessary? When all they actually want to say is “This might interest you. We have some cheap tickets here for you to try it out. By the way, come dressed as you like” (actually, a lady commented in a newspaper that for her teenage daughters going to the opera for the first time was an excuse to dress up...).

Going back to the Don Giovanni campaign, reactions on Facebook, although not coming for the campaign´s target audience (where is it actually? do they know about it? have they seen the video? do they realise it´s for them?...), show that some of ENO´s actual fans also feel that this is just talking and trying to sound forcibly sexy. They even think that people already come to the opera dressed as they please. Other people seem to find it funny. On Facebook, the ENO has answered its critics saying that “Overall we've had a very positive response to the Don Giovanni ad campaign, with most people seeing the funny side and agreeing with us that the ads capture Don Giovanni in a witty manner.”  It does sound a bit like an ‘official’ response.

In my view, the difference between the two campaigns is that, although both aim to reach larger and maybe even ‘new’ audiences through popular and sexy subjects, the Leopold Museum tries to be rich and creative in its approach, while the ENO makes it look and sound banal and lazy. And I believe that this will actually influence the outcome. Maybe not... I am sure that after the openings there will be more discussion, both in the press and on Facebook, hopefully including the views of those who are actually targeted with these campaigns. In case there is no other form of summative evaluation carried out by the promoters, it will certainly be interesting to follow these informal discussions.

Special thanks to:
Klaus Pokorny, Head of PR at Leopold Museum, for kindly sending me the posters and answering my questions;
Inês Fialho Brandão, for bringing Zeerotica to my attention;
Spyros Gryllakis, for his help with the german translations.

Monday, 8 October 2012

Guest post: "Serving the arts - Surviving the crisis", by Ira-Iliana Papadopoulou (Greece)

When one meets Ira Papadopoulou one can hardly guess the strength and passion that lie beneath an apparent calm, reserved and rather quiet character. She´s so strong and passionate that when she was informed that her annual budget would be cut down to…0, she thought: “OK, back to work now”. It´s not business as usual though. Ira and many other culture professionals in Greece are facing extremely hard conditions, not only related to cuts in the cultural sector, but related to measures that have led to the destruction of the country´s economy. Ira is giving us a brief account of a sector that remains alive, that resists and that is still able to offer a social antidote to a bitter economic reality. mv

Part of the installation EIGHT (ΟΚΤΩ), Nr.6, by George Tserionis, 2011 (drawing  on paper, 120x100). (Photo: george Tserionis) 

“Without art, the crudeness of reality would make the world unbearable.”
George Bernard Shaw 

The suggested topic was clear: Greek culture in a time of crisis. I couldn’t resist. It was definitely something I could talk about. Few weeks ago, when Maria Vlachou kindly asked me to contribute with a guest post to her blog, I was more than willing to share my professional views and my sincere anguish about the current situation of the cultural institutions in Greece. And then, just before starting writing my text, I read one of Maria’s enlightening, older posts about the Greek crisis and the cultural sector and I realized that almost nothing has changed since 2010…  Or maybe not? Maybe there are a few changes, but I’ll leave it to the readers to make the final judgment whether these changes are for better or for worse.

Starting with the Greek Ministry of Culture, which is not one of the most important of the country any more (as the Greeks had been told back in 2004), but rather a sub-ministry of a magical combination: Ministry of Education and Religious Affairs, Culture and Sports.  Yes! The ultra-ministry in which everything, education, religion, culture and sports can be combined and managed accordingly. Not far from the famous greek salad, a bit of tomato, a bit of olives, a bit of onion, a bit of feta cheese…

People working for public cultural institutions - or institutions publicly supervised and funded - are literally crying out for help. The money is not enough to cover even the electricity bills. They now know that they have to find alternative resources, but no one ever tried to give them some directions on how to go about it. What’s more, the State’s incentive strategy for encouraging private sponsorships is almost non-existent.    

The Attikon Cinema, the oldest cinema in downtown Athens, almost a year after  being burnt during the protests against the austerity measures. (Photo: Ira Papadopoulou)
Even the private cultural initiatives are now in the eye of the storm. Since there’s not such a thing as a financial or cultural vacuum, the private domain is struggling to keep their staff, the standards of their services, their sponsors and, at the same time, maintain an interesting cultural programming. This is a difficult equation to solve.  Some are standing still, some are falling and some seem determined to move on to a new kind of creativity and open up to ‘unknown words’, such as collaboration, volunteerism, membership schemes, crowdfunding. Nobody can assure them that there’s light at the end of the tunnel, but if they don’t try there’s no way to ever find out.     

And all this is taking place in a period when followers of the neo-nazi party of the Golden Dawn publicly threaten festival directors, authors and artists for presenting works that, according to their opinion, insult the “national ideals”.  It looks as if art is once again the perfect alibi for nationalistic hysteria and conspiracy theories of all sorts. At the end of the day, all economic crises go along with the ultimacy of social values…

But talking about “the economic, social and moral crisis of our times” became a tedious repetition and those working for the arts tried to step back and find their way out of this depressing discourse. Without underestimating the psychological and all other effects of the crisis, the artists seem to find the courage to resist and claim their right to discuss, create and suggest alternatives for presenting their work to the public. New cultural initiatives, new cultural productions, new art groups (like the cultural venue about:, the project space Ommu, the Contemporary Art Meeting Point, the artistic team Athens Art Network, to mention only a few)but most of all, a new spirit of getting together and try to get the audience’s attention out of the everyday misery.

Celebrating the annual comics festival Comicdom Con Athens. Main entrance of Hellenic American Union, March 2012. (Photo: Antonia Houvarda)

This is not to say that crises and hardship are beneficial to art. This is not about an art blossoming. There’s no such thing as magic. But if we believe in the arts and we keep up serving them the best way we can, there is a serious chance to survive and even flourish.

We owe Greek artists a lot. It is with their courage and the cultural managers’ persistence that the cultural beat of the country is still alive. And although hard to believe, there are more than a dozen visual art exhibitions openings every month, more people to theaters than all previous years and more public (and free of charge) events than ever. Lectures, concerts, festivals, performances, happenings, and so on…. A night out in Athens proves that there is a vivid cultural life out there, and if anything else, culture can still be the social antidote to our bitter economic reality.

Ira – Iliana Papadopoulou studied Sociology, Communications Policy and Arts Management in UK. Since 2004 is the Director of Cultural Affairs at the Hellenic American Union, a public-service cultural and educational institution based in Athens, Greece. Prior to joining the HAU, she worked as Director of Public Relations and Communications Manager at other cultural and educational organizations in Greece, such as the British Hellenic College and the Center for Neo-Hellenic Studies (official home of The Cavafy Archive). From 2010 to 2012 she was an International Fellow of the DeVos Institute of Arts Management at the Kennedy Center in Washington, DC.

Monday, 1 October 2012

On social media one... socializes

Image taken from Devon Smith´s presentation The science of social media building.
A commom assumption is that all means of communication serve one single purpose: advertising. And more specifically: advertising a calendar of events. Very often we come across various promotional materials advertising the same event (an exhibition, a concert, a theatre play, a debate), in various formats (outdoors, posters, postcards, leflets, newspapers, newspaper ads, TV and radio spots), all with the same information (what, when, where). I believe that the use of each promotional material should have a concrete objective. The choice of format, the contents to be introduced, the timings of distribution, they all contribute in the promotion of an event, but, beyond this and most of all, they contribute in building something larger in terms of communication: the idea, the feeling and the involvement one wishes people to have in relation to the institution or person that promotes it.

The social media are still a rather new means, which has not been adequately studied yet by the majority of us in terms of purpose, possibilities and impact. I am talking specifically about Facebook, the one I use the most. Following the activity of a number of institutions (both cultural and other), I reach the conclusion that, as a social medium, Facebook is, first of all, just that: a space to socialize. As a friend of mine says, we should look at it as a café, a public space where people converse and share – ideas, opinions, experiences, information. It´s a space where we want to be because... everybody else is there, because we want to be part, because we don´t want to be left out, because we also want to converse (especially about ourselves...). Based on my personal experience, organizations that do just that, converse, are the ones I feel more involved with, meaning I give like´s, I share and I comment (thus contributing for a specific post´s larger visibility). In the case of organizations that limit themselves to promoting their calendar events (and which also exagerate in the number of posts or post a number of them consecutively), I pass over them or even hide them from my news feed, letting my ‘friends’ do the sorting out of what´s more relevant and interesting (and then, yes, I do pay attention).

This has been my experience with using Facebook at a personal and professional level. In the meantime, and although the majority of us have not properly explored these means yet, this area has already got its specialists. I was very fortunate to meet one of them during a seminar at the Kennedy Center last July. Her name is Devon Smith, she is very young, clearly a specialist, and she holds the post of Director of Social Media in Threespot, an agency that designs digital engagement strategies for not-for-profit organizations. I learned a lot in that seminar (the presentation is available here and it´s very clear), while, at the same time, I saw one of my greatest suspicions being confirmed: Facebook doesn´t sell tickets...

This is exactly why we should carefully consider why we are there, which is the best way of guaranteeing our presence and what we expect to get out of it. Among what I learned with Devon Smith, my experience as a user and my ideas on what communication means for a cultural institution, here´s what I think:

Why are we on Facebook
- To talk with our ‘friends’, people who like us, who like our way of being, who like what we have to say, who like our work;

- To strengthen our brand, that is, the idea we want people to have about us, about what it is we stand for;

- To multiply our ‘friends’, because through the ones we have already got we can make more, helping to spread our word further and further and, thus, broadening our base of supporters.

How should we be on Facebook
Before anything else, I should say that I feel it is essential that our voice in this conversation is concrete, recognizable, the one our ‘friends’ are interested in listening to. Some time ago I wrote a post called Faces, where I was writing about the importance of humanizing our institutions, of giving them a face, because it is a way of creating a relationship with people, of involving them. In this case, it´s about the importance of also giving them a voice. And as Marc Sands, the brilliant Director of Marketing of Tate Modern, puts it, people don´t want to listen to him, they wish to ‘listen’ and ‘talk’ to Nicholas Serota, the museum director (it´s worth watching the video How to engage with new audiences in the gallery). The impact of a post is totally different when it is a museum director, an artistic director, an orchestra conductor, a director, an artist, talking about the event, inviting us, telling us why we cannot miss it, revealing secrets, sharing his/her inspirations, emotions, concerns. Afterwards, this is the voice that will be ‘shared’  and taken further and further by our ‘friends’ (those who are ‘friends’ with Jorge Silva Melo on Facebook know what I am talking about).

Image taken from Rijkmuseum´s page on Facebook.

Having said this, I believe there are a few more points we should be paying attention to:

- Conversing means abandoning our dry, institutional language and use a more human, direct, everyday tone, with a sense of humour. The best example among the institutions I follow is Rijksmuseum (it is worth watching the video Rembrandt´s timeline, the objective of which was to increase the number of fans of the museum´s Facebook page, or to follow the monthly voting for the Misses that will be part of a calendar the museum will produce)

- Conversing means talking, but also listening. And answering. Quite often, questions and comments by ‘friends’ and fans (mainly on the pages of known personalities, run by them or by their agents) remain unasnwered, putting an end to ‘communication’ (very good examples of portuguese artists conversing with their fans on personal pages are those of Mísia and Aldina Duarte). It is equally important to know how to deal with controversial or unpleasant comments. On of the best examples I´ve seen recently is the way Woolly Mammoth theatre dealt with the controversy around the re-staging of Mike Daisey´s monologue The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs (read here  and here). The theatre answered all comments on Facebook and did not hesitate to post on its page articles that severely criticised the option to re-stage the play, proving to be totally open to dialogue and encouraging more and more conversation... about itself (those posts are no longer available on the theatre´s timeline, but it´s worth becoming a fan of Woolly Mammoth, one learns a lot).

Answer of the Editor of Multimedia of the newspaper Expresso to a reader´s comment. More on the blog PiaR.

Finally, some common practices I think should be revised:

- It seems to me that it does make sense to consider the number of daily posts, should we really wish to keep our ‘friends´s´ attention (there are institutions that really overdo it, without having anything special to add to the conversation);

- Although posts containing photos generate more ‘conversation’ (likes, shares and comments), it doesn´t seem to make sense to post photos of a specific event one by one, in consecutive posts, instead of organized in an album; as it doesn´t make sense to post photos which our out of focus, badly taken, various shots of the same scene or of the same moment in a conference or debate;

- Posts with calendar information are not interesting at all, they have little or nothing to do with Facebook´s nature, they don´t stimulate conversation (much less sell tickets). They actually give you the feeling that a seller is trying to impose something on you, something that... doesn´t sell (with or without a good reason).

So, in the end, what do we expect to get out of all this? A conversation. A good conversation. Moments of wonder, of laughing, of surprise, of discovery, of pleasure, of complicity, which make our ‘friends´seek our company more and more, both virtual and... real company.

Devon Smith, Case studiesof theatres using social media (presentation)