Monthly Archives: November 2014

In the Media

The Institute picks interesting stories and news items every week from the  worlds of art, culture and social study and presents them in the blog. This week the stories have been chosen by Maria Pirkkalainen.



Vinyl strikes back

Good news for the UK’s music industry: 2014 marks a record-breaking year for vinyl sales. Over 1 million LP records have already been sold this year, making vinyl a 20 million pounds a year business. Just five years ago that number was 3 million.

An article in The Guardian remarks on how the vinyl sales have been accelerated in part by new British albums. Pink Floyd’s long-awaited The Endless River and AM by Arctic Monkeys have both been big sellers. Other local successes have been, for example, the new albums by Royal Blood and Oasis.


What is making the vinyl such a success story of the early 21st century? With online streaming becoming the most popular way of listening to music in the UK and CD sales steadily declining, vinyl is gaining new popularity with customers wanting to own an actual object, not just a dozen of MP3s. The article also points out how Record Store Day, held every April, has done wonders for boosting and promoting vinyl sales as well.

And this isn’t all. The numbers don’t even include the up-coming Christmas sales yet. The article speculates how the sales could actually go up to 1.2 million by the end of the year. That would mean a major increase from the 780.000 sold copies in 2013. It looks to be just a matter of time until vinyl breaks an even larger cut of the overall music market in the UK than just the quite modest 2 percent it has now.

From ruins to art and culture

Voted in 2005 as Scotland’s greatest post-WWII building by the architecture magazine Prospect, St. Peter’s Catholic Seminary has stood in the wildlands of Cardross ever since 1966. But for the past quarter of a century, as abandoned.

Originally designed in 1966 by Gillespie, Kidd and Coia as a part of the Brutalist architectural movement, the monumental seminary building initially closed its doors in the late 80s. However, news broke out in November for example in Scotland Herald and Dezeen that a full design team has been appointed to convert the ruins into a major venue for art and culture. To be more precise, the seminary building will be transformed to accommodate a 600-seat performance venue, exhibition galleries and teaching spaces. Scotland Herald adds how for the first five years it is hoped to become a base for artists, teachers, students and audiences.

According to the articles, the architectural firms included in the renovation are Avanti Architects, ERZ Landscape Architects and NORD Architecture. The budget of 7.3 million pounds will be acquired by Scottish cultural charity and environmental arts organisation NVA. The major sources of funding for the project include, for example, Heritage Lottery Fund, Historic Scotland, Creative Scotland and private donors. The entire site has been conditionally agreed to be donated for the public good by the Archdiocese of Glasgow in 2016. According to Scotland Herald, the original budget is still short of 1.8 million pounds and currently seeks additional funding.

An interesting remark in the article by Dezeen is that the plan isn’t just to restore the listed building. The initial idea is to build something new out of the abandoned seminary, while keeping its architectural structure and taking its ruined state as a major inspiration.  The restoration is due to begin in 2015, with the building being formally reopened in the summer of 2017.

Without a doubt, this is one of the major architectural restoration news of the year in Scotland. It also fits well with the public’s newfound respect for the once deprived, abandoned and aggressively demolished Brutalist buildings. More about the new era of the Brutalism movement can be read from the Institute’s In the Media blog post from September 2014.

In the Media

The Institute picks interesting stories and news items every week from the worlds of art, culture and social study and presents them in the blog. This week the stories have been chosen by Taina Cooke.
 
 
The universal language of money – Express visa service for big spenders to be expanded
 
Immigration and its effects get a lot of coverage in the news. Generally it is the cons that dominate the headlines: immigrants are without a doubt too many, they are too foreign, too criminal and way too unemployed. The numerous pros introduced by foreign nationals are often dismissed when politicians concentrate on making it more and more difficult for people to enter the country. Outsider swarming into the UK is bad, is the message – unless, of course, there is a flow of cash involved.

David Cameron wants to expand the speedy visa service for wealthy visitors, according to last week’s Financial Times. The prime minister seeks to make the UK more attractive to big spenders from overseas by extending the 24-hour visa service to seven more countries. Currently the visa service, which ensures a decision on application within just one day, is available in China and India and costs a mere £600 per application – that is in addition to the standard visa fee, of course. If and when the plan is brought about, rich people coming also from Turkey, South Africa, United Arab Emirates, Thailand and visa processing centres in New York and Paris are welcomed with open arms.
 
 
It is somewhat peculiar how a big enough pile of money can fade out the otherwise often  overly highlighted borders of different countries. Unlike people, money clearly isn’t discriminated based on its birthplace or origins. Money talks loudly and the heavier the wallet, the easier and less time-consuming the bureaucratic process clearly becomes. The message to outsiders is clear: you are welcome in as long as you spend money, spend it like it’s seriously going out of style.
 
A look into your fridge can reveal your political orientation – YouGov launched a profiling app
 
We at the Finnish Institute have for long been interested in the many possibilities of open knowledge and Big Data. There are numerous ways in which the freedom of information can benefit our lives and make us more aware of matters, facts and figures surrounding us. Open data can be utilised in many ways and one of the freshest examples has been offered by the market research company YouGov.
 
YouGov collected data from its 200,000 active panellists and created a website that allows anyone to access profiles of people showing their different likes and personal preferences. According to Guardian, the site is intended mainly for commercial purposes and it is broken down by demographics based on age, political preferences, earning and multiple niche interests and hobbies. You can type in one of the 30,000 search terms and compare, for example, what Justin Bieber fans have in common. The results can prove to be somewhat amusing.
 
The profile tool tells us, for example, that Miliband’s fans enjoy mushroom stroganoff and admire Pete Seeger. Nick Clegg’s followers are fans of the Eurovision song contest whereas Cameron’s fans listen to Dolly Parton, watch Les Miserables and have a pet fish. The more rightwing you are the more you like sweetcorn and musicians such as Cliff Richard. On the other hand, if you are fond of Kate Bush the chances are you’re also a Guardian-reading male over the age of 40 and work in IT.
 
As you might suspect, the profile tool is not exactly the all-knowing crystal ball with its relatively small and statistically biased sample size. One can, however, easily spend a considerably long period of time typing in different search words just for his/hers own amusement. While doing that one spots, for example, that those British people who have special interest in Finland (307 people) often also play some instrument and have a cat. Those interested in Finland are likely to be females between the ages of 25 and 39 who live in central Scotland and value ethically produced goods and organic food. Those panellists who have a soft spot for Finland also tend to bank with Co-op and spend less than one hour a week watching TV. All this sounds rather fascinating and even if the profile tool can’t be described as statistically sound, it for sure is entertaining.

Art in the Mass Media

Kim Varstala from the Finnish Institute blogs about the role of art in mass media and the challenges it faces. The text is a part of the institute’s project Visibility and Impact of Contemporary Art in Contemporary Society.

In 2012, the UK communications regulator Ofcom criticised the five main television channels in the UK for spending only 44 million GBP on arts and classical music programming, down from 72 million GBP in 2006. The answer from BBC director-general Sir Tony Hall was clear: arts programming still had its place right at the heart of the BBC. “But I want us to be much more ambitious”, Hall hinted. In October 2013 the funding for BBC’s arts programmes was increased by 20 per cent.

Yes, people now have the luxury of accessing a myriad of information sources, but the proliferation of channels, specialization and niche marketing is now increasingly fragmenting the mass audiences of the past. Leaving some big players with a large loyal following, while the struggle continues for the rest. In recent years, critics have accused the BBC of reducing its arts coverage, including shunting BBC Two’s weekly Review Show to a monthly slot on BBC Four. “The arts have been central to the BBC’s past and are central to its future. As all arts organisations face the challenge of delivering more in a tight economic climate, it is vital that we work together in new ways to create a bigger and better offer to the public”, a BBC source told The Telegraph shortly after the planned £700m overall savings at the corporation were announced.

In the wake of this criticism, the BBC announced that it is to make its “greatest commitment to the arts for a generation”, with a new focus on bringing culture to the masses. In March 2014 The Telegraph reported that the corporation had recruited Sir Nicholas Serota, head of the Tate, and the National Theatre’s artistic director Nicholas Hytner as advisers. Sir Tony Hall, this time around said that he wanted BBC Arts to be as recognisable around the world as BBC News and BBC Sport. So why does any of this matter? Well, media coverage is of immence importance for individual artists, even a “small” mass media audience is normally many times larger than the total number of people who will visit an exhibition of contemporary art in a private gallery. In his book Art in the Age of Mass Media, British art critic and historian John A. Walker says that more and more artists realize the crucial importance of the media to a successful career. Therefore, more and more artists seek to control and manipulate their image and the presentation of their work through the various media channels. As a channel for information, mass media is capable of transmitting culture from any level on a wide scale.

But, since mass media is designed to reach a mass audience, “success” is often measured in quantitative rather than qualitative terms. According to Walker, the division which sociologist Theodor Adorno identified between high art and mass culture remains: “…in terms of hierarchical schema high/middle/low it has been customary to assign fine arts to the top and the mass media to the bottom”, says Walker. Nevertheless, no one should underestimate the power of the media to relay art images, even though the culture associated with the mass media tends to be of low quality, bland, escapist, stereotyped, standardized, conformist and trivial. Because the popularization of the arts, which the mass media facilitates, has contributed enormously when it comes to increasing the size of museum- and gallery-going public in recent decades.

Oh good, so all is well in art-media-relationships? No. The organization Visual Artists Ireland (VAI) researches the presence of art in the media and is continuously working with increasing cultural media visibility. According to the VAI, the lack of critical forums available for friends of art and culture is a neverending story. In turn, this frustrates the effort of those trying to reach, develop and maintain audiences in the arts. Especially within the current climate, where arts and culture are often seen as soft targets for funding cuts and portrayed as unessential luxuries, is it important that the visual arts receive proper media attention.

In January 2014 VAI hosted the first meeting of a ”media working group”, dedicated to developing Irish media coverage of the visual arts. This group has hitherto concluded that there is much work to be done in terms of the media’s appreciation of the vitality and importance of visual arts to Ireland’s cultural life. But, on the flipside, there is also a need to develop knowledge and skills within the arts field when it comes to addressing the media. The language used by art institutions is often woolly, elitist and full of impenetrable jargon. So, in order to develop skills in critical writing, VAI launched the annual Critical Art Writing Award in 2011. It was devised as a developmental opportunity for writers, wanting to encourage and support critical dialogue around contemporary visual arts. In addition, Cristín Leach Hughes of the Sunday Times also conducted a master-class in art journalism for prospective art writers in June 2013.

At the 2013 Get Together-event in the National College of Art and Design, VAI arranged a panel discussion which addressed mainstream media coverage of the visual arts: Publicise, Interrogate, Record. The panel looked at the specific hooks and angles that make the visual arts ‘newsworthy’. The broad term ‘newsworthiness’ was employed to describe content that would appeal to specialist and non-specialist audiences alike. It is the readers and viewers themselves that choose what to give their attention to, ergo, coverage must be made attractive, interesting and relevant to the broadest possible audience.

Current mainstream print and broadcast media coverage is insufficient in quantity and frequency, both in terms of generating publicity about events and exhibitions and in terms of engaging critically. Typically, lone art critics battle with editors for airtime and print space, while television airs programmes at times that suit the ratings chart. This is good business and may appeal to accountants and shareholders, but it does nothing to enhance connecting art to a wider audience. Late night television slots for arts shows have marginalised the arts as a domain of the specialist, and while arts coverage is available online, this largely attracts specialist and/or pre-informed audiences.

An informative and fundamental point is that television continues to be a cumbersome medium for raising public awareness of visual arts events. Radio and print are more flexible media in terms of giving timely coverage. Those within the arts sector that despite this fact would like to increase their visibility on television should consider coverage in local and/or regional magazine-type television news programmes. Another suggestion that has been proposed in order to solve this puzzle is that weekend daytime repeat slots could be utilised for arts programming in order to develop a more diverse audience. As mentioned above, barriers to greater media coverage of the visual arts include the insistence of the visual arts sector on using artistic language in press releases. Meanwhile, the media perception of the visual arts continues to be one of a specialist domain of little interest to broad audiences. One could argue that it would be healthy for the visual arts sector to look beyond specialised arts coverage and examine how activities could cross over into a broader category of ”newsworthiness” such as, economics, sport, politics, agriculture, health, human interest etc. On other hand, the media is comfortable with the specialist jargon used in sports, science and economics – so why should visual arts journalism be any different and be expected to ”dumb down” its own specialist terms?

The VAI panel’s fundamental conclusion is that the way to develop audiences for the visual arts, and to reach the considerable but poorly served visual arts audience, is good arts journalism. Such should appeal both to specialist and non-specialist audiences while patronising neither, offering sophisticated yet accessible discussion and analysis.

 
 
Bibliography
 
Furness, H. 2014. “BBC’s arts coverage must be more mainstream, Lord Hall says”, The Telegraph, accessed on 22.10.2014
 
Leftly, M. 2013. “BBC to beef up it’s art coverage”, The Independent, accessed on 22.10.2014
 
Oakley, J. 2014. Advocacy Datasheet #8: Media Coverage of the Visual Arts, accessed on 22.10.2014
 
Singh, A. 2014. ”BBC making ‘greatest commitment to the arts for a generation’”,  The telegraph, accessed on 22.10.2014
 
Walker, J. 2001. Art in the Age of Mass Media, third edition.

 

From Big Data to Insight

The Institute’s Communications Assistant Hanna Heiskanen blogs about a recent event on Big Data.

The How We Prepare for a Future of Big Data? event held at the Finnish Ambassador’s Residence in London on 30 October gathered together a prestigious panel of big data experts as well as a knowledgeable and active audience. The event celebrated the recipient of this year’s Millennium Prize, Professor Stuart Parkin, whose innovations have played a large part in raising big data to the prominent position it has today.

The 1 million euro Millennium Prize has been awarded every other year since 2004 by The Technology Academy Finland. The Technology Academy Finland incorporates the Finnish Academy of Technology, the Swedish Academy of Engineering Sciences in Finland and the Industry Council, which represents leading Finnish companies. The Millennium Prize is funded by the Finnish state, and its recipients are innovators who have significantly improved people’s quality of life. Past beneficiaries include the inventor of World Wide Web Tim Berners-Lee, and Linus Torvalds of the Linux kernel.

Professor Parkin’s work centres on the field of spintronics and has lead to technological discoveries that have dramatically increased the storage capacity of magnetic disk drives. This in turn has allowed for the evolution of large data centres, cloud services, and other applications that require the processing of large amounts of data. Despite an exponential increase in the appetite for Big Data, much of the discussion around it has focused on the technical aspects of storage and processing data. The issues around interpreting and taking advantage of Big Data remain large and significant grey areas, which was also reflected in the discussion.

According to Professor Parkin, we are approaching the end of a technological era in terms of how data is stored and processed, and financial investment on the science that will allow for the development of these facilities must be increased. New approaches to storing and processing big data are emerging and carry huge potential – examples include storing data three- rather than two-dimensionally as well as Parkin’s research subject spintronics, which could increase storage capacity a hundredfold. The potential problem of increased carbon emissions, the by-product of large computers and data centres, could be solved through building more energy-efficient computers, or through handling data locally by people carry computing power directly on them, as envisioned by the President and CEO of Technology Academy Finland Dr Juha Ylä-Jääski.

The growing need to interpret and understand data before it can be applied came across strongly in the panel discussion. While technology is making more data available for use and is becoming better at interpreting it, the CEO and cofounder of Big Data specialists Mastodon C Francine Bennett pointed out that governments are only just starting to think about possible uses for the large amount of data they are already in hold of. Much of data remains unstructured and thus unusable. Indeed, Professor Parkin called for replacing the word ‘data’, which by itself might be useless, with ‘knowledge’. Global CEO of Social DNA business Starcount and developer of Tesco’s Clubcard Edwina Dunn’s sentiment that much of processing of Big Data is currently simply counting echoed the demand for more insight to be extracted from it and applied to practical use.


Cross-science collaboration was mentioned as possibly offering great benefits in making sense of Big Data. Particularly the humanities could be very helpful in creating context for raw data. Both StJohn Deakins, founder and CEO of citizenme, and Dr Ylä-Jääski argued that much of data requires layering or combining over data sets to reach a better picture of what they are about. Keeping the human element in mind is crucial both in understanding that despite all available data people are not machines and their behaviour is therefore difficult to predict, and in making data accessible and understandable for people, in which visualizing data might prove useful.

The gap between what can be done with Big Data and what should be done with it remains, in the words of Edwina Dunn, a form of art and is a particularly difficult issue from a legislative point of view. According to StJohn Deakins, the key to both more accurate and insightful data and to people’s willingness to share their data lies in creating a reciprocal relationship between the individual and the party holding the data. Dunn argued in the same vein that instead of collecting data behind people’s backs, businesses and organisations should aim to build a relationship of transparency and trust with them. Her rule of thumb for the use of Big Data is that it must always benefit the individual, too, not just for the party holding it. If done right, such a two-way relationship could bring phenomenal leaps forward. Dunn praised the Finnish tax system, which combines data from tax officials, banks, and the individuals, as an example of a successful data sharing relationship. Professor Parkin, on the other hand, brought up Facebook as an example of how people are willing to give up a very large amount of data about themselves as long as they feel they benefit from sharing it. He also suggested that people would feel more involved in society were they aware that revealing more data of themselves would be of general benefit.


The danger of breach of privacy predictably emerged as one of the main threats associated with using Big Data. Edwina Dunn remarked that as the customer is the ultimate judge on a company’s actions, brands value the element of trust most highly. Misuse of data can at worst lead to the removal of the permission to use it. While people should be aware of the data they are giving away and take precautions by for example encrypting it, the main responsibility of the security of data should still lie with the businesses and organisations in hold of and using it, StJohn Deakins said. This highlights building a relationship of trust that is based on reality between the individual and society. The misinterpretation of data was seen as another threat, leading potentially to the wrong conclusions and action taken based on it.


All in all, however, the panel was optimistic about the future of Big Data. Professor Parkin encouraged taking more advantage of scientific open source platforms, which would help accelerate the pace of innovation. He also argued that many of the future benefits or developments of Big Data would be impossible to foresee, just as it would have been impossible to envision the technologies we use today 30 years ago. Parkin nevertheless predicted that education would take huge leaps forward, with more people gaining access to education online, and education becoming more individualised. Francine Bennett identified the utilities industry as a potential field for Big Data. She also recommended combining government data over silos more often than is done at the present. Both Edwina Dunn and StJohn Deakins said that the advertising industry would benefit greatly from Big Data by gaining more insight of people, and therefore becoming more relevant to them. In fact, Deakins argued that in the future advertising as such might disappear completely and be replaced by providing information that is of benefit to the individual. 



The concept of MyData, introduced at the first Open Finland seminar in September, could offer new tools for tackling some of the issues brought up in the discussion, in particular privacy and creating a mutually beneficial relationship of data sharing. It also aims to highlight the active role of the citizens in taking advantage of the data that is being collected of them. You can access the report of MyData, which was commissioned by the Finnish Ministry of Transport and Communications and produced by Open Knowledge Finland, here.

In the Media

The Institute picks interesting stories and news items every week from the worlds of art, culture and social study and presents them in the blog. This week the stories have been chosen by Hanna Heiskanen.
New technologies shaping art

Music, film, television, and literature have already found their way to your pocket, and now the iconic Globe Theatre has announced that its Shakespeare plays will be available on-demand for desktop computers, mobiles and tablets. Museums, too, are keenly exploring the possibilities that various online platforms, apps, and wearable technology offer for reaching new audiences. The ripple effects of change of medium in experiencing art are less well known, however, and are the subject of increasing interest. A recent article in the Guardian outlines some of the changes that mobile technology might bring in the field of visual art.


“The key driver in all these technologies is a rise in interaction and participation”, says Matt Adams of Blast Theory, a group of artists that specializes in using interactive media. Constant interaction is already second nature to the general public, and changes in how we communicate will inevitably influence how we want to experience art. Not only does modern technology make more art accessible to more people than ever before – you only need a camera phone and an Internet connection to instantly create art of your own and make it available for others. As a reflection of this interactive process, the traditionally passive role of the audience member is evolving into that of an active participator in a process that Mia Ridge and Danny Birchall of the Museums Computer Group describe as “user-centred” design.

At the same time entirely new, hybrid forms of art that combine different media and technologies are emerging. Day of the Figurines by Blast Theory took the form of a game, played by sending text messages. In Rider Spoke, participants cycled through London leaving hidden voice recordings on wireless networks to be discovered by other people. The mobile phone or tablet screen, just like the screens in cinema or television, has according to the Guardian the power to transform anything we see on it into art as well as the advantage of being a “private and intimate technology”, Adams says.
In another article published in the Guardian, digital editor of Prospect Magazine Serena Kutchinsky wonders whether technology has also changed our cultural taste. While the traditional experts of culture and art might be losing some of their authority as a result of increasing audience power and participation, the massive amount of cultural content online has created a need for online curators such as bloggers and vloggers. Kutchinsky concludes by noting that new forms of media have, from newspapers to television, always caused initial concern, and instead of shaping our taste per se, technology only provides the tools while society is still in charge of shaping out taste.

Sarniegate rocks Britain

This week’s media outrage focused on a rather unlikely topic: the sandwich. “Is there no one left in Britain who can make a sandwich?” asked the dramatic Daily Mail headline on Monday after the UK’s largest sandwich making company Greencore Group decided to recruit staff for its new factory from Hungary as local Northamptonians expressed little interest in the vacancies. For anyone less familiar with British culture such a strong reaction to mere slices of bread with some ham or cheese in-between might be difficult to understand. To draw an illuminating parallel, our Finnish readers might recall the boycotts that ensued when the production of a particular brand of mustard, traditionally manufactured in Turku and strongly associated with Finnishness, was moved to Sweden.

The sandwich, which derives its English name from John Montagu, 4th Earl of Sandwich (1718-1792), is a quintessential part of not just British cuisine but of the British way of life. From the packed school lunch, prepared by the parents for their children and typically consisting of sandwiches and crisps, to the workplace lunch, the BLT, coronation chicken, and cheese and pickle are the go-to choices when feeling peckish. The British Sandwich Association ensures that sandwiches around the country are prepared according to set technical standards, and hosts the annual Sandwich Awards.
This background combined with the ongoing heated debate on immigration might explain some of the reactions. Indeed, political parties were quick to jump on the news. The Conservative Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith blamed past Labour governments’ “open-door policy” on immigration on the surge in low-skilled migrant workers while the welfare state doesn’t encourage Britons to take on badly paid jobs. However, not everyone questioned non-British workers’ sandwich making skills: the current Earl of Sandwich, also named John Montagu, said on the BBC website that there was “no reason a migrant labourer can’t make as good or a better sandwich”. His favourite sandwich, by the way, has either beef or chicken in it.
The Guardian had a more positive take on the story. According to its article, the UK is “in the midst of a sandwich renaissance” with food chains such as EAT. and Pret á Manger concocting on-trend flavours (sriracha chili sauce) and restaurants experimenting with gourmet sarnies (grilled cheese with ham hock at the Common in Manchester). Here, too, however, the food writer interviewed, Tim Howard, argued that nothing can beat a classic shooter’s sandwich, dating back to the Edwardian times and consisting of a steak in a whole loaf of bread with sautéed mushrooms and shallots.
Incidentally, this week also saw The Londonist pick up a crowdsourcing effort to assemble the world’s largest sandwich in the British capital. The rough ingredients needed include 700 kg of bread, 1000 kg of cheese, and 1000 kg of ham, although “a little mayo and lettuce won’t have any harm” either. With only two weeks to go and just £2 of the £10,000 goal collected, we wish Alexander Waddington the best of luck in his endeavour!

In the Media

The Institute picks interesting stories and news items every week from the worlds of art, culture and social study and presents them in the blog. This week the stories have been chosen by Taina Cooke.

Dangerously ignorant citizens – what are the real numbers behind the news?
Two wise sociologists famously noted a while ago that if people define situations as real, they are real in their consequences. This idea, which later came to be known as the Thomas Theorem, is extremely valid today as well when considering people’s views on social topics. A recent study highlights the differences between what you think happens in your country and what is actually taking place – and as last week’s Guardian bluntly put it, how you are probably wrong about almost everything.

The new report found that most people are not only wrong, but completely all at sea with some of the key facts about their home nation. Misconceptions are typical when it comes to estimating, for example, the proportion of immigrants, Muslims, teenage pregnancies and unemployment. According to the survey by Ipsos MORI, Britons thought that the percentage of Muslims in the UK was 21% when the actual number is 5%. Also, people estimated that only 39% of the British population was Christian when the correct figure is as high as 59%.  Furthermore, when asked how many people out of 100 are immigrants to this country, the average guess was 24 – which makes up about twice the actual proportion.

British people taking part in the questionnaire seem to have turned a blind eye on the news concerning the positive effects of migration. An example of such news reporting was featured in Wednesday’s Financial Times: EU migrants pay £20bn more in tax than they receive. The new study by academics at University College London showed that European immigrants have paid significantly more in taxes than they received in benefits in the UK over the last decade. Results of the research hopefully forces some of the laymen – as well as politicians – to rethink their critical attitudes towards the freedom of movement principle within the EU.

Britons are, however, by no means unique in their ignorance. Out of 14 countries surveyed Britain is actually the fifth least ignorant while Swedes were the best informed and Italians the most out of it. The phenomenon is alarming as it promotes misconceptions and influences political actions. The politicians, you see, most often aim to focus on voter perceptions, not on the factual data. It probably comes as a no surprise either that trust in politics goes hand in hand with being informed as Swedes seem to have a lot more faith in their country’s politics than Italians do (based on voter turnout at least).

People creating, and effectively also living in, these alternative realities is problematic. But it is when the politicians also enter these bubbles and start to feed the misconceptions that it becomes a real issue. Redefining the current misinformed situation rather than reinforcing it means we wouldn’t need to live with the possibly very ugly consequences.

The Science Museum’s new exhibition opened in a (t)witty way

A historical episode took place two weeks ago when the Queen sent her first ever tweet while opening the Science Museum’s Information Age gallery. The royal tweet draw a lot of attention on a gallery dedicated to the history of information and communications technology. The new permanent exhibition covers the “six networks that changed our world” by displaying the changes in the cable, the telephone exchange, broadcast, the constellation, the cell and the web.

Accompanying the opening of the new gallery a conference titled “Interpreting the Information Age: new avenues for research and display” was held on 3–5 November at the Science Museum. A well-organized conference featured speakers from multiple universities and organizations from all over the nation and abroad. Themes such the appearance of pioneering information technologies, the security state and computing as well as time travelling were dealt with. Also the vast socio-cultural effects following the big technological changes were discussed about as were the museums’ challenges of collecting the material culture of intangible information. The participants were also taken on a tour around the new gallery, which definitely proved to be worth seeing. No wonder this was the venue of choice for the Queen to get her tweet wet in the social media scene.

 

Events as the next step of experiencing and selling art

Maria Pirkkalainen from the Finnish Institute blogs about national and international art events and how them gaining new, larger audiences affects the visibility of contemporary art. The text is a part of the Institute’s new project: Visibility and Impact of Contemporary Art in Contemporary Society.

One of the leading Finnish national art events, Mänttä Art Festival, closed its latest edition this August with a record-breaking number of over 20,000 visitors. On an international scale the numbers are on the rise as well for events such as the Venice Biennale, which passed 400,000 visitors during its 2013 edition. Frieze Art Fair in London sells out its coveted tickets year after year.


How – and why – are these events gathering larger crowds than ever before? This blog points out some of the possible means that the international and national art events use to grow their audience base – and how by doing so, they are gaining more and more importance in the changing world of contemporary art.



Cross-cultural events on the rise
An art event differs from a traditional gallery exhibition due to being a larger special occasion, usually in the form of a festival, fair or something in between. An art event can span multiple days or, in the case of Mänttä Art Festival in Finland, two and a half months. The programme at these events can consist of multiple curated exhibitions as well as other special projects. With art galleries being in turmoil due to the rise of e-commerce and losing their traffic to competitors from all fields of culture, the importance of these events to both presenting and selling art could quite possibly be at its largest.
Events such as Mänttä Art Festival and Venice Biennale aim each year to showcase what’s currently interesting in the field of contemporary art. By doing this they have traditionally gathered together art students, professionals and of course the members of the general public interested in what’s current in the art world. The number of international visitors, both tourists and professionals, these events bring together is something that shouldn’t be overlooked either.
What has clearly taken place within art events is focusing on the programme’s diversity, meaning that besides showcasing traditional contemporary art, the events could include theatre plays, film screenings and other special programming. Diversity can be indeed listed as a forte for attracting the crowds.


Mänttä Art Festival, for example, is curated by a different person each year: in 2014, the curator Minna Joenniemi planned more events than ever for the festival and they didn’t only include visual arts. There were smaller poetry and theatre events as well, thus helping the festival to grow its audience base once and again.
It’s also interesting to notice how the idea of diversity has found its way to event planning in general. Film festivals hold art exhibitions and co-operate with galleries, and Flow Festival in Helsinki has initiated collaboration with contemporary arts by presenting a new prize for the artist of the year. This year the prize was awarded to Adel Abidin in August 2014. The effect these cross-cultural events have had on the visibility of contemporary art in our society is a question that’s also worthy of more research.
But what good does diversity bring to contemporary art events? A wide spectrum of programme seems to help the media to notice art events even more than before, which is of use when they fight for the same small space on the culture pages alongside dozens of other events. This is clearly helpful in terms of gaining more visibility for contemporary art in the press.


The same applies with the audience – now these events can gather together crowds from the fans of poetry, theatre and film, and introduce them to contemporary art in general. This benefits both the artists and the contemporary art scene itself.



Art fairs as eventful playgrounds
However, not all art events aim to simply showcase the best in the field. While Mänttä Art Festival and Venice Biennale are more focused on exhibiting what’s currently significant in art, for example London’s Frieze Art Fair does this, but with the focus on selling products.
Initially a place for art dealers to showcase their protégés and biggest sellers, Frieze Art Fair has grown into a trend-maker of its own and is populated by visitors from young to old, from art students to buyers and just passer-bys – of course if they all were lucky enough to snatch a ticket, before they all sold out again.
The rise of art fairs has been a large part of speeding up the art economy. In a panel discussion held by artnet News in June 2014, columnist and author Anthony Haden-Guest speculates how trade fairs evolved into art fairs during 1994 as a part of the rise of mega galleries and franchises. John Keane goes even further and describes in an 2012 piece in a-n News how nothing has exemplified the polarisation of wealth distribution in the art world more graphically than the Frieze Art Fair.
The business side was clearly present in this October’s Frieze London as well, despite a large number of the visitors not exactly belonging to the group of art buyers. But art fairs still do, in all fairness, provide galleries with an excellent way to connect with new audiences and to lure in buyers.
A good example of the way Frieze London attracts new crowds is the sculpture park it produces outside its main tent in Regent’s Park. It allows the crowds to roam one integral part of the event for free and enjoy public contemporary art. Of course, works were still sold from here, amongst other to a young art collector from Abu Dhabi.
This year the event had also tried a new architectural structure. An article in artnet News also stated how the new layout could have spurred dealers to be more imaginative with their presentations. This was easily seen in for example the layout for Saatchi gallery’s own playground Kindergarten. Is Frieze trying to break out from the art fair mold to a more adventurous set-up – and by doing this attract new visitors?



Does the future of showcasing art rely on art events?
It’s easy to say that the future of the art world and its business is in an interesting state, as Allan Majotra, the Managing Director of Picasso Mio galleries, describes in an article. He continues by explaining how this century will certainly bring more changes to the arts and culture industry than we have seen in the last one thousand years. The article also states how art fairs will decline in popularity, since new technologies and larger galleries will lead to the diminishing importance of art trade fairs. However, within the world of events, this could just mean making traditional fairs resemble festivals, where doing business and selling isn’t at the core of their existence – or at least that’s what it seems like.


Since many art events are gathering a larger set of visitors every year, it seems as if they are attracting new audiences to contemporary art. Introducing contemporary art to a larger group of people benefits its visibility in society. One of the main means of bringing new crowds to these events is to diversify their programme – in 2014, an art event seems to be hardly used anymore just for showcasing or selling contemporary art.
The importance of events is easy to see in other fields of culture as well: film and music festivals break audience records year after year. Television programming aims to attract 21st century viewers by organizing its own special occasions and television events that span multiple days. In an era where the fight over the audience’s precious time is fierce, even contemporary art needs to participate in it with full force – and think as widely and cross-culturally as possible. Events might just be our era’s answer to all of these questions.


Sources


Adel Abidin, Flow Festival’s Artist of the Year




Haden-Guest, A. 2014. New York Dealers Discuss the Future of Galleries, Part One, accessed on 5 November 2014.


Haden-Guest, A. 2014. The Future of Commercial Art Galleries, Part Two, accessed on 5 November 2014.


Keane, J. 2012. a-n News. Is it time to challenge the art elite? , accessed on 5 November 2014.


Majotra, A. Fine Art: What is the Future of the Art World?, accessed on 5 November 2014.


Mäntän kuvataideviikoilla ennätyksellinen kävijämäärä. Press release 1.9.2014, accessed on 5 November 2014.


Sutton, B. 2013. Blouin Art Info. 2013 Venice Biennale Passes 400,000 Visitors, Sets New Single-Day Attendance Record, accessed on 5 November 2014.

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