Category Archives: #Events

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.

Populist Euroscepticism on the Rise: What is the Role of the Media?

Sampo Viiri from the Finnish Institute blogs about the event ‘Shaping the vote: politics and populism in the media’ which was organised 15 May 2014 by Counterpoint UK.
The European parliament elections are now over and the populist and eurosceptic right-wing parties have made spectacular gains across Europe, perhaps most notably Nigel Farage’s UKIP in the United Kingdom and the National Front in France. The outcome has already been labelled as an earthquake but what this means for the daily politics in Brussels and Strasbourg remains to be seen. Shortly before the election Counterpoint UK organised a panel discussion on the effects of the media on the support of populist right-wing parties in Europe.

The event was part of  a cross-national project entitled ‘Nurturing populism? The impact of the media on the growth of populist right-wing parties in Netherlands, France and Finland’, which is a collaborative effort between Counterpoint, Dr Erkka Railo, Senior researcher at the University of Turku, Dr Jiska Engelbert, Assistant Professor at the Erasmus University of Rotterdam and Dr Gael Villeneuve, Researcher at the Laboratoire Communication et Politique. They were joined in the panel by Martin Sandbu from the Financial Times, Sunder Katwala, Director of British Future and Suzanne Moore, Columnist for the Guardian. The event was moderated by Catherine Fieschi, Director of Counterpoint.

The panelists introduced the different media aspects in the respective countries. Erkka Railo explained that the main points in the media coverage about the Finns Party (previously True Finns) were immigration and the European financial crisis. The Finnish media has been very critical towards financial aid packages for other European countries, which has given credibility to the anti-European ideas of the Finns Party. There has also been a big increase in the news stories about immigration. 10 years ago most of the media saw Finland lacking “good” immigrants, but with the hard economic times the tide has turned towards more critical views on immigration. Now that the European financial crisis is perhaps finally starting to ease off, the Finns Party may need to utilise xenophobic rhetoric because they can’t forever keep blaming the international economic crisis for everything.
To summarise the findings in other countries: In France the president has a lot of power to influence the content in the media. Nicolas Sarkozy used populist themes himself in his bid to re-election in 2012, labeling multiculturalism and Islam as threats to the republic. In the Netherlands the assassination of the populist leader Pim Fortuyn in 2002 was a shock to the media and everyone, after which nobody dared to criticise the populists for a while. Dutch populism should be researched beyond Geert Wilders’ PVV party because other major parties are also engaging in populism and the public’s level of confidence towards politicians is low.
Norway’s case is unique in Western Europe because the Progress Party is now actually in the government and thus involved in important national decisions, so the media has to give serious space for their policies. In the United Kingdom the media’s role has some contradictory aspects: BBC somehow fears its liberal reputation and may want to give extra space for UKIP’s views, but as a whole the press has been trying to kill off UKIP. This hasn’t lead to any results. On the contrary, parts of the electorate see the demonising of UKIP as a conspiracy and this has increased their support.
The different country studies made clear that the political context and the parties are quite different in each country. It is important not to oversimplify and label all the populist parties as far-right or treat all of them as parts of the same international political force. Some of the parties like UKIP, the Finns Party or the Norwegian Progress Party are fairly mellow compared to the more extreme far-right parties for example in Greece and Hungary. Counterpoint has created a visual tool to compare the different parties, and together with the Daily Telegraph they also published an interactive map about the different right-wing populist parties in Europe which highlights their differences and similarities. However, not all the victorious populist parties were right-wing, for example the radical leftist Syriza won the election in Greece.
The Finnish Institute in London continues to investigate the media effects on the public’s knowledge and potential information asymmetries. Recently we published the report Knowledge Gap and the Information Environment – More informed citizens or a growing divide? which examines the media effects on distribution of knowledge between different socioeconomic groups.

Mozilla Festival and Archives Without Walls

 

Head of Society Programme Antti Halonen blogs about the recent web making festival in Ravensbourne.
 
The Finnish Institute was privileged to take part in the annual web making feast of Mozilla Festival in late October. 


According to Mark Surman, the chief executive of Mozilla, the event is “where many of Mozilla’s best and most innovative ideas spring to life. It’s where passionate thinkers and inventors come together to learn from one another and engage in a conversation about how the web can do more, and do better”. Exactly the right place for us.

We were fortunate to be named as one of several scrum leaders. Essentially this means being a facilitator of a make, that is a particular task that was hoped to be achieved during the two-day festival. 

 
Our make was to gather ideas and examples of how to enforce a participatory and digital historical culture. Provisionally, we have set our minds on creating a network of partners to start working on a project called Archives Without Walls (AWA). 


In short, the purpose of AWA is to provide a reliable and visually exciting way of building open online archives that provides solutions on how to capture physical contents and human interaction as well as digital audio, video and text – all in the same digital repository. Archiving method would have to enable open reuse and remixing of all contents. 

The overarching purpose of the project parallels the recent challenges that have been laid upon the discipline of History itself. 

 
Archivists and ITC experts respectively have expressed their concerns on the so called Digital Dark Age: a phenomenon where significant amount of important cultural heritage is lost due to rapid digitisation of information and lack of reliable long-term preservation methods. For instance, various organisations changed their internal correspondence into email format during the 1990’s before records management had come up with proper methods for preserving email correspondence. Similarly, what is left of the early days of the web for future historians’ use? While historians have so far relied on a rich source of paper-based documentation, future historians may face a prospect of empty archives. 
 
Social scientists, on other hand, have raised into discussion the topic of the knowledge gap. While the information environment has evolved unprecedentedly in a way which enables much more varied source for information consumption, simultaneously those who are least interested in current affairs can bypass it altogether if they so wish. We need to develop our thinking in terms of how to provide larger portion of the population an access to relevant historical knowledge.


Moreover, historians have pointed out the need to embrace new ways of creating and preserving everyday history. Participatory historical culture aims at both improving historical consciousness and offering citizens a possibility of “tackling their own present concerns and thinking over how to make a better future for themselves”, as Finnish historian Jorma Kalela puts it.

This was the setup but what about the results? 

Discussion arose around the concept of memory. How could different memories be integrated into the digital environment in a remixable and reusable fashion? The number of people who still have vivid memories of the second world war, for instance, is rapidly diminishing, yet amidst the rise of nationalistic right the understanding of the very reasons behind the horrible times of war is as important as ever. How should we find new ways of interpolating this historical knowledge into public discussion?


Another strand of thought focused on the question of preserving events like Mozilla Festival itself. What kind of material will a future historian use when doing research on this year’s event? Arguably, historians today have mostly relied on paper-based documents: letters, diaries, essays etc. However, the essence of Mozilla Festival is not to be found in printed documents, but in demonstrations, ideas and discussions. What kind of challenges does this pose to archivists who will have to make the increasingly difficult appraisal decisions?

Our new programme strand seeks to find some answers to these questions and we are continuously looking for interesting initiatives that promote the fair dispersion of knowledge in the society and try to find novel solutions to preserving our digital cultural heritage. One interesting case of the latter was MozBug, an online tool for archiving events by analysing Twitter behaviour. Something to consider for next year’s OPPI – Helsinki Learning Festival, too?

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