Museum Hack Interviews Artpace About Engaging New Audiences

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Interviews June 26, 2020 Museum Hack Interviews Artpace About Engaging New Audiences

Artpace After Hours is a program by Artpace, located in San Antonio, Texas. The program works to engage young people in a new way. It takes adult audiences behind the scenes to reveal the mysteries of contemporary art through casual conversation and gallery interactions. This is an interview with Kaela Hoskings, organizer of the event.

1. Can you describe your situation (in regards to millennials) before you started this program? How has the Artpace After Hours nights changed this?

We started Artpace After Hours in 2011, as a contemporary art 101. We wanted to teach people about contemporary art in a super casual and fun way. Contemporary art is tricky, the artists are doing unconventional things. We started Artspace After Hours as a way to get people to understand what it is. It didn’t start off as a night specifically for young professionals, but it has grown into this- they want to socialize, its right after work, and it is fun. After a couple of cocktails and some warm-up conversation, contemporary art becomes less intimidating.

2. Can you describe the very first night? What were your biggest challenges?

Surprising, the biggest challenge the first night came from my supervisor. He wanted it to be this huge event, with tons of people, but this wasn’t really the idea. The idea was that it should be small intimate, and that people would really connect with what they were seeing, which wouldn’t have been possible with a huge group. For our first event, the audience naturally came through personal invites from the museum staff, and it was exactly what we were hoping for. At the end of the night, my supervisor came and said “You were right, that was great.” So, I think keeping the expectation in check is really important.

3. What are the nights like now?

The event has really spread through word of mouth. We started with just people we knew- friends and friends of friends, but from there it really grew. We have found that 24 people is the sweet spot- we can divide the group up nicely for tours, and it is still intimate. Sometimes we get up to 40 people RSVP- it fluctuates. The smallest group we ever had was 10 people, but this was one of our best nights, because we got to know everyone really well, and it was really intimate.

4. What is the benefit of doing a night like this?

Getting new members to support Artpace. Roughly 20-25% of people are joining on to be members, not always that night, but eventually they do. What we are doing is working. We are using it as a way to foster future doners- it’s an introduction, but it gets them coming back for more. They get to know the museum, and they get comfortable, then they want to support us.

5. How are the nights organized?

We organize it like this: we start of with something called “Drinking and Thinking.” Essentially, it is networking, but we play games, and, well, drink. It’s a lot of fun-people get to know each other and they relax. We have a couple games that we play, like Contemporary Art Scattergories, and Artpace Bingo, and it just gets people to learn and experience Artpace in a different way. We then give them a tour of the space, which is about 40 minutes, before we come back to the main room. At the end, we talk about the memberships, and upcoming events and exhibitions, and invite them to come back.

6. What is one simple thing you use at the night to get the audience to relate to the art?

We teach them something we like to call “APAH!” It’s an acronym which stands for Art Pace After Hours, and we use it as a key to teach them how to evaluate and relate with Contemporary art.  The letters stand for A: attention, we ask them to look at the details of the work, P: Personal connection, find something that they relate to in the art work, A: Articulate/Argue, describe how they feel about it, (arguing is allowed!), and H:Hypothesize, put all the things together to try and get at what the artist was meaning to portray. It really works! They use it all the time- I have seen people who have been to the night, and I say “Are you using APAH?” and they totally are! I even had a woman tell me once she now uses it to remember people she meets- its a super effective tool.

7. How you keep the audience fresh- do the same people come each time, or are there different people attending? How do you spread the word?

We always have a few regulars- but the nice thing is they always bring new people with them. If a night is really full, and we’ve had loads of RSVPS, we will ask our regulars if they wouldn’t mind letting someone new come instead, and it is never a problem. We’ve been lucky as well, one of our supporters comes regularly, and he uses the website MeetUp- so he always brings about 10 people with him! And its great, because they already have an interest in art, but maybe don’t know Artpace- which is perfect.

8. So, what do you need to do to set one of these nights up?

I think the first thing to do is to figure out what you want to do a night like this- what is the goal. Is it art education? Is it for memberships? Is it for new audiences to see the museum? Or a blend of all of these things? I think once you have this, you can start building off and brainstorming ideas. I would suggest starting small. Keep the program simple and fun. At the moment here at Artpace, we do 6 events per year, but we budget for 8, just in case we have a company that is a potential donor- we use the night to teach them what we are all about. We’ve also learned that it’s important to drop words like “lecture,”  because for us, we really want these nights to be about conversation. Young professionals want social, they want to feel connected, so we are really fostering this- even in our language.

9. Do you have a list of supplies? What kind of wine do people drink?

Pens. Get lots and lots of pens!  Our budget for this is $500 per year, so we get partners to supply things like specialty cocktails, and local restaurants to supply some light snacks. We use the museum’s wine and beer. So essentially for supplies, we get lots of Post-it notes, pens, name tags, and a few prizes for the games. It’s a great bang for buck!

10. If a museum was going to start doing these nights, what would you advise?

Be open to try lots of things, experiment with different games and activities, and just try. Back in the early days when we were still trying to get the footing, we played a game where we purchased hundred of legos, and everyone sat there with their cocktails and tried to build Artpace…it was hilarious. It wasn’t the most successful game we’ve ever played, but in terms of joy, it was awesome. We don’t play that game any more, but it was still one of my most memorable nights. I would suggest to other museums who are thinking of hosting a similar night to start small- sometimes in the museum world we always want to go big, really fast, but there is a lot of value in starting small and experimenting with different things to find out what fits for your museum space, your team, and your audience. No matter what kind of museum you have, opening your doors and getting people involved is very important. Artpace after hours logo Want to see more posts like this? Subscribe to our mailing list. Do you work for a museum? Do you have a program that is successfully engaging new audiences? We’d love to hear about it! Send us an email. Click this link If you’d like to read more about our workshops, presentations, and museum consulting work.

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