Last week Friday we could meet with Martijn van Schieveen from the communications department of the Hermitage. Next to receiving a lot of factual information it was nice to also get his personal view on issues like communication channels and more background information. What was striking to me at first was the constant struggle they seem to be under to attract more visitors while one argument that kept coming back was the budget constraints.
Not so long ago, the Hermitage changed it structure and procedure in the process of the exhibition making. A concept team now is responsible for the decision on themes and storylines of exhibitions. Now, the communications department is invloved from the very beginning, helping out and making sure the exhibition really would cater to the desired audience and also the promotion campaigns can be planned accordingly. Every five years, the new themes/topics of the next five years are set and serve as a starting point when the planning of the individual exhibitions start, roughly two years before the opening. The focus of the exhibitions really are the objects and then the story is built around the objects. At the same time, the story is vital and often is the selling point. Since they know their audience and the main group of visitors are women 55+, the story has to appeal to them specifically, or at least aspects of it or a subplot. It was surprising to me, how well they seemed to know their audience and especially with the promotion, it seemed so clear what would work and what definitely doesn’t work, like posters at the airport. Of course, one big issue are costs of some promotional strategies, but still I wonder what their research into promotion effectiveness actually looked like and they can be so sure that some spots for posters work and other strategies don’t. One strategy I did not consider were blogs/vlogs of independent visitors (next to reviews by newspapers, etc.) and what influence they can have. Also, quite some elderly people use facebook and write blogs about all the museums they visit, which is, on second thought, not actually that surprising considering that they have the time to do so and maybe they even continue what was their profession before in journalism or in the art-/museumworld.
It was also interesting to see parallels between the film world and museums. Van Schieveen showed us a video of the making-of of one exhibition and also the 1917 Romanovs & Revolutie has a making-of video and also a trailer on the website. Also the idea of the entrance hall and the concept of the “flaneur” reminded me of a text we read in class by Francois Penz about how film can serve as a source for inspiration for exhibitions and how the visitor walks through an exhibition. The flaneur is of course also a common concept in film, a person wandering through the streets at night for example, and in the museum space, especially also in the ‘shopping mall’ of this exhibition, it allowed for a “serendipitous exploration of the museum space, a site of wonder and chance ecounter.” When he talked about exhibitions at the Rijksmuseum, he used the term “Blockbuster exhibition” which hints a little bit at the mainstream and international character of the Rijksmuseum, whereas the Hermitage is more national and more niche and particularly with the Outsider Art exhibition, has maybe more of an art house style.
There are two thoughts I would like to end this post with. The first concerns the target group of women 55+ and then simultaneously the side program for families and education for children. It seems more like a circular structure of audience research and then catering to the group of people that have visited before. Can the Hermitage actually attract a different group of people and secondly, do they even want to? It didn’t become clear to me, if the Hermitage is actually happy with their target group or if they, in the long run, also want to attract a younger audience and more international people. And I think it is a valid question to consider that sometimes, a limitation to one target group might be enough for a museum.