The pressure to go digital offered unexpected wins

Moving quickly online has seen a 200 percent increase in engagement for Blue Mountains Cultural Centre. Learn how a small org got it right.
The pressure to go digital offered unexpected wins

Installation view, John Mawurndjul: I am the old and the new, Blue Mountains Cultural Centre, 2019 © John Mawurndjul/Copyright Agency.

No image supplied

Gina Fairley

Friday 15 May, 2020

Pivoting online – and managing it quickly – has been a win for the Blue Mountains Cultural Centre (BMCC), which has reported a 200–300 per cent increase in engagement through their Virtual InSight program.

BMCC Artistic Program Manager, Sabrina Roesner, told ArtsHub: ‘It has been incredible; our engagement through social media, and then our website, has gone through the roof since physically closing our doors.’

BMCC was one of the first to embrace the digital pivot, doing so within days of the closures in mid-March and leading the regional arts sector.

ADVERTISEMENT

Roesner said the team agreed they had to waste no time in order to stay visible, and to support local artists, and encourage the mental health of staff and community.

‘I kept thinking, do we need more time? Do we need to develop this more? But we just trusted those initial ideas,’ Roesner told ArtsHub, ensuring that the categories across Virtual InSight mirror the core vision of the centre, and draw on the strengths of the team.

THE POWER OF INSPIRATION

Presented as a separate landing page on the gallery’s website, Virtual InSight is a great 'one-stop-shop' for creative inspiration, from DIY art making activities, staff-led insights into the collection, studio tours with local artists, book and game recommendations, and even picking up on the iso food trend with recipes and bush tours.

‘Everyone was being affected by this, so a way to tackle the transition was to involve everyone – not just the curator or director talking. It has kept us sane, to feel like we had something important to deliver.’

Roesner continued: ‘We noticed the programs that were arts activities based – DIY projects – were the first that people interacted with.’

She believes that people have been hungry not only for content to keep them entertained and creative at home, but to show their support for the arts organisations that are important to them.

Roesner reported that their artist studio tours have also been really successful. ‘We made a big point when we decided to go online to make sure that we worked with the people we already had in our program.’

‘We are also paying fees for content online, as we would any workshop or studio tour. It has been really important that we keep the artist and makers in mind and support them as best we can,’ she added.

Freedom Wilson, Blue Mountains Printmaker, hosting an online print-making workshop. Image supplied.

SMALL CENTRES STAND TALL ONLINE

This pivot has been a great equaliser in terms of geography and scale. Smaller organisations can show they are just as progressive and innovative as the majors, and alert to trending notions of wellbeing and digital placemaking.

‘Regional galleries are more visible now, more accessible. It doesn’t matter where you are, you can shine and show your unique community,’ said Roesner.

She believes the cross-creative approach to Virtual InSight helps their programs reach a broader part of the community, and even bought new audiences to the gallery.

Rachel Peachey and Paul Mosig Artist Studio Tour. Image supplied.

Roesner said BMCC is like many small organisations in that it doesn’t have massive resources to turn programming and technology around.

‘It took time to get our head around the formatting, and we did lots of looking – at what wasn’t working and wasn’t linking. The user experience is so important. But the main challenges have been that every day, every week, we face a different scenario, and are trying to respond,’ Roesner said.

Asked if the new digital program could remain after COVID, she said they had been working hard to collect data around the new content. ‘We will filter through that content once we have settled back to a routine, and use those learnings to work that content into our core programming.’

With a vibrant digital presence the Blue Mountains Cultural Centre will be a beacon to local and regional travellers. Roesner said their next exhibitions upon opening their doors will draw on the recent impacts on the Blue Mountains and wider Australia, such as the bushfires, climate emergencies and the pandemic, with views on the roles that technology, science and human ingenuity can, and must, play in stabilising our environment.

Take a little time and visit Virtual InSight and enrich your creativity and home life during isolation.

About the author

Gina Fairley is ArtsHub's National Visual Arts Editor. For a decade she worked as a freelance writer and curator across Southeast Asia and was previously the Regional Contributing Editor for Hong Kong based magazines Asian Art News and World Sculpture News. Prior to writing she worked as an arts manager in America and Australia for 14 years, including the regional gallery, biennale and commercial sectors. She is based in Mittagong, regional NSW.

Twitter: @ginafairley
Instagram: fairleygina