The Model in Sligo has recently put online the first phase of its new website, in advance of the opening of their new building in April/May. The site promises to be an exciting new departure in an Irish context, however they’re not shouting about it just yet. Some time in development, the site will be fully online over the coming months, and will incorporate key web 2.0. elements in it’s architecture. In order to better understand what elements the site should incorporate The Model has been trying out blogs, facebook, twitter, flickr and youTube during their temporary closure period. In this article Aoife Flynn, who was the Model’s Development Manager through this process, talks about the blog they set up in late April 2008.
Why The Model Blog?
In January 2008 The Model closed for a major redevelopment, which would take 2 years to complete. We recognised early on that one of our most significant challenges during the closure period would be to stay connected with our regular Sligo visitors and those from further afield, who were used to dropping in to The Model whenever they were in town.
We devised an experimental offsite programme which was specifically designed to remain connected with local audiences and to connect with artists and other audiences in new ways, but The Model also functions as a social space, a creative hub, and while we might be able to maintain a connection with the programme visitors through the mounting of offsite exhibitions or touring The Niland Collection, we couldn’t maintain that social connection in this way. The Blog was born as a response to this challenge.
We wanted to re-create something of the feeling of dropping in to The Model and chatting to the Front Desk, picking up on programme info, hearing opinions from curators, linking to interesting artists and projects, feeling you could contribute your opinion and reaction- a Virtual Front Desk.
Web 2.0 and getting to know you….
At this time we were also keen to explore uses of the emerging social media (facebook, flickr etc) and web 2.0. developments to harness a more interactive experience for our visitors. At The Model we are always working to create a more accessible, welcoming experience for all visitors, working to breakdown any “exclusive” or “elitist” barriers that exist for some when considering entering a Gallery. We work hard to have a welcoming Front of House team, and wanted to explore online applications that might extend this welcoming, egalitarian feeling to our visitors. The blog was a way to test out reaction to this idea, and in part to test out how curators and programmers might feel about speaking to our audience in a more informal, conversational manner; which can often present a major challenge to those used to speaking and writing in a more formal art language.
Did it work?
In many ways, yes. The blog was set up using WordPress in April 2008 and by May 2009, a year later, it was attracting 2,400 thousand reads a month. It has maintained an average monthly readership of 2,300 since that time. Interestingly the existence of the blog has not detracted visits from the main Model website rather visits have increased by 30% over the same period.
While the main Model site was down in early 2010 (in advance of launching the new site) the blog views have increased by 25%, as we use it as the organisation’s main online profile. We have also just recently been nominated as one of the best arts and culture blogs in the Irish Blog Awards. We don’t get a lot of commentary on the blog from users, which is something we hope to improve in the new integrated web platform.
Blog v’s Site
The Model draws a distinction between the material we publish on the blog and that which we place on the main website. Using the previous site as an example; The main website existed as a virtual event guide, presenting clear, direct, event-based information for each performance, exhibition or education event, generally no more than a screen in length. The Blog, however, is used as a discussion platform to publish additional artist or project information, updates of projects in progress, or information that is immediate and relevant to a project, but may not form a core part of the project’s output. The blog also allows The Model to share external content easily in the form of links to other articles, photos, film clips, music files, and to post stories that engage people in conversation. Importantly, a more informal voice is used for the articles published on the blog.
For example The Model’s main webpage for the Medium Religion exhibition was relatively standard, containing a curators description of the exhibition, a list of artists, a lead image to match the invite, links to further reading and the connected symposium
While over on the blog if you search for Medium Religion you see a range of articles from notifications about curators’ tours or events, to articles that appeared in the press, sneak previews of the artworks arriving on site and updates on the election unrest in Tehran; arising as one of Medium Religion artists is Iranian and quite rightly decided to stay in Tehran to contribute to the protests rather than travelling back to the Symposium in Sligo. This is an excellent example of the introduction of a current affair, which was relevant to the exhibition, but not necessarily appropriate to place on the main exhibition web page
The blog also allows us to give space to different voices within the organisation, so for example our visual programme assistant Lara writes about a tour in Ballina.
Young Model curator Linda Hayden writes about a trip to Dublin with the young Model group.
Marketing Assistant Denise Rushe on a Josh Ritter gig in October.
Or Young Model member Jason on his experiences of the programme.
The next steps…
For The Model the next steps are to further enhance this interactive experience with our online presence by integrating the blog and our other social networking tools with the main website as an overall web platform. This is currently under development and will allow for a richer experience for regular physical visitors, and those that live further afield and can only physically visit us once a year or less. This new platform will be launched very soon.
If you have any specific questions about any element of this case study, or museum and gallery blogs and online presences in general please email: firstname.lastname@example.org
The Model can also be found online at;
http://www.facebook.com/TheModelSligo The Model’s facebook page
http://www.twitter.com/modelsligo Model on twitter
http://www.flickr.com/photos/modelniland Model on flickr
http://www.youtube.com/user/modelniland Model on YouTube
(elements of this article were first presented at the National Gallery of Ireland symposium 2009)