Regional Galleries transition to online during the lockdown

Across the globe, museums and galleries have raced to deliver more and more online experiences as their physical spaces remain closed, during the Covid-19 shutdown.

We spoke to three regional gallery directors about their online transition, the extraordinary takeup, and what way the experience has affected how they might approach their digital presence in the future.

What has your gallery been doing online since the Covid-19 lockdown started?

Gina Mobayed, Director, Goulburn Regional Gallery
We got in a bit early and launched Instagram TV in late March just before full lock down came in to place. At the time the Gallery was still open, but all programs and events were cancelled.

Iain Dawson, Director, Bega Valley Regional Gallery
Bega Valley Regional Gallery has transitioned rapidly to delivering both the artistic and educational program online. Since our stand-alone website was launched four years ago, our aim has been to build an access point to all our activities online, acknowledging that many of our local audiences are up to an hour’s drive away. Adapting our programs to this space wasn’t a huge pivot, more of an extra step on a path we were already on. Our next step will be to get our collection digitised and accessible, but this is an ongoing program that we plan to seek funding for.

Lauretta Morton, Director, Newcastle Art Gallery
With an art collection as nationally significant as Newcastle’s,our team have been working hard to further build the Gallery’s online access to works of art for everyone to view and enjoy from home.

We are currently filming the installation of our HOMEWARD BOUND: the art and life of Tom Gleghorn exhibition so that we can share a ‘behind the scenes’ video of how exhibitions come together with our audiences, this exhibition will also have a fully automated Virtual Tour created so that visitors that would have ordinarily viewed the exhibition in person can still get to experience the exhibition from home.

We’ve also been engaging with artists through online interviews, sharing images of their artmaking and hearing about their practice via our stories on the Gallery’s social media channels, which of course is an important way of supporting them at this surreal time.

Did you plan for an online transition for your gallery prior to the lockdown or were you forced to take an immediate agile approach?

Gina Mobayed, Goulburn Regional Gallery
I am always thinking about our audiences and reach. I think Goulburn is a great Gallery because our local, physical audience is deeply connected, and we have a strong presence online, that has been building since our rebrand a few years ago. We customise everything from our website, to our social media every show, so we are lucky to be able to take full advantage of that flexibility now and turn it towards our audiences and where we need to direct them.

In using platforms like IGTV and more video content, that happened pretty much overnight because I felt our community, in the broadest sense of the word needed to hear from us and know we would stand strong in the face of the circumstances.

Iain Dawson, Bega Valley Regional Gallery
We looked at what we could add to the online exhibition presence, providing a 3D tour of the exhibition and adding all available resources to the exhibition page of our website (catalogues, artists interviews via YouTube and specially commissioned video works). In the first week of shutdown we released a Creative Kids digital program, sent out a number of kid’s craft packs (sponsored by Eckersleys) and commissioned Rosie Deacon, Liam Benson and Zuza Zochowski to film quick, first person workshops and studio tours which we promoted via our social channels and presented on our BVRG AT HOME and our BVRG CREATIVE KIDS ONLINE pages. We continue to commission local artists to show us their studios and create simple tutorials for people at home.

We quickly agreed to host the remainder of the 2020 programs online also, allowing us to promote a ‘business as usual’ approach to our planned activities, and letting us focus on how to best make the most of opportunities as they arose.

A community project we were planning with local schools’, responses to the devastating January bushfires in the area has transitioned smoothly to an online exhibition which will be launched with our next major show on May 8.

Lauretta Morton, Newcastle Art Gallery
Our online transition has certainly been accelerated by the current situation, while we were steadily moving to digitise our collection, we are now really focusing on creating online content to be accessible right now.

Instead of producing primarily written content, we are now much more involved in documenting our exhibitions, collection and programming via video to make them easily accessible online and through our social media channels. Writing and researching our artist biographies and provenance – important collection management that we haven’t had the time and resources to fully dedicate to for our collection database and website /collection online is now being updated daily. We have also become excellent SKYPErs and ZOOMers connecting with our incredible internal Gallery support groups – our volunteer Guides, Foundation Society and Acquisitions Committee members online for our meetings that would normally be in person at the Gallery.

How has the public reaction been to your online work and have you had any feedback or analytical statistics on its uptake?

Gina Mobayed, Goulburn Regional Gallery
We have mostly been using Instagram to connect with audiences and artists, and that’s been really important – to facilitate access to these great makers and their work. Going ‘live’ offers quite an authentic experience (we did drop the eff word in the first one and no one minded) The reaction has been just wonderful and honestly, we need to hear that feedback. The best part is we are hearing from artists and audiences, as we normally would. This is most important to us. We just delivered our biennial art award, dedicated to local artists, completely online. Thousands of people have been able to access the announcement of the winners delivered so beautifully from judge Karen Quinlan, as well as the artist talks. Several hundred tuned in to the ‘live opening’ (yes, there was wine!). We are pleased with how it went, and this has motivated us to experiment a little more with the next exhibition coming with NSW artist Sidney McMahon.

Iain Dawson, Bega Valley Regional Gallery
The response to our online workshops and programs has been positive and immediate. Parents with kids at home were fast to pick up on the activities we offered. Our website traffic tripled. We had just under 40,000 online engagements from 34 posted activities.

Lauretta Morton, Newcastle Art Gallery
We are experiencing very positive feedback from audiences, artists, industry colleagues and completely new followers with increased uptake across all our social media channels, website and a doubling of our newsletter subscriptions. Instagram engagement has skyrocketed by 98%, Facebook engagement by 30% and our Virtual Tours on the website have had 4,500 visits.

The Gallery team have taken on a weekend challenge to recreate a work of art from our collection and we have been posting our creative responses on our social media channels every second day as a bit of lighthearted fun which we are claiming as important collection research. We challenged our audience to create their own interpretations of works of art from our collection and we have been receiving some incredible recreations that we will continue to post on our social media channels for everyone to enjoy.

Do you feel the experience has affected how your gallery might approach digital in the future?

Gina Mobayed, Goulburn Regional Gallery
I do believe the agility of how digital content can be created and disseminated is something exciting to step towards and no doubt this will enhance our content when we reopen. I am conscious not attempting to replace the experience of hearing an artist discuss their work when you are able to view that work in situ. It is powerful, unpredictable stuff. We are not interested in that replacement, but rather embracing what digital engagement can offer us now whilst we cannot welcome physical visitors. We want that commitment and enthusiasm for our work to shine through.

Iain Dawson, Bega Valley Regional Gallery
Yes, across the sector, the digital side of our business has been an ambition more than a standard. I believe moving forward we will provide the same level of online activity delivered in conjunction with our physical events. It’s vital as a regional public gallery that we deliver as much as possible online to allow our distance challenged audiences to participate. I’m thrilled at the flattening of the playing field currently – we compete with institutions far larger than ours with an equal chance of engaging audiences from around the corner or around the globe – it’s an exciting time to let our programs shine.

Lauretta Morton, Newcastle Art Gallery
This experience has driven us to reimagine and redesign how we connect digitally to our community, through the sharing of our exhibitions, programming and collection virtually.

It has significantly broadened our scope to design specific digital content particularly for our family art-making ‘ArtCart’ activities, education resources and bespoke programming to be available for free download from our website. In response to the current COVID-19 situation, the Gallery’s Youth Advisory Group will also be releasing a ‘call-out’ for young artists to create an online ‘zine’.

I’m really proud that we are moving forward with Newcastle’s major KILGOUR PRIZE again this year. The prize awards $50,000 for outstanding Australian figurative and portrait painting. This year’s entry process is all online and lockdown-friendly, finalists are selected based on the images provided. With many other Australian annual art prizes postponed or cancelled, this is an important way of supporting artists’ practice across the nation at this critical time particularly our incredible community of local artists here in Newcastle.

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