From 2019, Museums & Galleries of NSW are investigating the practice of cultural mediation with the aim to equip gallery and museum staff with the tools to implement this engagement strategy across the sector, and ultimately deepen the interest and participation of existing audiences, whilst also creating unique pathways to develop new audiences.
The term cultural mediation first developed in the 1980s in Europe and North America. Initially associated with the transfer or transmission of knowledge, it has since become known more as an act of forming relationships of mutual exchange between the visiting public, artists, works, objects and the institutions charged with the collection, preservation, interpretation or presentation of cultural objects and material. Today cultural mediation is widespread across continental Europe. France, in particular, has incorporated it into their tertiary studies and mediators are used in large institutions like Palais de Tokyo and the Pompidou Centre.
At the Palais de Tokyo, for example, the role of a Cultural Mediator diverges from those of an invigilator, a gallery host or even an educator. Blue sky thinking is encouraged in their approach to art – there is no right or wrong or any discourse or practice that is meant to be ‘passed on’. That said, the mediators are given ample tools in order to feel enabled to have this experience with visitors. They are given broad reading material on the artist, project, and exhibition. They have direct connection to the curatorial team and for each exhibition season a very loosely related special guest is brought in to speak with them – and this is a disparate as an arachnologist, a poet or a trance specialist.
Cultural mediation is not about changing people’s opinions, or making visitors love contemporary art - it is about creating a moment
– Marion Buchloh-Kollerbohm, Head of Cultural Mediation, Palais de Tokyo, France
CULTURAL MEDIATION IN PRACTICE
Trial day of informative talks and practical guidance
On Monday 26 August, Museums & Galleries of NSW in partnership with Artspace presented a trial workshop on the practice of cultural mediation. The presenters included Marion Buchloh-Kollerbohm, Head of Cultural Mediation at the Palais de Tokyo (Paris, France); Mel O’Callaghan, contemporary Australian artist; Lee Casey, Head of Communications and Engagement, and Ellie Michaelides, Learning & Engagement Coordinator, Science Gallery Melbourne, University of Melbourne; and Emily Sullivan, Curator, Kaldor Public Art Projects.
Mel O’Callaghan’s exhibition Centre of the Centre at Artspace was the starting point for our exploration on the day and the artist herself spoke to working with the Palais de Tokyo team of mediators on her exhibition in 2017. Marion Buchloh-Kollerbohm and Lee Casey discussed how cultural mediation is used in their institutions and Emily Sullivan articulated Kaldor’s ways of working beyond walls and enabling direct audience participation with artists who challenge how art is encountered. All this is done with the end goal in mind of improving the quality of the public’s visit to museums and galleries, and to broaden the possible ways of experiencing and interacting with contemporary art. As Marion Buchloh-Kollerbohm described on the day: “the art centre is a citizen’s place.”
Among the many take-home messages from the event, cultural mediation is about deepening the engagement of audiences at a peer-to-peer level through personal opinions being shared, knowledge being transferred and audiences with specific needs (such as those living with disability, at-risk youth, and migrant communities) being offered a tailored pathway.
It seems there is a need in the sector to improve or explore a new role that can interact with audiences in a more meaningful way
– Cultural Mediation in Practice workshop participant
Regional cultural mediation workshops
Aligned with M&G NSW’s tour of Mel O’Callaghan’s Centre of the Centre (2021 – 2023), there will be further cultural mediation training offered along the tour. Following the success of our trial Cultural Mediation in Practice event in Sydney, these regional iterations will take a similar format. This will allow new and additional curatorial, education and visitor services staff from the tour host venues the opportunity to sharpen their knowledge surrounding the concept of cultural mediation, as well as spark inspiration for how such methods could be implemented in their delivery of Centre of the Centre, as well as their program as a whole. These events will also be open to the local arts and cultural sector to show ways in which cultural mediation can be applied to an exhibition, and create a forum to discuss the successes, trials, and possibilities of this method from a practical standpoint.
For more information on the Mel O’Callaghan Centre of the Centre tour, please click here.
UNIVERSITY OF SYDNEY PARTNERSHIP
As part of our engagement with cultural mediation, the Faculty of Arts and Social Science’s Museums and Heritage Studies program at the University of Sydney will be developing academic research on cultural mediation, as well as looking at ways to educate both their students and the GLAM sector on the field.
In August 2019 they hosted a lecture titled Cultural Mediation: The Art Centre as a Citizen’s Place by Marion Buchloh-Kollerbohm, Head of Cultural Mediation, Palais de Tokyo, Paris. This lecture looked at the knowhow and expertise developed since 2002 by the education and cultural mediation teams of the Palais de Tokyo, and how they have sought to meet the diversity of the institution’s public by providing an inclusive and participative vision of an art centre.
< Marion Buchloh-Kollerbohm delivering Cultural Mediation: The Art Centre as a Citizen’s Place at the University of Sydney, 2019
Cultural mediation will also form an integral part of M&G NSW’s touring package moving forward. All Exhibition Information Packs will now include a training folder that will hold information, links, further reading and suggestions to equip gallery staff, guides and volunteers with knowledge that will help train them as cultural mediators, whilst also providing additional resources for education and front of house teams. Our Exhibition Information Packs accompany every touring show and include artwork lists, promotional details, installation guides, and education resources, among other useful details to aid with a successful exhibition. This new aspect will involve asking artists and curators to help compile stories, reading lists, interviews, television episodes, movies, excursion suggestions, and other threads of information that have informed their practices, and may form interest areas for the staff to research, watch and learn from. This could also include helping galleries find specialists with unique interests to speak to staff and audiences, as well as seeking experiences outside the gallery to transport the ideas within an exhibition into the architecture of and environment surrounding a community. When appropriate, M&G NSW will contract individuals to support the creation of these training folders, including cultural advisers and relevant historians. Exhibition specific online forums hosted by M&G NSW for staff from tour venues to discuss the lessons learned from their audience development and engagement programs, as well as ways to unpack the themes and content of exhibitions, are also in development. The first online forum has been introduced with the Void tour, launched at the Void Education Symposium at Bathurst Regional Art Gallery in December 2019.
For more information on the Void tour, please click here.
FURTHER SECTOR DEVELOPMENT
Thus far multiple talks have been delivered as a part of M&G NSW’s introduction of cultural mediation as an engagement strategy to the arts and cultural sector, with further presentations and discussion groups anticipated moving forward. In August 2019, Marion Buchloh-Kollerbohm delivered a lecture at Newcastle Art Gallery titled Immerse yourself in art, which focused on successful programs she has delivered, including cultural mediation, that can be applied to exhibitions across the broader cultural sector. Buchloh-Kollerbohm also spoke to the Sydney Culture Network, sparking conversation among attendees regarding the way in which Australian institutions could feasibly incorporate cultural mediation into their programs, as well as navigating this engagement strategy from a First Nations perspective. In September 2019, Rachel Arndt, M&G NSW’s Gallery Programs and Touring Exhibitions Manager, delivered a talk titled Cultural Mediation in Australia at the M&G QLD State Conference in Cairns. Arndt’s presentation reflected on the ideas formed and questions considered through the Cultural Mediation in Practice workshop, and the aforementioned lectures, from an Australian perspective with a regional gallery focus.
Marion Buchloh-Kollerbohm delivering Immerse yourself in art at Newcastle Art Gallery, 2019. Image courtesy of Newcastle Art Gallery
"...Further opportunities to understand and use cultural mediation in practice would build a greater confidence in our workforce, and rapport and engagement with our audience
– Cultural Mediation in Practice workshop participant