Ana Camelo
UX designer

The Art Outside of the Gallery’s Walls

Accessibility and new approaches to the art

Client: Art Gallery of Southwestern Manitoba
Date: Started in 2020
My role: Content & communications strategy, copyright and micro-copy, planning and execution of events, photography and film production, and design. 

How this started

The Art Gallery of Southwestern Manitoba (AGSM) is a small gallery in the southwest area of Manitoba. It mainly focuses on traditional arts and has a solid patron base. In 2020, after some time dealing with COVID, the AGSM hired me to bring our services and content to the indigenous and rural communities.

The AGSM has two spaces for showcasing exhibitions: one for the community -the Community Gallery- and one for artists with more trajectory -the Main Gallery-. Most of the initiatives like workshops and events are around the Main Gallery.

How are we reaching out to our community?

The position for Digital Media was somehow new, and my role was to take over some projects that another person started before COVID and whose main goal was to bring Digital literacy to remote communities in Southwestern Manitoba. However, hosting workshops that required expensive equipment remotely was an enormous challenge the Gallery didn't have the resources to overcome easily. 

I assessed the Gallery's digital presence, the tools they had available and the use they gave to them, who was involved, and what had been implemented to bring the services and content to the rural communities and those in Brandon as well. 

Here are some of the main findings at this stage: 

  • No one could visit the Gallery, so the art was inaccessible to our communities.

  • The Gallery was not prepared to offer classes and sessions online. 

  • There was no strategic use of digital media.

  • All the experiences were focused on in-person initiatives.

  • The vast majority of the loyal patrons are older adults who don't feel comfortable with technology. 

  • Continuing the digital initiatives initiated previously was unrealistic.

Connecting the media, the content, and the team.

Understanding and proposing the roles of the digital platforms.

Understanding and proposing the roles of the digital platforms.

One of the first steps I took was to understand and assign roles to our digital platforms to spot what we lacked to expand our reach while still connecting with our loyal patrons. 

Some of the most relevant findings when assessing the digital platforms were:

  • The Facebook Page was the central platform, and it is where most of the loyal patrons are.

  • Instagram mainly replicated the Facebook Page content but was largely overlooked. 

  • Twitter was the second platform with the most followers, and staff members would often engage in informal conversations with other users.

  • Part of our target users don't like social media, but they receive the newsletter and often visit the website.

  • At that moment, the AGSM was not producing much audiovisual content, so there wasn't any need for a platform to keep that type of content.

Later on, when our new Curator came in, we collaborated to develop a digital content structure around the exhibitions that helped us build accurate expectations within our audience and make the planning more consistent and efficient. We successfully started implementing the digital content strategy, considering that we wanted to keep the artistic content in the spotlight.

When some of the COVID restrictions were lifted, the strategy evolved to bring part of the experience to other spaces, where folks could connect with the content of the Main Gallery in other locations by doing different activities.

With a strategy in place, the benchmarking process started!

The Art Outside of the Gallery’s Walls

Strategising & benchmarking the digital

The AGSM's Virtual Gallery.

The AGSM's Virtual Gallery.

Now that there were specific roles for each digital platform, I started keeping close track of various metrics to understand better what had better performance and what needed to be improved and connect with younger audiences and folks in rural areas. The main metrics at this stage were:

  • interactions,

  • new followers, and 

  • audience demographics 

Among the most relevant outcomes at the planning stage was creating a Facebook Group -The AGSM's Virtual Gallery- and our Youtube Channel, where folks didn't have the barrier to having an account in any social media platform. We had now specific platforms to avoid overwhelming the channels we already had and could have spaces specifically for the exhibition's content.

Making art accessible

Recent panel discussion.

Our Southwestman community is relatively small, and the art audience is hard to reach because of all the historic tension around people who feel the need to be a certain way to enjoy arts. However, having to shift to digital entirely for a bit opened tremendous opportunities to the AGSM; for example: 

  • We started bringing emerging artists to host IG takeovers in our account and a workshop at a local business, which has also enhanced our local connections.

  • All events are now hybrid to keep the warmth that attending in-person brings but keeping the option open for anyone else to join remotely. 

  • Folks have now the chance of accessing the content after events have passed.

  • Various of the artists that exhibited in 2021 are using the documentation of their shows and events to get grants and exhibitions. 

The audience's response

5%
Monthly increase of digital audiences
90%
of open call responses are from digital media
50%+
of Newsletter interactions are for joining online events