The fourth episode of the European Conference 2020 took place on September 21. Under the theme “Rethinking participation strategically” we got closer to the participation issue. Lise Korsgaard, Chiara Organtini, Ben Walmsley,Daniel Wetzel and Jonathan Goodacre (chair) opened up the subject and provided their perspectives on the topic.
The rise of digital engagement is a respond of cultural organisations to the implications of COVID-19, although it is clear that digital communication is not a panacea for the challenges cultural sector faces at the moment. Digital engagement involves rethinking the relation cultural organisations have with their audiences. Also, it can make cultural interpretation “cognitively easier” and enable deeper interpretations.
There is a connection between digital engagement and the concept of hospitality. On one hand, hospitality means the creation of a digital free space where “hosting the stranger” and on the other, digital engagement enables cultural organisations to make audiences part of the process.
To put audiences in the centre, cultural organisations need to develop a holistic strategy which embraces different areas of the organisation. This is the case of the National Gallery of Denmark that focuses its participatory strategy on three different fields:
- Digital content (raw material).
- Exhibitions (questions).
- Staff (hosts).
This way of working forces institutions to go out of their comfort zone. To advance in the development of audiences, cultural institutions need to act as facilitators, listening before acting and sharing the power with their communities.
The notion of hospitality and the use of question marks are key issues to address the development of audiences. For instance, Santarcangelo Festival (Italy) is a good example of how cultural organisations can evolve from engagement to the development of audiences. The festival has a long tradition in converse with its audience, but at this moment they want to go beyond this primary conversation. Therefore, the current aim of the festival is to establish deeper relationships with its audience by diversifying the conversation they have with a wider range of groups and communities within the place.
As has been noted, there are still bad habits of focusing only on the cultural product instead of having conversations with audiences. The idea of the souq (referred by Chiara Organtini) is a great image. It shows how cultural organisations can converse with their communities, and at the same time stimulate the ownership of the place, creating a common ground where the collective intelligence and collective leadership can take place.