Museums at Night on board the Cutty Sark


If you haven’t been on the Cutty Sark  yet, do it now.

I got my chance last night as I gave a speech in the huge vaulted space that is underneath the ship to mark the launch of our 2013 Museums at Night festival.  I was standing below the hull which is suspended over you like a vast golden whale and it really is a breath-taking experience.

It was also a brilliant, brilliant evening and it was great to see so many colleagues and friends all sharing the love for this magnificent vessel and for our campaign.

The Museums at Night festival is all about doing something different. By opening late and doing something different, you can attract different people. It is all about the experience. Creating a unique moment that is much more than money can buy. In 2013 this might be joining the Chapman Brothers at the Jerwood in their home town of Hastings to take part in what the surrealists called an ‘exquisite corpse’ – a drawing that is passed on, without looking, from person to person. It might be a taking part in a 1920’s murder mystery in Somerset  or sleeping over on the Golden Hynde or even (for the 1st time ever) in Kensington Palace or Hampton Court.

2013 will be the 5th festival Culture24 have run. The first was in 2008, had 55 events and came together in just 9 weeks. Now it is a part of the cultural calendar and is earning its place in the hearts of the public.  It exploits the best of what Culture24 does: our publishing platform, website and editorial expertise, the active network of thousand and thousands of UK venues, our marketing skills, our PR contacts, our understanding of what is it that people love about arts & heritage.

This year there are more author’s events than ever before plus of course the 10 highlight events where an artists has created a special event at a specific venue who won them in an online vote by over 30,000 people.

These include:

  • Julian Wild helping people construct a new art work out of ½ km of plumbing pipe and then turning it into a glow in the dark abstract installation at Iron Bridge in Telford
  • Julia Vogl building a chandelier from 2,500 recycled bottles in the great hall of the Discovery Centre in Newcastle
  • Susan Forsyth conducting a group of volunteer members of the public in a singing procession through Rochdale ending with a performance at the Pioneers Museum
  • The Random International Collective staging the UK début of a new interactive light installation at the Horniman Museum (which is going to be very cool).

Last night, in true Museums at Night spirit, we put on something special for everyone by way of performer and actress Joyce Falconer who gave a unique rendition and interpretation of the famous Robert Burns poem ‘Tam-o-Shanter’   from which this ship derives its name.

And how Tam stood, like ane bewitch’d,
And thought his very een enrich’d;
Even Satan glowr’d, and fidg’d fu’ fain,
And hotch’d and blew wi’ might and main;
Till first ae caper, syne anither,
Tam tint his reason ‘ thegither,
And roars out, “Weel done, Cutty-sark!”
And in an instant all was dark:
And scarcely had he Maggie rallied,
When out the hellish legion sallied.

I feel well and truly connected now to my seafaring ancestors (yes really) but only wish we could have sailed her down the Thames and round to Brighton!

big boat


In Conversation at The Guardian with Melissa Denes and David Sabel

The Guardian culture professional network is a year old this September and yet it feels somehow like they have always been here. They slipped so neatly into the online hole in the sectors own communications and networking activities that it was a natural fit.

That’s why when the super dynamic Nancy Groves asked me to step up and be interviewed onstage by their ‘mainframe’ arts editor Melissa Denes I said yes without hesitation. I am also a fan of David Sable’s work with NTLive and being onstage chatting with both him and Melissa seemed like a pleasure.

The conversation touched on several ideas that I’ve been pondering recently and thankfully came together into a rather interesting discussion. Here are my reflections of what we talked about:

  • there is little or no instructional memory now in the Arts Council. The leaking and plundering of staff has left then forgetting the lessons of their own failures and having to learn them all over again.  Anyone remember ArtsOnline…? Reminds me of that wonderful line that Merlin utters in the movie Excalibur ‘it is the doom of men that they forget’.
  • the ongoing lack of attention share online for cultural institutions (the actual branded sites from museums and galleries etc) does not automatically apply to artistic rich sites where there is no ‘brand’ between the audience and the stuff. They seem to have a more immediate relationship with the content that is outside of any institutional identity and is based on shared passions and interest. I wonder, are institutions ultimately hamstrung by their own internal need to justify themselves and build brand? If you are not a popular brand (NT, Tate etc) then can you ever break through this? I would love to do some deeper research into the successes of artist sites in the same way we have done for museums in the Culture24 Let’s Get Real work.  Lois Keidan from the Live Art Development Agency had some great comments to make on these issues.
  • as the funding cuts slowly destroy and undermine the arts funding infrastructure, they will not necessarily destroy creativity or creative output. Individual institutions may close but I believe that by far the biggest problem will come from having a political culture that is risk adverse and fails to value education and learning. As time passes, this is where we will fail to achieve the spaces for free thinking,  provocation and genuine debate.  Without those maintaining sustainability and relevance in any sector is pretty hard.
  • there is nothing wrong with being an institution and having an internal need to justify your existence and build your own brand – if – you can be up front about that and stop trying to couch your online activities in a language of participation.
  • trying to imagine the future is impossible as we can only ever construct it out of our understanding of the past. As such it is always a shiny, bigger version of what we had yesterday and can never be the fundamental behaviour changing experiences that we will in fact come to know.  Check out the seriously mindblowing podcast of James Burke talking at dConstruct 2012 conference and read the transcript of Warren Ellis’s talk at the equally awesome Inspiring Reality conference entitles ‘How to see the future’.

There is a great Marshall McLuhan quote that sums it up “We look at the present through a rear-view mirror. We march backwards into the future”.

Thanks to Nancy, David and Melissa for a great evening and to the audience for being so friendly.

Culture24 need a Research Manager

Do you have a background in research, love culture and the web and want to be part of an exciting new European project that Culture24 are leading? Is so, then here is the low down on a new exciting job based at our office in Brighton

Research Manager
Salary: £26k to £28k pro rata depending upon experience
Hours: part-time, 3 days or 22.5 hours per week, one year contract.

Culture24 is looking for a dynamic and experienced Research Manager to join our small, friendly team at our busy Brighton office. You will oversee a programme of research as part of a multi-partner international project promoting digital cultural content to tourists. You will also support an in-house project on tracking and measuring user engagement online and offline.

Culture24 is leading one of several work packages within the three-year ‘Europeana Awareness’ project. Our role is to establish new partnerships and distribution services to channel content from Europeana into existing, established mass-market tourism-facing services online.

The Research Manager role will encompass planning, project management, research, analysis and report production. You will be researching user needs across several project constituencies – tourists, public sector tourism bodies, commercial tourism publishers and non-commercial cultural data aggregators. You will also manage related research work being undertaken by partner organisations in Croatia, Ireland and Luxembourg.

In addition you will work with our senior management team to plan and implement an in-house project identifying, tracking and analysing a range of measures around user and partner engagement with Culture24’s products and services. There will also be opportunity to support the senior team in the delivery of multi-partner collaborative action research projects into user engagement with online cultural content.

Your skills and experience will include
– Excellent, proven research skills
– Excellent, proven project management skills
– Excellent communication and interpersonal skills
– The ability to work in a self-motivated, thorough way

More about Culture24 here

More about Europeana Awareness here

A full job description, person specification and application form is available for download here:

How to apply:
Download and fill in the application form and return it along with a covering letter telling us why you are the right person for this job to:

Sorry, no CV’s will be considered.

Deadline for receipt of application form and letter: 10am, Monday March 26th
Interviews will be held at Culture24 offices in Brighton on: Friday 30th March 2012 (subject to availability)

Epic Fail at Museums & the Web 2012, San Diego

Seb Chan (Cooper-Hewitt) I are hosting the closing plenary at Museums & the Web in San Diego this year. We’ve called it Epic Fail and we’re going to be shining a light on the failures that we individually and we collectively have had as project teams, institutions, and maybe even the sector as a whole.

Inspired by the valuable lessons we’ve learned personally from over-sharing our own failures on our blogs, and the growing trend in the non-profit and social enterprise sectors to share analyse, and learn from failures – we think the time has come for Museums and the Web to recognise the important role that documenting failures plays in making our community stronger.


Well, taking a cue from FailFaire, there are many common reasons for failure in the non-profit sector –

1. The project wasn’t right for the organisation (or the organisation wasn’t right for the project)
2. Tech is search of a problem
3. Must-be-invented-here syndrome
4. Know thy end-users
5. Trying to please donors rather than beneficiaries (and chasing small pots of money)
6. Forgetting people
7. Feature creep
8. Lack of a backup plan
9. Not connecting with local needs
10. Not knowing when to say goodbye

Sound familiar? we thought so.

So . . .

We’re doing a call out for ‘failures’ to be featured in our closed door session (that means no tweeting, no live blogging).

Each Fail will present a short 7-10 minute slot followed by 10 minutes panel and open-mic discussion. Each Fail needs to be presented by someone who worked on the project – this isn’t a crit-room – and we want you to feel comfortable enough to be honest and open. We want you to explore the reasons why you thought the project was a failure, diagnose where it went wrong, what would you do differently, and then collectively discuss the key lessons for future projects of a similar nature or targeting similar people.

Maybe, like Seb, you did an early project with QR codes that didn’t take into account the lighting situation in your exhibition, not to mention the lack of wifi? Or maybe a mobile App that you forgot to negotiate signage for the exhibition space? Or an amazing content management system that failed to address the internal culture and workflow for content production and ended up not being used?

In fact neither Seb or I can think of a project we have worked on that hasn’t had its own share of failure. But in most cases we’ve been able to address the problem and iterate, or, if necessary, as they say in the startup game, ‘pivot‘.

The more significant the failure, the better is its potential to be an agent of change.

So, if you are coming to Museums and the Web in San Diego in April this year, get in touch to nominate your project for a spot! We promise to create a safe environment for sharing these important lessons and end this year’s conference on a high.

Get in touch with the Fail Team – epicfail [at] freshandnew [dot] org

On a related note, here is a different kind of Epic Fail that can happen if you get caught out being a tourist in a Glasgow park without an umbrella!

“Join the Art Party” Connect10 needs you!

We are all very excited at Culture24 to be announcing the line-up of artists taking part in Connect10, a competition for cultural venues in the UK to win an artist-led event and a share of £7,000.

IMAGE: Bob & Roberta Smith, Join The Art Party, 2011.

The competition will match 10 contemporary artists with 10 museums and galleries for a series of unique events to be held as part of Museums at Night, the annual after-hours celebration of arts and heritage, which takes place over the weekend of 18-20 May 2012.

The 10 artists announced for Connect10 are:

Claire Barclay, futuristic Scottish sculptor whose carefully balanced installations have been exhibited in Tate Britain and Edinburgh’s Fruitmarket Gallery
Bompas & Parr, the jellymongers, who create spectacular culinary experiences ranging from architectural jellies to lakes of cocktails
Ryan Gander, provocative installation artist whose Artangel commission in a Hoxton warehouse provided clues for visitors to solve a mystery
Jon McGregor, award-winning novelist and short story writer, author of If Nobody Speaks of Remarkable Things and Even The Dogs
Polly Morgan, contemporary taxidermist whose poignant installations have been collected by Kate Moss
Terry O’Neill, fashion and rock photographer renowned for iconic images of Hollywood stars and bands like The Beatles and The Rolling Stones
Martin Parr, documentary photographer whose pictures tell stories of leisure, consumption and communication
Simon Roberts, landscape photographer who spent a year crossing Russia and was Official Artist of the 2010 General Election
Bob & Roberta Smith, sign-painter and installation artist who uses text on recycled signs and floorboards
Susan Stockwell, creator of installations, drawings and films commenting on globalisation and colonisation, often using recycled materials

In order to pitch for the artists, venues need to find a connections between their location or collections and the work of one of the artists.

So… if you are a venue you have until Tuesday 31 January 2012 to pitch an exciting Museums at Night event idea involving your chosen artist to Culture24 using this online form.

Culture24 will then select the two or three event ideas for each of the 10 artists, and open them up to an online public vote. Each successful venue will receive a £500 bursary for their event, and those selected venues that don’t win an artist will still receive £100 to support an alternative Museums at Night event.

Who are we? WeAreCulture24

I’ve learned a lot in the last year. A lot about how we could do what we do better at Culture24 and crucially how confusing what we do can be for others.

Are we a website? Are we journalists? Are we data crunchers? Are we data aggregators? Are we Museums at Night champions? Are we researchers? Are we producers? Are we strategists? Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes.

All of these and more but if you looked at our main online presence you would never know half of this. The site has evolved from our early incarnation as the 24 Hour Museum and was always triple headed. One face looking to the public offering them news, venues, listings and more. One face looking to the sector offering them information on how to work with us and how we can help them. One face looking to teachers offering them curriculum tagged cultural resources.

As our activities and the online world became more diverse, complicated and interrelated, this website had started to become confused and I believe became unclear to all it’s audiences exactly who we were or why they should bother.

So who are we? Well is our new company website. The online presence of the nonprofit business that publishes (amongst other things) and is now home to details of all our projects, services, knowledge and our team.

The site also carries our new branding and logo which was developed with CRUSH creative agency in Brighton. It takes the forward slash from our original logo and moves it into the physical world – literally through placing it in a range of photographs but also by making it 3D in the logo itself.

The thinking behind is meant to reflect how we bridge the physical world of museums and galleries with the digital online space. Clever I think and also rather beautiful. By placing the forward slash in a range of different architectural settings (museum, gallery, library, heritage site, street etc) we also indicate the broad reach of our services across all these different parts of the sector.

Much of the learning from this year has in fact fallen out of my role leading our action research project on how to evaluate online success. Principally, to be confident to admit that we haven’t got things completely right and allowing for that ‘failing forward’ to shape change, iterate and define new directions.

The new site is live and growing and I hope you like it (or at least understand who we are and what we do).

Changes are also underway to refine, tweak and improve as our flagship site for culture lovers.

Hallelujah for failure.

Let’s Get Real: Crit Room, Failing Forward and Talk Tables

We’ve been having a great time pulling together some really unique stuff for the conference and have three different session types to offer you alongside the usual inspiring keynotes:

1. The Crit Room

A special troubleshooting Crit Room, where attendees can receive personalised problem-solving guidance in a friendly and supportive environment. Once you’ve bought your ticket fill in our form telling us about the site describing the main problem or challenge you’re currently experiencing. Our panel of experts will review the sites in advance, then offer constructive advice, mixed with practical suggestions and comments/ideas from the floor. The expert panel are Adam Gee, Cross-platform Commissioner for Factual at Channel 4 (Chair), Fiz Yazdi, User Experience Director at cxpartners (, Anra Kennedy, Head of Content and Partnerships at Culture24

2. Failing Forward Case Studies
Partners in our Action Research Project will present honest case studies about online projects they attempted, what didn’t work, and what they learned as a result. We have some wonderful title ….
‘If you build it they won’t come’ Hugh Wallace, Head of Digital Media, National Museums Scotland
‘I Will Never Tweet Again’ Josephine Chanter, Head of Communications, The Design Museum
‘Keeping an eye on my vital statistics’ James Morley, Website Development Manager, Kew
‘Knowing Me, Knowing You’ Matthew Cock, Head of Web, British Museum
‘Have you heard of us?’ Emma McLean, Digital Marketing Officer, National Maritime Museum
‘Trying to make the parts add up’ Louise Gardner, Head of Communications, Watershed

3. Talk Tables
Literally a series of tables where different companies/people discuss what they do and how they can offer help to delegates in areas around the conference theme.
They are informal and responsive, and geared to providing a space to find out about technical systems and digital tools, and meet experts who offer solutions to the problems and needs of arts and heritage organisations. You can talk to/about: Google Analytics; TripAdvisor; Building Digital Capacity for the Arts (Arts Council England); Hitwise (Experian); JISC; Cogapp; cxpartners; Loic Tallon (Pocket Proof); Social Media pick ‘n’ mix (Rachel Clements and Elena Villaespesa); Gaming (Danny Birchall and Martha Henson)

Tuesday 20th and Wednsday 21st September 2011, Watershed, Bristol
Last few tickets on sale here.