Case Study on The Model Blog for NGI Symposium - Audience Development in
Museums and Cultural Sites in Difficult Times
By Aoife Flynn, (ex) Development Manager, The Model
The Model, home of The Niland Collection, is one of Ireland’s Leading Contemporary
Arts Centres. Situated on the North West Coast of Ireland it has regional, national,
and international audiences. The Model strives to be emblematic of Ireland’s future of
contemporary culture, and to be one of its greatest breeding grounds for art
production, new ideas and practices.
Why The Model Blog?
In January 2008 The Model closed for a major redevelopment, which would take
from 18months – 2 years to complete. We recognised early on that one of our most
significant challenges during the closure period would be to stay connected with our
regular Sligo visitors and those from further afield, who were used to dropping in to
The Model whenever they were in town.
We devised an experimental offsite programme which was specifically designed to
remain connected with local audiences and to connect with artists and other
audiences in new ways, but The Model also functions as a social space, a creative
hub, and while we might be able to maintain a connection with the programme
visitors through the mounting of offsite exhibitions or touring the Niland Collection,
we couldn’t maintain that social connection in this way…..and so the Blog was born
as a response to this challenge. We wanted to re-create something of the feeling of
dropping in to The Model and chatting to the Front Desk, picking up on programme
info, hearing opinions from curators, linking to interesting artists and projects, feeling
you could contribute your opinion and reaction.
Web 2.0 and getting to know you….
At this time (late 2007) We were also keen to explore uses of the emerging social
media (facebook, myspace) and web 2.0. developments to harness a more
interactive experience for our visitors. At The Model we are always working to
create a more accessible, welcoming experience for all visitors, working to
breakdown any “exclusive” or “elitist” barriers that exist for some when considering
entering a Gallery. We work hard to have a welcoming Front of House team, and
wanted to explore online applications that might extend this welcoming, egalitarian
feeling to our visitors. The blog was a way to test out reaction to this idea, and in part
to test out how curators and programmers might feel about speaking to our audience
in a more informal, conversational manner; which can often present a major
challenge to those used to speaking and writing in more formal art speak.
Did it work?
In a word: Yes.
The great joy with blogs is that you can accurately track the results through the free
stats packages. We’ve had a blog for over 18 months, and compared to October
2008 (when it had been up and running for 6 months) we have seen an increase in
visitors of 360% - from 693 views to 2,492 views in 2009.
Here’s a summary table from our (free) stats package.
As you can see from the monthly trends it took us just under a year (to March 2009)
of extensive month-on-month growth to reach a reasonably steady threshold of over
2,000 views a month, which we have managed to sustain.
Importantly it allows us to post information that is more immediate than our website,
and we make a distinction in the language that we use between The Model site and
The Model blog. It allows us to share content easily (links to other articles, photos,
film clips, music files) and to post stories that engage people.
For example. The Model’s main webpage for Medium Religion exhibition is relatively
standard- curators description of the exhibition, list of artists, lead image to match
invite, links to further reading and the connected symposium:
While over on the blog if you search for Medium Religion
(http://sligomodelblog.wordpress.com/tag/medium-religion/) you get a range of
articles from notifications about curators’ tours or events, to articles that appeared in
the press, sneak previews of the artworks arriving on site and updates on the recent
unrest in Tehran; arising as one of our Medium Religion artists is Iranian and was
prevented from travelling back to the Symposium by the election protests. This is an
excellent example of a current affair which was relevant to the exhibition, but not
necessarily appropriate to place on the static web page
The next steps…
For The Model the next steps are to further enhance this interactive experience with
the Model’s online presence by integrating the blog and our other social networking
tools with our main website as an overall web platform. This is currently under
development and will allow for a richer experience for our regular visitors, and those
that live further afield and can only physically visit us once a year or less. We hope
to launch this new platform along with the new build in Spring 2010.
How much does it cost?
The basic blog is free. There are small additional costs (20e or so) to increase
capacity, or to point to a dedicated url (i.e. to make it www.modelblog.ie instead of
How long does it take to set up?
What blog site did you use and why?
Wordpress – because it seemed the most elegant set up, was very easy to use, and
came with very professional looking templates. Other common blog hosts are
blogger and typepad
Why use a blog site?
1. blog sites are free and easy- it’s like typing an email so any staff member can
2. blog sites have lots of users and lots of links, and therefore are more highly
google rated – basically this means that they are more likely to come up in
the top 5 search results returned by google when looking for a term.
3. Blog sites like wordpress are programmed to interact with flickr, youtube,
vimeo and other (free) online tools seamlessly
4. Blog sites come with their own rss feed, which basically means that you can
connect them up with facebook and other online presences or blog readers so
that your blog posts automatically appear on these sites as they are posted.
5. Wordpress (and others) are linked to twitter, so we can have our twitter
account appear at the side of our blog home page.
Wouldn’t it be better to have all that on my organisations’ website?
Yes. But this can take an investment in web development and complex
programming that many organisations don’t have. This is a free way to test out if
this is something that works for your organisation.
How long does it take to update the blog?
This is difficult to answer as it depends how active you want to be. At a minimum
you should post at least one new article every week, and this can take a half-day
to do. If you want to be very active, and coordinate a number of online
presences like facebook, twitter, flickr etc It would be best to engage a digital
marketing assistant, or to task someone in the organisation (an intern perhaps)
with these updates. That level of interaction can take up to 10 hours a week, but if
you spread the work around your organisation- having other staff members email
interesting blog posts or uploading pictures it can ease the workload
What kind of things should I write about?
Again, this is up to you and your organistion, but if you just use it as a place to post
press releases you won’t gather any visitors. The best blogs contain interesting,
readable (this means short and informal with lots of content and links) and relevant
articles for their readers.
What about comments? I’m not sure I want to get people giving negative feedback on
You can disable comments if you are very worried, or you can moderate comments
(which we do) so that you can read them before they are posted. My personal
feeling is that you have to be brave and if you are confident in your organisation
then you won’t receive overwhelmingly negative feedback. A visitor to your
organisation could leave a negative comment in the visitor book or at the desk, this is
no different, and at least it gives you an opportunity to constructively respond.
I strongly believe that galleries and museums need to embrace dialogue with their
audience, and this needs to be a two way affair, in order to remain relevant into the
future, but that’s the subject of an entirely different presentation!
If you have any specific questions about any element of this case study, or just blogs
and online presences in general please email me firstname.lastname@example.org
The Model online:
http://www.modelart.ie - Model website. New Site due in Spring 2010
http://sligomodelblog.wordpress.com Model blog. Due for integration into the new
Model web platform in Spring 2010
http://www.facebook.com/TheModelSligo The Model’s facebook page
http://www.twitter.com/modelsligo Model on twitter
http://www.flickr.com/photos/modelniland Model on flickr
http://www.youtube.com/user/modelniland Model on YouTube
Resources Additional reading
http://www.wordpress.com blog engine – note, wordpress.org is slightly different
and intended for advanced users/programmers
http://www.sumodesign.co.uk/our-views/web-2-0-for-the-museum.html excellent blog
article on the rise of web 2.0 and how that will impact on museums and galleries in
the future as Generation C - “Generation curator” - comes to the fore.
http://museumtwo.blogspot.com Excellent blogs from Nina Simon, a consultant in
museums and galleries that designs and researches participatory museum
http://www.museummarketing.co.uk Another excellent blog from Jim Richardson of
Sumo Design in the UK, a specialist design consultancy working in the arts and