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Marketing an exhibition: how hard can it be? – Sophie Ridsdale-Smith

A lot of work goes into marketing an exhibition, from nailing a creative brief to hitting the upload button on Instagram, there are many steps in between which are all as equally important. 

As someone who spends more hours on social media than I care to admit to, taking on the role of marketing for the exhibition seemed a responsibility not too far away from the social media I knew. As long as we had a graphic designer on board and some beautiful images of the artwork, I anticipated minimal hiccups. I had a fantastic partner (and friend!) sharing the load – shoutout to Julie – and together we naively navigated the world of press and marketing. 

Our first task was to find a graphic designer. This sounded simple enough but with the added difficulty of a pandemic and lockdown, this was more of a challenge. Many hours were spent on Zoom calls with the rest of the gang, pitching potential designers and figuring out how we wanted the exhibition to look and feel. We eventually locked down (pardon the pun!) Mathilda Della Torre, who as it happened, had worked with the MA Curating group of last year and roughly knew how the exhibition process worked, though obviously this year was very different with no physical exhibition taking place. Mathilda was set to work, designing the beautiful posters and various other assets that are across the website and marketing materials. We are so pleased with the work Mathilda produced, and Julie and I definitely developed our problem-solving skills and the importance of taking a lead on something, particularly when it came to making decisions!

I can’t write a blog post on marketing without mentioning the press release. Once again, this was something both of us were completely new to but was such a valuable learning experience for us as well. We took advice from Ashleigh Toll, the marketing guru for the Courtauld, and drafted the press release, collated a press pack which included key artwork images and our events programme details. Personally, it was incredibly interesting seeing what goes on behind the scenes in order to get journalists interested and provide all the information they would need.  Communication was key here, because of the multiple partners involved in our exhibition project. It was vital that everyone approved and was happy with the material we would make public. 

Posting on social media was probably the most familiar task to us, and something I really enjoyed doing. We could get a bit creative on Instagram Stories and hopefully enthuse others enough to visit the exhibition. I will admit that after the show had launched online, it was harder to keep the momentum going on social media. I think this would have been very different had we been in a physical gallery space. A challenge we are currently figuring out is knowing when to stop posting about the exhibition on social media all together, we are now in full dissertation mode, yet the exhibition website is still up and running (and will be until June 2021).

A definite highlight for all of us was being featured as the ‘Exhibition of the Week’ in Jonathan Jones’s ‘Art Weekly’ article in The Guardian. Being recognised by one of the most well-known art critics in Britain is something I will not stop talking about for a long time! 

As I mentioned at the beginning of this post, I’m not sure myself and Julie really knew what marketing an exhibition actually looked like, and although we made some obvious mistakes throughout the process, it was a fantastic learning opportunity and one I would certainly sign myself up for again, perhaps not in a global pandemic though.

A word about interpretation – Elizabeth Keto

Hello there. I’m glad you’re here. My name is Elizabeth, and I’m one of the curators of Unquiet Moments: Capturing the Everyday. In this space, we’ll have a series of blog posts exploring aspects of our exhibition-making process from ‘behind the scenes’.

My two primary roles on the exhibition were coordinating our text interpretation – basically, serving as a general editor for the project – and licensing the images of the artworks, so that we could legally display them on our website. Although copyright is a crucially important protection for artists and other creators, I’m afraid that a blog post focused on the ins and outs of image licensing would be about as thrilling as reading an air-conditioner repair manual backwards. So I will focus instead on interpretation.

Although writing captions might seem to be one of the aspects of an exhibition least affected by a transition to an online platform – text is text, whether online or on a gallery wall – the pandemic did create an unexpected dilemma for us. How do you write about something you’ve never seen?

As any art history professor will tell you, writing about a work of art without seeing it in person is a thoroughly suspect practice. One of my professors was famous for requiring students to spend no less than three hours before a work of art before even beginning to compose their essays. Since we were still finalising our list of works when COVID-19 precipitated the closure of the collection stores and the relocation of many of the students away from London, only one of us was ever able to see any of the works in person. And like us, all of the visitors to our exhibition will view the works of art only through the pixelated veil of a computer or smartphone screen.

Interpretation – the written words that help explain, contextualise, or translate the work of art – seems to hold the danger of increasing that sense of separation. The root of ‘interpreter’ is a Latin word meaning a go-between, an agent, a negotiator. ‘Interpretation’ in the museum carries that same sense of bridging a distance: a text that mediates a conversation between artwork and viewer.

Yet what we were most concerned to preserve for our viewers was that very sense of closeness and contact that was most threatened by the online space. We were determined that the works of art still be able to touch viewers, to hold their attention – a task made more difficult given the siting of the exhibition within the internet’s empire of distraction. How then to interpret in a way that lessens the distance, rather than increasing it?

My hope is that our interpretation functions less as a thing (or as a description of a thing, so two things, really) than as an event, as a certain type of mental action. I’d like to foreground the idea of ‘reading’ as an open-ended, ongoing practice, rather than as a finished, self-contained text – ‘a reading of the work’. I’m eager that you should come with me on this voyage, this act of crossing between shores. Our interpretations, if they work as they should, are simply invitations to you, dear reader.

Work in Focus – Alejandra Carles-Tolra, Untitled from the series Where We Belong, 2017

In the first room of our exhibition, above a (rather wonky) mantelpiece, hangs Alejandra Carles-Tolra’s beautiful photograph from the series Where We Belong.

Alejandra Carles-Tolra, Untitled from Where we belong, 2017. Arts Council Collection, Southbank Centre, London. © the artist. Originally commissioned through the Jerwood/Photoworks Awards, supported by Jerwood Charitable Foundation and Photoworks.

Where We Belong is a photographic body of work that explores themes of belonging, femininity, and escapism. Over the course of three years, Alejandra Carles-Tolra documented the Jane Austen Pineapple Appreciation Society, a group that recreate and celebrate Jane Austen’s novels.

Members of the Society dress up in Regency costume and come together at special events including dances, festivals, and house parties. The group call themselves ‘Janeites’ and share a strong passion for the author. Although Jane Austen is a figure that is in many ways bound to the past, for members of the society she is a living, breathing force of the present.

When Carles-Tolra first encountered the group, she was intrigued by the draw of the past. Where We Belong seeks to question what it is about Jane Austen’s world, with its old-fashioned concepts of femininity, that has captured the imagination of these 21st-century women.

We were immediately struck by the joyful sense of freedom captured in the photograph, and the blurring of boundaries between past and present, fantasy and reality. As a work that we came across early in the research process, it has played a crucial role in our conception of the exhibition’s themes, particularly in terms of how we can relate to historical figures and personal icons.

Many of the group identify with the strong female characters in Jane Austen’s novels. They also consider Austen herself to be a feminist icon; as an unmarried and independent woman who made a living from her books, she is a rare exception for her time period. In the same vein, while the group may seem anachronistic at first glance, they are a female-led society that fosters a sense of empowerment amongst members. While Alejandra Carles-Tolra also photographed the male members of the Society, as in our exhibition photograph, she always sought to place them in a secondary role to the female members.

We decided that this photograph was a fitting work for the back of our exhibition leaflet, which unfolds as an A3 poster. We hope it encourages the viewer to think about the figures and icons that they feel connected to across time.

It was a pleasure to have Alejandra Carles-Tolra give an Artist’s Talk in front of this photograph on Saturday 22 June. This event formed part of the exhibition’s public programme, co-ordinated by Debbie and I, and also took place in collaboration with Somerset House’s Generation Get Up! Weekend.

Alejandra shared fascinating details about her experience creating Where We Belong, and her practice more broadly. A particular highlight included a description of how the group painstakingly sew their own Regency-style costumes, which Alejandra also had the opportunity to wear!

You can find out more about Alejandra Carles-Tolra and her work here.


Exhibition Opening

Wow – what a truly great evening celebrating the opening of the exhibition with friends, family, and other (special) guests on Friday night.

We were so glad that Deborah Swallow, Appau Jnr Boakye-
Yiadom and Helen Cammock – and other special guests – could join us to inaugurate the exhibition,
giving us also a chance to discuss with them the exhibition more generally. The last few weeks
leading up to Friday evening – between installing, finalising texts, advertising the event, and
preparing to welcome our visitors – were certainly exciting for us, but also hard work! However, it
was amazing to see everything come together on Thursday and see it ready for the public on Friday.

We discussed the experience and gave tours to our guests, showing everyone how proud we were of
the final product. People were engaging with the works on display, eager to discuss them amongst
themselves and with us. The speeches given by Anne and Capucine on behalf of the group perfectly
summarised our individual experience co-curating the show with 10 other people. It was a moment
to look back and reflect on how challenging developing and bringing this project together was, but
also how much we had learnt during the last 5 months as a group. It was also a moment to
acknowledge and thank everyone for the overwhelming amount of support we received from
collaborators – the exhibition has also been made possible with their guidance and help throughout.
The incredibly positive feedback we received both at the opening and in the days following it, both
from collaborators and friends or family, made us even more proud of what we have presented to
the public. We are excited to see how the exhibition will be received and engaged with by the public,
and ready to show how passionate we are about our project with our tours.



Photograph: Werner Vivier