Friday, October 15, 2010

Secret squirrel: the adventure continues

It has been over half a year since Michael Parekowhai was announced as the New Zealand representative at the Venice Biennale. In those months the venue has been secured, the idea for the work developed and the production set in play. And yet if you check out the CNZ Venice website you’d think that nothing has happened at all. 

If any lesson should have been learned over the fiasco with et al and the 2005 Biennale, it is that better and wider communications would have meant more intelligent and informed support when the politicians went AWOL (and they only climbed the fence because they didn’t know what was going on either). 

There is something odd we have noted before about the approach visual arts institutions take to communications and marketing. They seem to live back in the days of The Big Surprise. Keep everything under wraps (often literally as well as figuratively) and then do the precisely timed “Reveal.” Trouble is, this model only works when you have a big budget to keep the media engine revved. If you don’t, the arts never make it as a big media story unless, of course, the story to be told is a negative one and then, boy does it turn out to have legs. (again, check out Venice Biennale 2005 for a textbook demo). 

The Big Reveal Strategy is based on the old miscalculation that if we think it is interesting, the media will too. Count up the column space the media gave to the Big Announcement in February about the artist selected to represent NZ at Venice to gauge the level of media excitement. We have done it on your behalf and their flame does not burn bright. The CNZ at Venice Website peters out after the Parekowhai announcement and a couple of refs to places he has exhibited this year.

The answer is to build a community of interest. There are enough people who think the arts are a waste of space and money without ignoring the few that are your supporters. Share the story early with people who already have some connection with it in the reasonable expectation that they will talk about it and create further interest and excitement. After all, there is a selected group of people ‘in the know’ already. We reckon there must be at least a couple of hundred of them, probably more. The people who have been told exactly what Michael Parekowhai intends presenting at Venice and where it will be shown. We’re thinking of the large number of potential patrons (and we assume any of their friends who were interested) who were briefed on the work a month or so ago. We’re not talking state secrets here, rather carefully controlled information in the interests (it seems) of fund-raising. As for anyone else with an interest in how NZ is representing us through art, they are kept in the dark. Seems odd when they have made the biggest investment by stumping up to pay the salaries at CNZ and the costs of undertaking the Venice project with everyone else.

So time to spill the beans, open the doors of the what’s-going-to-happen-at-Venice clubroom and let the rest of the public who are interested in art in. You might be surprised what good company they can be.