Sunday, May 22, 2011

Why every photography gallery needs coffee

Buy me a coffee and I’ll come to a photography exhibition.
For anyone who likes photography it’s an offer you can’t refuse. For anyone who doesn’t like photography it should also be the offer you can’t refuse.
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The problem is, the people who run photography galleries don’t have a clue about business and marketing.
If they did, the front entrances to their buildings would be full of tables and chairs with a big sign in the window saying ‘coffee.’ These galleries would also be full of people, something that photography galleries try to avoid at all costs.
This is my idea to make photography galleries popular. It is simple so I will reiterate: bring people in by selling tea and coffee.
Imagine two city centre buildings right next to each other. One is a beautifully kept, white-walled photography gallery hosting an exhibition by Sabastiao Salgado. The other is a Starbucks.
From 8am until 6pm one building is packed full of people, the other welcomes just two students and an elderly lady all day. Do you nee me to tell you which is photography gallery?
I’ll give you a clue: the old lady was looking for the coffee shop but walked through the wrong door.
This topic was talked about the other day (May 2011) by important people at the National Photography Symposium in Liverpool.
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The Photographers’ Gallery in London is a case to illustrate my point. When it was housed in two adjacent buildings in Great Newport Street, London, (for 27 years until 2008) it had a marvellous coffee shop.
Despite being fairly narrow it was busy, with images on display around the room. I loved it.
Clare Grafik, The Photographers’ Galley’s current head of exhibitions, mentioned at NPS’s ‘Imagining the photography centre of the future’ panel discussion how she liked this almost accidental coffee shop.
“We tricked them into seeing art – got them in to buy a coffee and see an exhibition for free,” she remarked.
It’s so bloody obvious. The fact that The Photographers’ Galllery coffee shop is hidden on the first floor at its new premises on Ramillies Street, Soho, is a step backwards. But at least they have one.
Impressions in Bradford. No coffee shop. Few visitors. Several café’s round the corner are packed all the time. Liverpool’s new Open Eye Gallery does not have a coffee shop, tea bar or drinks machine.
I remember visiting the old Open Eye Gallery on Wood Street. I had to walk past about fifteen bustling coffee shops to get there. The exhibition was by an Eastern European photographer whose name I can’t recall. But I do remember being the only person in the building, apart from the staff.
When you’re the lone person visiting an exhibition and are out-numbered by the staff you sort of feel you’re intruding. I never went back.
Now, I’m not saying that venue was ideal for selling tea, coffee and carrot cake – but their brand new building could’ve been. They’ve missed a trick. You have to go to the Museum of Liverpool next door for a hot drink.
Open Eye didn’t even have anything for sale. At least Newcastle’s Side Gallery were selling a few books the last time I visited. Selling books – that’s another story (something I have to say The Photographers’ Gallery does well).
The National Media Museum in Bradford has a canteen-cum-coffee shop. It’s always far busier than the exhibitions. When will the penny drop?
What are the people running photography institutions actually doing to attract new people to photography?
The answer is: Not enough.
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This is me drinking coffee in Rome.

1 comment:

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