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Visit Scotland | Alba
Article published 10/05/2020

Tell us about Gi

Glasgow International is Scotland’s largest festival for contemporary art, taking place over three weeks every two years across the city of Glasgow. Renowned as a centre for contemporary art, the festival draws on the city’s strengths as a vibrant and distinctive centre of artistic production and display. Combining the characteristics of a visual arts biennial with an open submission model for artists and curators based in the city, GI is a truly unique event in the European cultural calendar.

GI provides a unique platform, combining a strong interwoven offer of commissions and exhibitions by artists living locally and internationally, in large-scale and familiar public venues as well as smaller less conventional sites. Glasgow has an unusually rich visual arts sector, described by The Guardian as the ‘most developed arts scene outside London’.

GI 2020 was due to take place 23 April – 10 May 2020, and included 136 exhibitions and events in 50 venues located across the city. It was postponed on 17th March due to the coronavirus pandemic, and we are currently exploring dates for 2021 to represent the Festival.

What were the key reasons for creating a digital event?

Following the postponement of the festival, which was a very tough decision for both the GI team and all the artists who had been working so hard up to that point to finalise new art work and make exhibitions, the GI team felt that it was important that the original dates of the festival were publically marked.  This was also in recognition of the significant role GI plays for artists and audiences both in Glasgow and further afield, and that the loss of the festival would be felt keenly by so many people. It was clear from the start that an online programme would not replace the original festival, for which in-person encounters with art and exhibitions is vital, but that this small selection of works would offer a meaningful alternative when these direct encounters were not possible.

Tell us about your digital event

The online programme included a selection of newly commissioned artworks as well as some existing works by artists from GI’s 2020 programme, alongside a recorded lecture, panel discussion and audio introduction to the programme. It was hosted on Glasgow International’s website homepage, and ran from 23 April – 31 May.  

The programme included new video and sounds works by Alberta Whittle, Yuko Mohri, Liv Fontaine and Jenkin van Zyl, existing works by Sarah Forrest, Urara Tsuchiya and Georgina Starr, plus the presentation of a lecture by the art historian TJ Clark that had originally been presented in Glasgow in March in collaboration with the School of Culture and Creative Arts at the University of Glasgow. 

The programme also included an audio introduction given by GI Festival Director Richard Parry, as well as a new panel discussion featuring the curator Stefanie Hessler, the writers Brian Dillon and Orit Gat, and GI Director Richard Parry, exploring the ways in which the resonance of the festival’s theme of Attention had changed in the light of the Covid-19 crisis.    

Did you come across any challenges?

The main challenge for GI was the short turn-around time between the decision to postpone the festival on 17th March and the start date of the online programme (23 April). As some artists were making new work for this online programme, it involved very quick work from them to ensure it was ready in time, plus quick thinking and work to repurpose the GI website. 

It was also a challenge as the GI core team did not have any particular experience in presenting online programmes. Thinking through what an online programme would be, and how it would work, immediately presented many new questions and challenges which had to be worked through very fast.

However, we were very grateful to both the artists and colleagues that work with GI including curators, designers, web developers, marketing and digital specialists, and PR agencies, who all worked together to enable us to present the best programme we could.

What was your approach?

While the process to create the online programme was a team effort, GI was particularly fortunate to be working with a digital marketing specialist, Leah Silverlock, Ooh!Studios, who worked with the GI team to explore a number of different ideas and establish what would work effectively online, what online audiences might want at this time, what could be achieved in the timeframe as well as advised on the best way to repurpose the website to make it a user-friendly space for the programme to be presented from. The video content was linked from a private vimeo account. This was a successful solution, with the programme very visible and accessible to all those seeking out the programme.

The selection of artwork emerged from discussions in the GI team, as well as with artists in the festival programme. As outlined above, we were able to commission new works with artists either revising work they had been developing for the festival itself, or developing new works specifically for the online context. Other artists presented existing work that resonated both with the festival’s theme, but also with the new environment that we all found ourselves in. This was complemented by a recorded lecture by the art historian TJ Clark that had been presented in Glasgow just a few weeks before the crisis had taken hold, alongside a new panel discussion that explored the festival’s theme of Attention but reflecting on the new circumstances of the pandemic and lockdown.

How did you promote your digital event?

We worked with our two PR agencies (Sam Talbot PR, London and Cornershop, Edinburgh) to promote the event to both mainstream and specialist print and online publications. This was very successful, with c. 50 articles about the programme produced, including features on BBC Culture in Quarantine, as well as coverage in the Guardian, Sunday Times and Scotsman. 

We also had a very engaged social media strategy (again lead by Leah Silverlock), which ensured that information about the digital programme via our social media channels reached 45.5k engagements, with 28.2k visits to the digital programme.

What did you measure and what were the results?

27.6k views/listens

27.6k views/listens to material on online programme

13.1k new visitors

13.1k new visitors looked at the website during the digital programme

45.5k reach

45.5k reach across social media channels

1.1m increase

GI’s social media profile increased its reach by 1.1m during the digital programme, reaching a total

50 articles

PR engagement was 50 articles

What did you measure and what were the results?

  • Material on the online programme had 27.6k views / listens
  • 13.1k new visitors looked at the website during the digital programme 
  • Social media reach: 45.5k 
  • GI’s social media profile increased its reach by 1.1m during the digital programme, reaching a total of 4.2m for the duration of the campaign (from January 2020)
  • PR engagement (number of articles): 50

Was it a success?

The GI team feel that the online programme was an effective and important step in marking the festival that we were unable to present. It allowed us to support artists at a time that has been so particularly hard for artists, as well as to both keep in touch with existing audiences while reaching new ones that would not otherwise have been able to attend the festival itself.

In addition, the response to the programme from both mainstream press, specialist art press, and online, has been very positive, with all the reviews positive in tone. We were particularly pleased to be included in broadsheet coverage of the cultural sector’s response to the crisis, including articles in The Guardian, i-Paper, the Scotsman and The Sunday Times. 

The social media response was also very encouraging, with peers and colleagues making particular mention of GI’s programme, leading to the social media reach being particularly strong. 

What were your learnings?

Developing this project has directly informed how the GI team think about the potential of online activity and digital communications. Already as we think through potential future projects, we are considering how online programmes and activity can be used to enhance and extend our reach and engagement. This is not only in the light of the pandemic, but also thinking about other environmental concerns as well. 

We also have a much more nuanced understanding of the value and potential of online communications for marketing, and the diversity and reach that can be achieved there. We are looking forward to taking this learning forward into future marketing strategies.

Have any new opportunities resulted from this activity?

It was exciting to see how artists responded to exhibiting online in such a positive way, with many coming with innovative ideas that translated well into the digital environment. This has led to further conversations around future projects that could make more meaningful use of online spaces than has previously been considered. 

We were also very encouraged by the reach that the programme has had, significantly expanding GI’s regular audience. We know from analysis of the website traffic that 13.1k of visitors are new to the GI website, which suggests they are new visitors to GI. This is a very exciting development that we are keen to explore and develop as part of our work in 2021 and beyond.