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Turnaround plan unveiled after Firstsite visitor numbers drop by 25,000
6:00am Monday 30th December 2013 in News
FIRSTSITE’S director has set out his vision for change after visitor numbers dropped by 15 per cent.
The first year of the art gallery was hailed a success after 172,000 visitors came through the doors.
But in its second 12 months, up to September 2013, the centre attracted 147,000 visitors.
The venue, which opened in 2011 after years of delays and cost rises, aims to attract at least 150,000 visitors a year.
Director Matthew Rowe has revealed the organisation is beginning a “programme for change” aimed at dramatically boosting the gallery’s popularity.
Changes coming include: ý More art exhibitions making greater use of the space of the £28million venue.
ý Exhibitions in the entrance in the style of the Tate Modern’s “turbine hall”.
ý A private fundraising drive to pay for the hire of more artwork and exhibitions.
ý Better training for gallery assistants so they can explain how the contemporary art on display can be interpreted.
ý Greater use of the land surrounding the building, including a new children’s playing field.
ý Longer opening hours if and when the regeneration of the area, including a proposed cinema at neighbouring Roman House, comes to fruition.
ý A new director of communications, starting early next year, to increase Firstsite’s presence on social media.
ýAnew website which will use more film and aural content.
Mr Rowe said: “It’s not a disastrous situation, but I think there’s room to develop.
“I’m confident we can improve these figures.
“We think we can communicate about the art we show in a more accessible manner.
We will also have a better programme or projects and exhibitions.
“My ambition is to make more consistent use of the building and its architecture “We might have three or four different artist exhibitions in the building at any one time.
“There will be more opportunities for people to like what they see or engage with what they see.”
Mr Rowe warned many of his proposed changes would not become apparent until 2015 because arts venues largely work 16 to 18 months in advance.
One of the criticisms Firstsite has faced is visitors not well versed in modern art struggle to unders t a n d the abstract installations.
Mr Rowe said with £850,000 a year coming from the Arts Council to promote the contemporary scene, challenging exhibitions will continue to be displayed.
But he said the greater training for gallery assistants will mean they can help explain some of the theories behind the artwork.
He said: “One of the real strengths of Firstsite is we attract a very broad range of visitors, from specialists to the less experienced.
“Clearly, contemporary art can be challenging for the first-time visitor and therefore it’s really important institutions like Firstsite really invest in the welcome and the conversations that can take place.
“We want visiting to become a much more social experience so you’re almost able to hear the artist speak or have a conversation with the artist, with the gallery assistant as intermediary.”
Mr Rowe said one reason for the drop in visitors was the lack of a director following the retirement of his predecessor, Kath Wood, in summer 2012,.
He said: “There are many examples of visitor figures dropping in year two.
“With Firstsite there were other circumstances. For six months the organisation didn’t have a director so the strategic direction of the was left in abeyance.”
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