‘HCM Ltd, are an artist-run collective who operate as a company that address and resolve client needs with a focus on creating new audiences for the contemporary art world.’ –HCM Facebook Events Page (2016)
Hyper Contemporary Marketing (HCM), is the result of the appraised task set by the Edinburgh Collage of Art, in which theory and practice art students would collaboratively decide to do what they pleased with the artist run Embassy gallery, for the course of two weeks. This was a task that had countless opportunities, which was quickly discovered in early meetings among we, the students, and the overlooking Embassy directors. The HCM organization was a fictional management company based on a 1980’s cliché, with it’s aim being to promote businesses in an original and inventive approach. The facts behind the actual organization are less important to this essay than the process and discussion that we as the Embassy’s temporary directors, developed in order to successfully complete the task.
As with most artist led initiatives, it was quickly discovered that politics played an important role in order to get anything organized and completed. It was therefore decided in beginning stages of discussion, that it was essential to obtain a few individual voices to represent and articulate the groups thoughts and ideas - rather than the many voices that shouted over one another in the initial sessions. Specific students were elected to represent collective views back and forth to the Embassy directors and therefore to later delegate jobs to individuals further down the process. Once appointed leaders were selected, ideas began to condense and a month before we obtained the gallery space, the concept of the HCM organization was decided.
The Embassy is an artist led gallery – however with its white walls, and sealed off appearance, it does not on first perception radiate an alternative space- more so, a ‘white cube’ atmosphere. With the entrance of the gallery being downstairs in a cave-like way, it fits Brian O’Doherty’s (1999) description of the white cube that, ‘the outside world must not come in.’ The overall aim of the project was not only to introduce existing members to the HCM concept, but also to gain new members for not only the project, but as an introduction to the Embassy gallery itself. This aim was also a chance for a change in reputation for the gallery, in that it could potentially become somewhere more welcoming to all members of the public, rather than the usual close knit art community. It was an opportunity to produce a progressive project that would find and communicate with new and existing audiences. This concept however, is not a new one and something that most artist led initiatives face – trying to expand their audience from a select and elite art circle, to a more welcoming public reception. UK artist led initiatives acknowledge this necessity for change and are constantly attempting for audience expansion. In his essay ‘Bad Smells But No Sign of The Corpse’, Ross Sinclair (2014) claims that, ‘Artist Initiatives are a valuable way of demystifying the business of art’. This is very true, but at the same instance do maintain a reception of a very similar and art-elite audience. For the assigned task, it was therefore a chance to challenge the exhibition space of an artist run institution. It was also an opportunity to redefine the term ‘art’ for a potentially new audience, and reassure them that this alternative space could be more welcoming than ordinary white cubes - and even other artist run initiatives.
The group decided to steer away from the direction of the typical exhibition set up - producing a visual exhibition that would be open every day for two weeks. The possibility to use the space as a type of research center that the public could explore was popular, and various other ideas surrounding a research hub were articulated. It was certain that the group felt that the involvement of the public was going to be of central focus to the show. An original presentation of art, in a welcoming production was our ambition. There was also some less than ordinary ideas, including to use the space as an adult ball room to play in. Resultantly, the space did end up being used for most of the two weeks as a place for the students to do their own research and discuss ideas for the project – with the final night of the two weeks being a hypothetical launch of the HCM organization and open to the public.
Marketing played a large part in the approach to expand the Embassy’s current audience. As a generation who predominantly grew up with the internet, we were aware that social media should be our most successful opportunity to generate a new audience. HCM logos took center place on the already existing Embassy website - and a HCM Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, and a Facebook Event page was constructed. The internet
would be our greatest marketing tool. It allowed the group to advertise key aspects of the night that would excite and entice an audience– free alcohol, free noodles and live music. Paul Mason (2015) in his book, ‘Prophets of Postcapitalism’, explains that ‘In an economy where information is everywhere, so are externalities.’ We understood that if we gave our event information in an accessible format via a relaxed social media page, a crowd could be drawn in with ease because of the advertised free commodities that was promised. The performance and intentions of HCM would be attended and therefore the alternative art show would be heard and seen by a greater audience. If a new audience attended due to the free assets, then they would have resultantly broken the fear threshold of attending an event at the Embassy gallery, and therefore potentially attend a future event. Our marketing tactic required a persistent presence, so was regularly updated and ‘shared’ online. It made us see the potential influence of the internet when trying to pursue a new audience to art. We agreed however, that some people tend to react better nowadays when they see something physical also, rather than a constant computer screen. We allocated one of the students to advertise the event by performing in costume around the surrounding area of the art collage. This was received well, and reached out to people who were not from the university or who had not received an online invite.
By choosing to do most of our marketing for the event online, we were consciously targeting a younger generation. We believed that there was a larger appetite for participation in this age category, which would suit the participation required for the launch evening of HCM.
Throughout the entire process and development of this project, both practice and theory students have been able to critically access the politics within artist run initiatives. The rationale behind the choices and decisions made by the students were thought to be more involving and welcoming for the general public, rather than typical marketing and production decisions made by some of Scotland’s current artist run institutions. We felt that the launch night of HCM was resultantly a fresh approach in encouraging a new audience to experience and participate with contemporary art. Whilst most practice students were not directly involved with the information that made up the idea of creating an organization like HCM, we believed that the experience had helped us to understand the approach in creating an event for both existing members of a gallery and potential new members to the current art scene. We were able to develop our understanding of budget distribution within artist run institutions, and realize that the majority of labor within these spaces will have come from the directors themselves – free of charge. We also understood the difficulty in trying to make the space seem more appealing to the general public. Concluding in my critical analyses of the project, I feel that without the budget that we used for the free alcohol, DJ and food, our audience would not have been as big as it had accomplished. Understanding this, I recognize the difficulties for spaces like the Embassy in acquiring members of the public who aren’t usually interested in art, to join their audience. I can also understand how it is easier for people to attend museums or institutions that exhibit art, as artist run initiatives can feel more intimate – and therefore the audience can feel as though they need to commit more than they want to.
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