The Royal Academy extends its innovative InMind programme into 2012 and proves, in Marian Cleary's opinion, that audience engagement and community participation can go hand in hand.
The Royal Academy recently took a look at their audience. A quick scan of the demographic of their Friends scheme gave them this fact: “More than a third (34%) of the Friends of the Royal Academy are 65 years and older.”
This realisation might have had some venues scurrying off to plan projects via schools and colleges and investing in outreach to new and younger audiences.
Not the Royal Academy. Instead they thought about how to reach out to their Friends and InMind was born.
The defining reasoning behind InMind is based on a fact that we often shy away from looking at straight in the face. This fact regards the numbers of people who have dementia or Alzheimer’s disease according to age:
40-64 years: 1 in 1400
65-69 years: 1 in 100
70-79 years: 1 in 25
80+ years: 1 in 6
It is Dementia Awareness Week this week. These figures should wake us up a bit.
Another stat fact that nests into these figures which arts programmers and venues should know is that "those aged 65 and over are least likely to take part in arts activities."
InMind is the RA’s answer to this. They set out space and time to enable people with dementia and their partners and / or carers to spend time with important items from the Royal Academy collection and have discussion with professional curators who deliver interactive talks and guided experiences around these pieces.
The 2011 programme of events was carefully evaluated and you can read all about how the programme was thought through, organised, run, and the impact it had on participants and their partners, and also carers, RA volunteers and staff, in the report which was published in February this year.
Comments from participants in the report are striking:
“I enjoyed today. Seeing that painting, it made me think of my childhood. On Saturday mornings, we would go down to the beach with my father and buy fish from the fishermen, straight from the sea. It was so fresh. And the colours, there was colour everywhere. Oh, I loved it!”
“When we arrive, we’re looking at the ceiling. The ceiling itself with the painting on the ceiling. It’s absolutely fantastic! You can visualise a bloke lying on the scaffold board, lying underneath on his back and painting all of that. Makes you think! The height is sort of immaterial once you’re up there. You forget about the height. More the size… You think, with a small sable brush, how in God’s name? You know, just to do one figure must take hours. Then to go from one figure into another. Amazing.”
“I come once a month and it’s something to really look forward to. I look forward to discovering knowledge of the paintings and the artists. Wonderful! And a trip out too. Who is the organiser of us coming here? Well, they are doing a wonderful job in bringing us here. Absolutely superb.”
Arts organisations are getting more and more used to proving that they are using their resources wisely. Perhaps this is a good thing since often it is precious grant money, both from public and private funding bodies, being used. Often however it is hard to pin down and evaluate exactly what it is that made a project or an outcome significant for participants and audiences and to fix what kind of legacy perhaps a venture has created.
With all the aims in the world at the outset of a project when compiling the funding application, how do you then measure success at the other end?
The comments above indicate a success. They suggest, even when extracted from the formal report and commentary, that when it comes to audience participation and community involvement, the RA have not only ticked the boxes when it comes to evaluation but have made a significant impact on many people’s lives.
But to be honest, it’s hard to work out if these quotes could fit neatly into funding-criteria analysis such as 'community engagement' or 'audience participation'. But a good look at the report could add further to all-round good practice in arts programming and access projects when it comes to thinking clearly about participation and outreach.
It seems clear though that by keeping a significant proportion of their current audience in mind, the RA have thought outside the tick boxes.
Happily, InMind continues. The next two events will be on Monday 11 June and 16 July at 11:00am to 12:30pm.
You will be able to find further dates and times as they come up via our listings pages or by searching the DAO site for InMind @ RA. You can also keep an eye on the RA website of course.
Tickets are £3 but are free to Friends of the Royal Academy and to carers, supporters, family members and friends.
Book tickets online or via the Box Office: 020 7300 8000 or by contacting the Access Officer directly: 020 7300 5732. Booking is essential.
The RA website has useful access pages in order to help visitors get the most out of their visit.
The statistics about incidence of dementia per age is courtesy the Alzheimer’s Society.
All other quotes and statistics are from the evaluation report InMind at the RA, 2011 by Susan Potter at Arts Evaluation and Research.