Research trip to the Lowry

The lookoutAs part of our Play Your Part project, our Gallery Assistants have developed a series of very popular mini tours for adults that they deliver at the weekends.  The tours were developed because we wanted to create a sustainable events offer at the weekends that we could deliver in house, without extra staff needing to come in. Following the success of this adult programme, we’d like to do something similar for families so at the end of January we popped over to the Lowry to investigate their family offer.

We met with Michael Simpson, Director of Visual Art and Engagement and Lynsey O’Sullivan, Participation & Learning Manager who showed us to their family activity gallery, The Lookout. Michael and Lynsey explained that they previously didn’t have a dedicated family space, but had family activities across the organisation with some activity on the galleries.  Michael had previously worked at the Walker Art Gallery on their Big Art for Little Artists gallery and wanted to do something similar at the Lowry.

The starting point was talking to their front of house team as they had a desire to do it, they know what works as they talk to visitors and know what they like.  They set up family tours which are devised and led by the front of house team and include dressing up and props to engage visitors.

They identified a space in the galleries called the Deck that was difficult to programme that they developed into a family space on the theme of travelling. The space was created on a very small budget and most was built in house. The space worked very well and was very popular with families, however it was eventually taken over by the corporate team and converted to meeting rooms.

The appetite for a dedicated family space remained so they moved the Mr Lowry film and created a new family space that was smaller, but more impactful than before. This move brought criticism from the front of house team who felt that the fact the space was smaller than the Deck sent the wrong message to families that they were being pushed out.

The Lookout was created with a designer and was sponsored by Derwent, both which presented their own challenges. For example, they now want to install a large noticeboard for children’s artworks, however there is nowhere to put it. Now there are more stakeholders it adds an extra level of complication, when before it was just the front of house team making the decisions.

The learning team are populating the space with activity and have moved their Saturday workshops into the space. They have made the sessions free and weekly and visitor numbers have increased from 8 to 50. Families can also access the space self guided and it works in conjunction with Jack’s Packs for families.

The team anticipate that the space will develop over time and is a three way partnership between the learning team, front of house and families. It is a cheap and cheerful constant work in progress and there is no technology and no plans for technology.

The team are also very proud of their unique family talks that are led by their front of house team.  They engage the whole family and are aimed at families with children aged 5-11.  They adapted adult talks and use things like props as an engagement tool.  The talks last around 15-20 minutes and focus on one or two paintings.  They keep the formula quite loose as every family is different. They are free, drop in sessions at the weekends. Sometimes they get lots of attendees, sometimes no one.

After our meeting we discussed how we could approach a flexible weekend family offer at the PHM.  We’ve already got a lot of props and interactives on our galleries that we can incorporate, and our front of house team are full of ideas and enthusiasm.  We’ll keep you updated on what we develop…

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