Anastasiya Nurzhynska: Combine contemporary art with street food!

International communication expert of the EU-EaP Culture and Creativity Programme about promoting cultural projects in order to reach as many people as possible.

When we used to talk about culture in the past, we had in mind specific things, the things you find in museums, theatres, concert venues, etc. Today, the situation appears to have changed. What can, in your opinion, be called culture and cultural projects today?

The concept of culture has expanded: now we talk not only about high culture, and even not only about mass culture. Many cultural sectors are being equated with economic sectors, for instance fashion or design. On the one hand, these are culture, on the other, these spheres bring in profits, and, for example, UNESCO calls them creative industries. Creative industries have one principle in common: everything built around ideas is considered to be creative.

Then how do you explain to a potential audience that culture is important?

It’s important to understand that it’s not all about money. It’s a good thing to perceive culture as a sector of the economy, but many countries use culture to build an identity. It can be effective in terms of tourism, but it can also be viewed as a condition for independence. The revolution in Ukraine has given people the impetus to begin to seek an answer to the question “Who are we?” And this is where culture can help find the answer.

Culture is also important because it can help resolve social issues. As soon as tensions arise in society, the first to take heed of this are cultural professionals: they do that in the theatre, at exhibitions, etc., trying to resolve the conflict. And this, more often than not, works because this is dialogue through the arts. And this may be even more important than money. Thanks to its common culture, a nation senses a certain unity because based on culture values is built, which is also important for a successful state.

But very often even such art projects that force people to think about their identity don’t find a large enough audience. Why do you think that is? What should be done about it?

I believe that you need to have a different approach: you have to find out what matters for your audience. If your audience is students now, then you have to think for them, what’s important for them, what they like to do, how they obtain information and what their main motivating factor is. If you wish to attract families to an exhibition, find out what matters to them. And the answer to this question should influence your cultural project.

If you’re doing a project that does not respond to the interests of your audience or is developed in contradiction to these interests, what you’ll get is an underground art project for a very limited number of people. A successful cultural project moves by taking into account the interests of the audience, or touches on relevant problems in its positioning to promote itself. You have to talk with people the way they do, with the language and specific words that they use. Often press releases try to impress with such terminology that makes them uninteresting. Of course, you can defend yourself by saying “I’m uninteresting!” but you can also become interesting.

But there’s a view that the artist is not about meeting demand but rather about self-expression...

That’s perfectly fine and valid: there are products that have nothing to do with reality. But if you’re not simply sitting and painting in your own gallery, but also wish to share your work and attract an audience for it, many related issues arise. Someone needs to organise a space, someone else to promote your product, and in this case you would need to turn to your audience. You may simply go out and say: “Here I am!” But if you add to this “I” a reason for your audience to come to you in particular, then that’s something else. I’m not talking about how to paint to be liked by the masses. What I’m talking about is that you need to know how to talk about yourself to the masses in order to attract them, and then they can decide for themselves whether or not they like your art.

Unfortunately, to say that someone has such a great talent that shines so brightly that it blinds everyone around is not enough. Nowadays, great talent is often only part of the product, the rest is effort for its promotion. Popular talented people are constantly giving interviews, very active on social media, are acquainted with journalists and are not rude to them. And if they’re rude to them, then they clearly build on that: rudeness is part of their brand and journalists want them to be rude. You have to create some type of brand and promote it, but that’s effort. You have to be willing to promote yourself – these are the demands of our times.

Are there any particular features of promoting cultural projects?

I would definitely start with the basic principles: there’s a goal, there’s an audience and each audience has its own communication channels. This principle applies to any project. Cultural projects are in a privileged position. If you’re a writer, your words will help you to promote yourself. If you paint, you have your paintings. After all we understand that nowadays people don’t take in anything without visuals.

You already have the story because you are you. It is very important for there to be a person behind a project who can be publicly promoted, thereby “humanising” the product. Even cars are now being promoted with the stories of their founders – everybody remembers Ford. Your project will surely arouse emotions because emotions are the distinctive feature of the arts. The most important trend in communication today is to arouse emotions: it doesn’t matter whether good or bad. By arousing them, you stand out from the information flow of very boring messages.

But there’s a certain complexity here. We live in a society where basic needs have not yet been satisfied. In our countries, people are more concerned about survival, that is why news about pensions and tax naturally seem more important. And that is without even mentioning the fact that certain media outlets don’t even have a “Culture” section. There are two pieces of advice here: you can forget about the media – if you don’t make it into newspapers and magazines, you can forget about them and use direct contact with the audience – you can give out leaflets at the entrance to the underground station, you can work with students. You can talk about your project where there are large crowds of people. In addition, the online medium is quite broad now and everyone can be his own media outlet: turn to great bloggers and you’ll get a bigger audience than with any other media outlet.

How can cultural projects break through into the media?

Often if your topic is not about vital needs, sending out press releases doesn’t work. Let’s say, you’re the Ministry of Emergency Situations and you say that there’s a storm warning tomorrow. Everybody will print that. But if you’re not the Ministry of Emergency Situations and your news is not a life or death situation, TV channels will refuse to talk about it. After all, they show what’s interesting for at least a million persons. Therefore, it is important for you to make your news sound as if it was presenting vital things, or you have to communicate with journalists one-on-one and establish personal contact with them. These are small steps – you won’t be able to meet the entire press of your country in a week. You have to meet with one journalist who’s willing to talk with you and tell you what he needs, in which format, when, how in order to prepare the article. Perhaps you have a colleague, a friend or a friend of a friend who would introduce you to a real journalist, or, even better, to an editor. For there’s an editor behind every journalist.

It is better to meet once a week with real journalists or editors and not always “sell” your product, but rather get to know each other better and talk about yourself. And believe me, in 2-3 weeks, when it’s the Day of the Artist holiday, the journalist would call you and say: “Oh, by the way, I remember we talked with you about your exhibition. Would you comment on it?” You should always be ready to say “yes”, and that would be the first step. Perhaps they won’t come to your exhibition right away, or won’t write about you straightaway, but you establish contact and understand the format.

And remember: sometimes an article in one interesting, influential publication is more powerful than five identical reprints of your press release. In this case too you have to take into account who your audience is. If my audience is MPs of the Ukrainian Parliament who read the same weekly, being published in it is more important than the more widely distributed Komsomolskaya Pravda.

Could you tell us about a successful case of promotion of a cultural project in Ukraine?

A great example is Arsenal. It is a large cultural centre that organises a large number of different events, of which one of the most successful is the Arsenal of Ideas. It is an event for children. The creators of Arsenal have realised that the population category attending their events was not enough and that they had to attract families. But families go to shopping centres to spend time at weekends because there are children’s areas there. Therefore, Arsenal created a children’s area. On the one hand, there’s nothing new about it as it’s already being done around the world. But in Ukraine, there are no children’s areas in museums. The view is that you shouldn’t take a child to the museum, as they’re too loud and could damage something. Therefore, Arsenal created a separate space for children: they feel good there, this attracts an audience and brings in profit. So I recommend that you work on the product itself before promoting it.

Another example of a successful cultural project is alternative education. A trend has been observed in our country regarding the absence of education in the arts, and even non-formal education for adults simply doesn’t exist. In Europe, this is resolved via open universities: after work, you go to the university where all the lecture halls are open. There’s a lecture in whichever one you go. In our country they’re focusing on culture: one of the initiatives offers a series of educational projects about the culture of different eras, Renaissance, contemporary art, etc. You can work at the intersection of promoting the arts and also be at the cusp of demand. For example, by combining contemporary art with street food.

You should always remember what the basic motivator for people is. I love the saying that “people assess any phenomena from three points of view: will this eat me, can I eat this or can I procreate with this”. That is, you need to remember that the three basic motivators are fear, food and sex. All advertising, the entire entertainment sector is founded on love, the fear of death and food: in any film, you’ll find love, adventure and survival. If you can pull out of your cultural product at least one of those motivators and make it the heading, you’ll have success. Therefore, if you’re carrying out your cultural project with street food, that’s great. If you can somehow mix in love, even better. Fear, they say, is not always justified, but in certain cases it is possible. Or you can do something practical: if you have a photography exhibition, organise a workshop, teach the visitor something. Think about what a person can take from your event other than impressions.

All successful creative industries are currently combining these different aspects: in opera rock is added; in theatre they’re going out onto the street or are asking viewers to be participants. 

The article was drawn up in cooperation with the EU-Eastern Partnership Culture and Creativity

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