Welcome to my first blog!
I’ve decided to launch into the blogosphere to celebrate the re-launch of the Royal Academy’s website in March and, also, to mark the launch of my own website (www.charlessaumarezsmith.com) which has been set up in order to ensure that I have more of a presence in the increasingly competitive digital world.
Ever since we recruited Will Dallimore as Director of Communications, who gave a brilliant encapsulation of the importance of online communications at his interview, it has been clear that we needed a new look to our website, less based on pure information and more on interaction. In the early summer last year, we held a competition to select a digital agency to lead this process and chose IDEO, a design consultancy, based in southern California, who were responsible for the design of the first Apple mouse and have since moved into digital design. Their deputy CEO, Steve O’Connor, has been admirable in leading the process, encouraging us to think laterally, to break down the tendency for all organisations to work in departmental silos, and to think not so much what we would like our website to convey and more about what visitors to the site would themselves want to find. So, now the moment has come when we can at least launch a new front end system, whilst we try to raise the funds or find funding in next year’s budget to tackle the machinery behind, including our ticketing systems.
So, why exactly are we doing it and what are we hoping to achieve? The first thing that I hope a better website will do will provide a better means of communication with our 94,000 Friends. The Friends are the bedrock of our finances, to an extent which is not necessarily widely understood, since we do not have, and never have, any direct system of government subsidy. At the moment, the Friends join up mainly in order to come to our exhibitions. It’s the equivalent to a season ticket, better value, particularly if you come with family and friends, than buying individual tickets. But we want Friends to think of us not just as a service, somewhere to come to for a one-off trip to an exhibition, more as somewhere to belong to, to use as a source of information about art and the art world, to feel loyalty to over many years, and an institution to support not just for its exhibition programme, but also for what it does in support of young artists through our art school, for our family programmes, a place to be as much as a place to go.
The second thing that I hope our new website will do is to extend our international reach. We have always tended to think of the Royal Academy as a physical place, anchored in Piccadilly alongside Fortnum and Mason. Loyalty to the Royal Academy has in the past often tended to be to the annual Summer Exhibition, the ritual of coming to see new art, maybe to buy something, which has traditionally been viewed as a part of the London season, quintessentially British like Henley Regatta and Wimbledon tennis. But I would like to think that now visitors can arrive digitally through the ether and can explore other aspects of the Royal Academy, which you cannot necessarily see in Piccadilly: the ways in which we represent contemporary art; information about Royal Academicians; our amazingly rich collections, which are relatively unfamiliar because we have always placed more of an emphasis, unlike museums, on temporary exhibitions than our permanent collection. I would like to think that we can develop an audience of friends (and Friends) in Seattle and Singapore as well as in Suffolk and Surbiton.
The third reason why I’m keen on developing the website is unashamed in hoping that it might be somewhere to shop. Frankly, we don’t currently have the space on site to have more than a single, general interest shop, which aims to stock, very appropriately, a wide range of product relating to our current exhibition, Sensing Spaces, but with a necessarily limited selection of mostly non-specialist books and postcards. One of many shrewd comments that Steve O’Connor made when the new website was being presented to Council, our governing body, was that shopping now is not simply a trip to the high street, but the infinite ability to browse through the web, to find things by accident across the globe, to purchase specialist items. I hope that our website can be a source of new art-related product, of fine art prints by Royal Academicians, and of products that they have designed.
So, happy browsing! I hope that you will find lots of things of interest on our website. And if you have comments or criticisms, please don’t hesitate to let us know so we can make it better.