Fairmount Park Art Association: Seeing Public Art Through New Eyes
The Fairmount Park Art Association is the nation’s oldest nonprofit association devoted to commissioning and caring for public art.
The project is a marketing campaign to promote the approachability and accessibility of Philadelphia’s public art to residents and visitors. Philadelphia has the largest collection of outdoor sculptures in the country but many residents and visitors walk by every day without noticing them.
In 2010, Fairmount Park Art Association (FPAA) launched an audio program “Museum Without Walls™: AUDIO” in which people can call a number next to a sculpture and listen to a 3-4 minute audio about it. Unlike most audio tours that feature one authority, these audios feature “authentic voices” – people who are connected to the sculpture by knowledge or experience. The Fairmount Park Art Association sought to build on that project to raise the visibility of Philadelphia’s collection of art sculpture and increase audience engagement.
“We are trying to increase people’s comfort with public art,” said Jennifer Richards, development & communications manager at Fairmount Park Art Association. “And use that as a gateway for them to experience other kinds of art.”
Research Into Action Findings Used by the Fairmount Park Art Association
Marketing is multi-channel. Cultural marketers have to rely on a mix of marketing media to reach consumers.
Fairmount Park Art Association hired an advertising firm to develop experiential or “guerilla” marketing ideas to grab the attention of people who happen to be walking or jogging past some of Philadelphia’s public sculptures.
The project had multiple delays as the firm did not meet the timelines set by FPAA, which wanted to carry out its activities in the summer of 2011 when many residents and visitors are outdoors.
In July 2011, the advertising firm proposed several options to engage the public with outdoor sculptures. Among them were wrapping sculptures with large green shrouds along a busy parkway in order to unveil and “reintroduce” them to the public. The firm also proposed that FPAA advertise a “date night” on sites such as Match.com and provide picnic dinners and iPods to borrow at select locations to encourage couples to come see the sculptures. In addition, they suggested placing “squirrel art critics” near sculptures to create a dialogue around public art.
The Fairmount Park Art Association staff liked the firm’s concepts, but executing the ideas proved difficult. According to staff, it was hard to get status updates from the firm. In addition, the City of Philadelphia, which owns many of the public sculptures, denied permission to shroud the artworks.
The Fairmount Park Art Association planned a date night in late September but was informed by the advertising firm a few days beforehand that it would be too expensive to advertise on dating sites. Fairmount Park Art Association staff instead sent an email blast and posted it on their social media sites and received about 40 RSVPs.
It was gusty, rainy Friday evening in Philadelphia as staff from the Fairmount Park Arts Association set out signs in front of a cafe in a small park that is close to several of Philadelphia’s most notable outdoor sculptures including ones by Henry Moore and Alexander Calder. Picnic dinners awaited those who had signed up for date night as well as passersby. Staff lined up iPods, which people could borrow to listen to descriptions of the nearby sculptures. As the rain continued to pound down, few of the 40 people who had made reservations showed up.
But one older couple who lived in a nearby high-rise complex and had heard about the event through their neighborhood association did brave the storm. As they sat inside the café they borrowed an iPod from staff and listened intently to descriptions of the sculptures.
“We walk by these sculptures every day and you kind of take them for granted,” said Jim Reddick. “I’d like to take these [self-guided] tours for myself and for visitors. This is something we’d like to do because we can do while walking around. I didn’t realize the story behind the “Jesus Breaking Bread” sculpture. It’s at the cathedral where my wife works and she never knew its background.”
The next week, Reddick and his wife attended Sculpture Saturdays, another Museum Without Walls™: AUDIO event, presented by FPAA staff, where they walked around Kelly Drive listening to the audio programs about other sculptures.
Shortly after the date night, the FPAA ended its relationship with the advertising firm. The firm returned much of its fee and FPAA plans to launch their own marketing campaign in 2012.
After taking over the direction and management of the project, the Fairmount Park Art Association developed its own experiential marketing plan for a number of events to raise visibility of public art and its organization. It will launch those events beginning in April 2012.
The main challenge in this project was the need to continually adjust the timeline because of delays from the advertising firm that the Fairmount Park Art Association had contracted with, according to Richards.
- Look for a consulting firm that values collaboration when working in collaborative fields such as public art. Conceptualizing, creating and maintaining public art is challenging and requires the collaboration of many groups including artists, engineers, contractors and city officials. It is important to look for a similar spirit of collaboration and understanding of the challenges involved with consulting firms, some of which may be used to “presenting” creative ads and concepts rather than deeply engaging with an arts organization.
- Put firm dates in contracts when collaborating with consultants or outside firms. Fairmount Park Art Association initially told the advertising firm that they could be flexible in terms of deliverables though they made it clear they wanted the campaign to be done in the summer. However, the staff said the firm continually delayed sending them its proposal for the marketing campaign, which resulted in no activities taking place in the summer as planned.
- Check with public officials well in advance to see if permission is needed for a marketing campaign for public art. While Fairmount Park Art Association works closely with city officials on many of its projects, staff did not initially realize that they would need additional permission for some of their proposed ideas. Permits and other approvals are sometimes required for campaigns involving public art and can take several days to weeks to obtain. It is important to factor in that time.
- Trust your staff’s instincts and knowledge about creative approaches to marketing. After ending its relationship with the advertising firm, the Fairmount Park Art Association staff had to quickly come up with creative, on-target marketing ideas for the campaign in order to make use of their grant funding. They developed original ideas that they knew they could implement working with the city and other partners.
“We’ve put a little more value and trust in our staff in being able to do this,” Richards said. “We’ve discovered strengths we didn’t know we had.”
Fairmount Park Art Association received permission from its funder, The Philadelphia Foundation, to use its unspent funds to carry out a marketing campaign in the spring of 2012. Among the activities planned are a: (1) tango dance party; (2) public art pathway marked by large balloons; (3) sculpture flashlight mob; and (4) public art bike tour and scavenger hunt.
Staff will measure the success of its work by comparing the number of calls to Museum Without Walls ™: AUDIO both before and after the campaign.
Development & Communications Manager
Fairmount Park Art Association