Generation Tour: engaging families in contemporary art

Generation Tour: engaging families in contemporary art

By Elaine Lees
Sallyanne Flemons


Elaine Lees and Sallyanne Flemons share insight into what families want from contemporary visual art. Explore the results of Generation Tour, which aimed to attract family audiences to four contemporary art galleries in the north of England.

The Generation Tour was a project funded by Arts Council England’s Strategic Touring Fund. It combined family-focused programming and audience development work to attract family audiences to four contemporary art galleries in the north of England:

  • The DLI Museum and Art Gallery, Durham
  • Gymnasium Gallery, Berwick
  • Central Art Gallery, Ashton-under-Lyne
  • Towneley Hall, Burnley

The target audience was families with children under 11. These were identified as being an under-represented audience for the venues and contemporary visual art.

The Tour employed two communications specialists to work with curators to research and engage families. By taking a research-based approach, the tour engaged families who had never visited a contemporary art gallery before.

Finding out what families want
The communications specialists worked with focus groups to find out what families in the area wanted and what they currently thought of visiting contemporary art galleries.

The focus groups and other research showed that families:

  • wanted a hands on experience which was opposite to how they perceived contemporary art galleries to be
  • could be turned off by the very words ‘art’ and ‘artist’
  • needed to know that it would be an easy experience practically speaking — good facilities for families, easy to find, easy to park, toilets etc
  • liked colourful communications literature that was instantly recognisable as ‘for families’

The exhibitions
The Tour commissioned four brand new contemporary art exhibitions between September 2014 and September 2016:

  • Generation AIR by Spacecadets
  • Generation NOISE by Owl Project
  • The Tree, The Caterpillar and The Butterfly by Aether & Hemera
  • Musical Chairs by Hellicar&Lewis

All of the exhibitions were interactive in some way. Generation AIR had tunnels that could be crawled through. Generation NOISE featured wooden machines that made noises caused by human interaction. The Tree, The Caterpillar and The Butterfly created an interactive garden in each venue and Musical Chairs made different sounds when sat upon.

Creating the Generation brand
All four exhibitions were presented under a single Generation brand, designed with families in mind.

It needed to:

  • appeal to the family audience (who do not have strong engagement with arts/culture)
  • be flexible enough to work across 4 venues, 4 artist commissions, print, digital and in venue interpretation
  • be consistent enough to act as a visual identifier across time/venues/artists
  • be fun/exciting/innovative and stand out from the crowd of communications that bombard our families on a daily basis

Download the full case study to read on:
Generation Tour (PDF)

Image courtesy of Generation Tour. Generation AIR by Spacecadets © Donna Lisa Heal

Resource type: Case studies | Published: 2017