‘I felt like I won a Nobel prize!!’

The Void Gallery, Derry~Londonderry is an artist run, internationally significant gallery. Alongside its international exhibition programme the Void has strong local links, and is a gallery very much at the heart of the local community.

When looking at their Facebook page earlier this week I came across these letters of Thanks:

letter of thanks courtesy of the Void Facebook page

The letters provide a valuable insight into what makes a brilliant visitor experience. They also show what visitors (especially children) remember about their gallery visit. Whilst probably structured by a teacher, each letter discusses three areas of the visit with great enthusiasm and individual character.

1. VIEWING: The art in the gallery 

‘I remember looking at the most magnificent picture in the world’

‘The one I like was about the old run down building…yet it was so plain…it told a fascinating story’

‘The exhibitions are breathtaking… they are that good’

2. ENGAGING: Seeing their art on display in ‘a real gallery

‘I saw my picture on the wall I literally went ecstatic. I felt like I won a Nobel Prize’

‘I couldn’t believe my eyes when I walked in and saw my own classes pictures and poems stuck up on the wall’

‘I was so proud of myself it was like a life long dream come true’

3. REFLECTING:  With juice and biscuits to finish 

‘The juice was Orange and the biscuits were cookies’

‘Even though I loved the tour I looked forward to the end because the staff gave us orange juice and cookies’

The children remembered in equal portions the art, their art and the juice.

These three elements created an engaging and memorable gallery experience that lead one child to say

‘I’m just literally telling you, this place would blow your socks off’

To see the rest of these letters, or to follow the work of the Void head over to their Facebook Page.

Tallinn capital of culture?

On a recent trip to Tallinn I was surprised by the lack of cultural information for tourists. As European capital of culture 2011, Tallinn had managed to raise it’s profile as a city break destination with major Newspapers such as the Telegraph and the Guardian posting really positive reviews. When Ryanair announced a new route Dublin > Tallinn I decided to jump on the Tallinn/ Capital of Culture bandwagon. I have been watching the Derry~Londonderry City of Culture 2013 project develop and  I was intrigued to see what such a title could bring to a city. I think it’s fair to say that my trip to Tallinn was a healthy mix of work and play.

Before I went I checked out the Capital of Culture website which was nothing more than a 2D listings site. When I arrived in Tallinn I was surprised by the lack of information available. I expected cultural ambassadors and prominent tourist information but after 5 days the only info. point that I came across was in the docks, far out of the city. I can only presume that this was intended for people getting off the Helsinki > Tallinn ferry.

Holding the title Capital of Culture is such a great opportunity and it seems a shame that Tallinn isn’t making the most of it,  especially as Estonia has the reputation of digital innovative country. Estonia was one of the first countries in the world to include access to the internet in it’s bill of Human Rights, it is home to Skype, and it prides itself on its free Wi Fi coverage so why then is the Capital of Culture campaign so old school? Why is their website so flat?

I should point out that despite the lack of tourist information I had a brilliant time in Tallinn, it’s a really friendly city, the food and wine are both good and cheap. My cultural highlight and the jewel in Tallin’s cultural crown has to be the outstanding Kumu museum. Opened in 2006, it was awarded the title European Museum of the Year in 2008.

The Kumu challenges people before they even enter the building. On it’s website the Kumu states:

‘Kumu is meant for different people – for those who are already well-versed in art and for those who simply wish to spend their time in a congenial environment. Kumu welcomes children and families and, most importantly, Kumu serves as a laboratory where diverse ideas emerge and develop. These ideas examine contemporary visual culture and its function in society.’

whilst on it’s informational leaflets it suggests a new way to approach a museum visit

‘Kumu in half an hour…

Are you afraid of long guided tours and believe that art is to complicated? …Visitors to the museum can receive a special paper guide from the ticket office, which introduces briefly the most remarkable exhibited artworks and guides you easily through the exhibition halls. Choose a ‘Kumu experience’ from the ticket office and disprove the notion that you need a whole day to visit a musuem!’

I was really impressed by such welcoming language and this was reflected when I visited the museum (which by the way I would recommend dedicating a whole day to!) The museum is about a 20 minute walk out of the old wall town, through some pretty grim communist era housing, but is surrounded by a beautiful park. The contemporary architecture is refreshing as Tallinn is a mix of medieval and  communist architecture.

The exhibitions on display ranged from Estonian Art, to a Print Triennial. The museum was full of helpful and friendly staff, they even had colour information leaflets on each of the artists in the Print Triennial, a no doubt expensive luxury that most museums could only dream off!

We ended our visit with the obligatory city break ‘coffee stop and cake’,

As we were leaving we decided to ask something we had been thinking about since we arrived, ‘can we sit on the chairs?’ The chairs being giant chairs made from used car tyres by the artist Villu Jannisoo. The Answer? yes, but then we should have expected that by now, the Kumu is a fun, welcoming and engaging museum that would not look out of place in any major museum capital from London to New York.

It’s always inspiring to see such innovative approaches to museum practice in stand alone locations, I wonder if the museums of Derry~Londonderry will shine so brightly when they get their big moment during Derry’s stint as City of Culture 2013?

Images: Oonagh Murphy

Title Image: culture360.org