Repost: Helping out behind the scenes

Re-posting this as a look at how councils and the community can work together to make things happen!

As an “active” member of Flickr (I say active this peaks and wanes depending on how busy I am in the real world) I try to get involved with the local groups – some groups are more active than others (and some are more welcoming too) but the one I am most active is the Walsall group – this is for two reasons. While I live in Wolverhampton my house is actually right on the Walsall/Wolverhampton border and a lot of my friends and extended family live in Walsall so I spend time there, and also as I have real world friends in the Walsall Group who like to organise things – photography walks, days out etc so it’s easy to get involved.

Recently however I’ve been doing some organising myself –

Walsall Council in the form of Dan Slee has been using social media, with particular focus on Flickr as a tool for community engagement. Courting the Walsall group via Lee Jordan and arranging exclusive behind the scenes trips to some of the councils buildings – the first of which was at the Council House.

After that meet the talk turned towards the museum and a  potential project there, or rather in the area the public never gets to see – in their stores.

Dan went away and approached the museum and it seemed there was a couple of concerns the curators had regarding copyright, and this is where I stepped in. As I work for a  media centre, which includes exhibition spaces I perhaps better understood some of the copyright issues regarding the photography of  other peoples art and artefacts and it was decided by Lee that I was best placed to liaise on this venture.

A meeting was arranged and Walsall museums sent me a copy of their permissions form to preview… It was archaic to say the least ,I had my work cut out for me!

The restrictions they’d placed,  that they wanted us to sign away copyright of our images and retain the right to demand us to delete our images off Flickr at any time, were going to be a problem – No member of the group would be willing to go on a shoot under these terms so it would be a none starter, yet we (Dan and the Walsall Flickr Group) were still eager to get behind the scenes.

SO WHAT DID WE DO?

In principle the Museums team were o.k for us to visit the stores but in practice it seemed to me that they didn’t fully understand Flickr and “the internet” so maybe wouldn’t really the bigger picture and the benefits a visit like this could bring  to them. The only way I could see around the problem was to find a precedent for museums allowing photographers into their “domain” and also find good examples of another museum or arts institute using Flickr.

Also I knew if I was going to ask them to let go of the reins I also was going to go prepared to offer something in exchange – I got researching!

WHERE TO START…..

My first port of call was of course Google, I started searching for names of  UK museums + Flickr – looking for official groups – set up by the institutions and not by an enthusiastic member of the community or museum websites with direct links to Flickr, within minutes I struck gold with The V&A.
They have a flickr group which they invite visitors to post their photographs to, they’d set it up themselves and had a very good level of activity within the group  –  so there was my precedent of a Museum using flickr and not only allowing, but actively encouraging photography.

Now what could I offer to Walsall that would make this idea more appealing….

Marketing – I work as a digital marketer so the idea of using the internet as a marketing tool isn’t new to me so all I had to do was sell it to the museum, so when I met with Dan, Jennifer and Catherine I went prepared, I printed off the V&A’s own guidelines to their flickr group from their website and the pages I wanted to use to highlight our perspective to the museum and I set out with a plan.

I asked the museum to loosen the reins it wanted on us putting forward a few less constraining rules as alternatives and  then put it to them that they could set up it’s their group on Flickr group BUT include a disclaimer saying any images added COULD be used for marketing purposes, We could then choose to add our photos to it if we wished. By doing it this way the museum has another point of web presence with Flickr – a pool of photographs to advertise the museum and more importantly a tool at their disposal to encourage interaction with their visitor on another level.

I suggested that once the group was established they could even invite photographs to be added to the pool to coincide with exhibitions – Having a show featuring 1970′s toys? – Get the community to add photos of their toys to the pool and then if they wanted set a laptop/projector up in the museum with with access to the Flickr group page OR a power point presentation of the images submitted – complimenting the exhibits the already have on show and encouraging visitors to see if their photo made it into the gallery!

SUCCESS

My ideas went down well – I liaised with the Walsall team and put forward my suggestions and met with no resistance what so ever. I explained the benefits for the Museum and for us in the group and why and how I thought it would work. I answered a few questions and asked a couple of my own and left the meeting on a real high – and with good cause, within days a new, less prohibitive permissions form had been drafted and a date for the visit set.

So on a cold spring morning this  is how it came that a group of photographers met in an undisclosed location and were allowed access to an area of Walsall that wouldn’t normally be opened to the public and the Museums opened their world up to a whole new marketing opportunity!

Since then Dan has informed me that the Walsall Museum Flickr Project and received national profile and was flagged up as best practice by the IdEA – this is the government organisation that seeks to raise standard across local government.

I call that a win for the Museum, a win for the Flickr group and a win for the Council!

Walsall Museums Flickr Group.
Dan Slee’s own post on the same project.

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