I was recently set the challenge to suggest “some good arts blogs”, by way of showing something akin to ‘best practice’ in arts blogging. The frame of reference was however not to list all the wonderful bloggers who spend time sharing their ideas and opinions on the arts. Rather, it was to determine a shortlist of arts companies, organisations or institutions who run their own blog, with the aim of expanding the context and /or story world for their audiences.
It took no time at all to determine that this was more easily said than done. There are many arts web sites that ostensibly house blogs, however there is a high percentage who use the functionality as an archive of media releases, reviews or marketing promotions – updated on an irregular basis.
Alluring though this might be (emphasis on the ‘might‘), I was more interested in organisation blogs that run deeper, into territory that is perhaps more akin to their independent counterparts, blogging from the outside. I wanted to find blogs with dedicated content, delivering new insights about the company and the work, hopefully with commissioned pieces from around the team, and updated on a regular basis.
With this criteria in mind, I’ve developed the beginnings of a list – admittedly imperfect. This post looks at Australian blogs, and I’ll be following this up with a second post on International blogs shortly. I fully expect and intend for these lists to grow, and I’d welcome and encourage you to share your own examples in the comments below.
Sydney Theatre Company Magazine
As one of the more well-resourced theatre companies in Australia, one would hope and expect for STC to have a similarly well-resourced blog. They do, and they don’t; as they’ve opted to call their blog a “magazine” (the naming convention of ‘blog’ isn’t necessarily as sexy as ‘magazine’, so we’ll let that slide). There is a fantastic array of content, described as “a vibrant tangle of interviews, features, videos, podcasts, profiles, photo galleries, essays and archival material, shining light on the work that we do and the talented people working with us”.
Why is this important? Don’t be fooled into thinking that you can’t follow suit, as your resources don’t allow – there are plenty of great ideas herein to be inspired by and to learn from. Whilst your posting frequency might not be as regular as STC, most of the content ideas herein (videos aside) can be replicated on a small budget.
Griffin Theatre Blog
There’s a common misconception that a blog is the product of a single mind, or managed by a single person. Organisational blogs can be managed by multiple contributors, each offering different insights into the subject matter. Griffin simplifies this process one stage further, by focussing largely (although not exclusively) on the Q&A format, offering responses from writers, directors, actors and crew.
Why is this important? The advantage of this technique is that a Q&A can be carried out with an individual via email, and – with some minor editing – can form the basis of a blog post almost in its entirety. It’s fast, efficient and unmediated – a good technique for a company with slim resources.
The MONA blog is best known as the space in which founder David Walsh offloads about anything and everything that crosses his mind – some (but certainly not all) of which is related to his Tasmanian Museum Of Old & New Art. One of my favourite posts is David’s (somewhat) depraved love song to his girlfriend, complete with lyrics and audio recording. Always in tantalising danger of veering into stream of consciousness, the blog is often tempered by the considerable more sane musings of research curator Elizabeth Pearce.
Why is this important? The MONA blog is not only popular, and well-commented, it also perfectly reflects the identity and ethos of the place. It is what it is, like it or leave it. And whilst you might not have a similar wilfully off-centre personality that can blog for you (Walsh is pretty unique after all), there is a great deal to be said for infusing a blog with personality, humour and a willingness to tread into areas that give marketing departments a heart attack.
Sydney Opera House – Ideas At The House
This is one of my favourites, and the title says it all – the blog investigates issues and themes arising from work staged at the House. There is a great deal of video, but adding rich content such as this needn’t be an obstacle – the quality of the idea matters more than the quality of the video (and a mid-level smartphone will have all the capability you need for web-ready video).
Why is this important? It is often, thought not always, about the work, but it also exists to wrap context around the work. This type of perspective is critical to good blogging for any arts organisation. Expand the world, expand the thinking – don’t simply mediate or replicate what’s on stage or on the walls.
Australia Ballet – Behind Ballet
A long-standing example of the ‘behind the scenes’ blog, this is a world of fascinating content that “looks at dance through the prism of fashion, music, art and literature” in order “to find the new in the old and the old in the new”. More than anything else, this is a great mission statement, a blog with a real sense of purpose that tackles the issue of relevance head on. The regular “Ask Colin” column is also a nice touch, where aspiring dancers can ask the company anything and everything.
Why is this important? Persistance and commitment to blogging will pay off in significant ways – this blog is now a treasure trove of information and inspiration, compiled over many years. It is far more than a tool to sell tickets, it is an authority on ballet – a status all bloggers aspire to in one way or another.
“Imagine a mindless killing machine half the size of Botany Bay. It’s not science fiction but reality for some places in the Torres Strait”. With an opener like that, it’s fair to say you’ve got me. However, as many museums will attest, through often embarrassing episodes of trial and error, making natural history compelling can often be a tricky business. The Australian Museum rises to the challenge by having an enviable number of authors contribute to their blog. This is often once of the hardest things to pull off in an institution or organisation- I’d love to know how they did it!
What is this important? This is arguably the top tip for organisational blogs – multiple contributors offers two great benefits: (1) the content is far less likely to go stale, as there are fluid viewpoints, each contributing regularly and (2) the volume of content remains consistent. Asking four colleagues to blog once a month is easier that getting one person to do it weekly – but the volume remains the same.
Biennale Of Sydney – Engberg On The Road
Written by Juliana Engberg, Artistic Director of the upcoming 19th Biennale of Sydney, this a travel blog, following her curatorial journey as she considers and contemplates inclusions for the exhibition. The blog also extends beyond this, uncovering (as noted in the description) “tips for travelling, enjoying life, and of course, art”.
Why is this important? Blogs often excel when they document the artistic process, as Engberg does here. Understanding how and why a work came together (particularly something as epic in scale as the Biennale Of Sydney) illuminates an aspect of the arts that is often hidden, and often intentionally so. A great blog will skilfully walk the line between illumination and mystique; offering a way in without overshadowing the experience of the work itself.
Melbourne Theatre Company
Whilst MTC’s blog falls into similar territory as some of the above, I wanted to make special mention of one aspect of their posts, their ‘Halloween Horrors’ being a good example. Linking posts to events or topics that are foremost in our collective consciousness seems like a no-brainer, but it’s all too often overlooked. You’ll stand a far greater chance of getting an all important click through if you’re already on the same wavelength as your readers.
Why is this important? When creating content calendars, don’t just focus on adding internal milestones. Look at what’s happening in the outside world and see how your content and scheduling can align beautifully.
Who did I miss? Any Australian institutional or organisational arts blogs that deserve a place on the list? Let me know in the comments below.
Coming soonish will be an international list – suggestions welcomed and encouraged!