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London’s National Gallery reveals 200th birthday plans

With its bicentenary due in just three years time, the National Gallery in Trafalgar Square has announced how it will mark the occasion. Firstly, it has developed a strategy in which it will augment its available digital content and send more of its many historic artworks around the UK on what it calls ‘community tours’. The newly unveiled strategy is said to last five years and will cover the 200th anniversary of the world-famous gallery.

As the National Gallery gears up for this landmark birthday in 2024, the institution’s board said that its future strategy would help to build the gallery’s profile nationally and even internationally. It hopes to leverage the power of social media to build more brand awareness of the gallery and to provide more digital content subscriptions for people to enjoy its works of art online. In an effort to promote itself domestically, the gallery is also expected to tour many of its acknowledged masterpieces around the four nations of the UK and its regions.

A Future Pathway

Entitled, ‘The National Gallery at 200 – For the Nation, For the World’, the strategy also takes into account what the institution’s management team refer to as the ‘unprecedented difficulties’ of the current global healthcare emergency. Like many of the big publicly funded museums and art galleries in the UK, the London-based National Gallery has been forced to close its doors to the public for much of the recent past. Even when restrictions have been lifted somewhat, the Covid-19 pandemic has meant that the historic art museum has only been able to operate with limited visitor numbers inside its many galleries.

Months of closed doors coupled with the lack of overseas tourism to the capital city have affected the income of many of the leading institutions in London, the National Gallery included. According to recently published figures, the National Gallery saw a £14 million drop in it is self-generated income over the course of the last financial year. Consequently, Gabriele Finaldi, the National Gallery’s director struck a somewhat balanced tone as he launched the art museum’s strategy document.

“The next five years will see [the gallery finding its]… way out of the crisis,” Finaldi said. “By responding to both the challenges and opportunities we will face, we can forge a new pathway for the future of the National Gallery.” Given that the institution has already been a seemingly permanent fixture for most of the last 200 years, few would argue with Finaldi’s assessment that the gallery will recover from the crisis it has faced. However, that is not to say that the art museum will not need to change in order to make its recovery a long-term success.

Prioritising Digital Output

According to Finaldi, one of the priorities is the gallery’s stated ambition to turn itself into a digital media organisation. Although the National Gallery saw about six million in-person visits from attendees in the year before the pandemic struck, it thinks that the digitisation of its collection will mean that it can reach hundreds of millions of art fans from across the globe – potentially, at least. Indeed, immediately after the UK government imposed its initial lockdown in March 2020, the National Gallery began to up its game in terms of online offerings. It started out by embracing digital audiences, holding scores of online events. Some of these were free to attend while the gallery also experimented with ticketed digital events that it charged for.

Furthermore, the gallery’s director also mentioned that it had also launched an on-demand video tour towards the end of last year. This digital tour was priced at £8 and included virtual access to the much anticipated Artemisia Gentileschi show, an exhibition that had been forced to close earlier than expected due to new government social restrictions that came into force last autumn. According to Finaldi, such an approach echoes the subscription model that many popular culture streaming services are based upon. He said that the new strategy to mark the gallery’s 200th year as a public institution would help it to move into this realm and deliver a ‘membership business’ that is ‘anchored in digital content’.

How this will work exactly is yet to be seen. However, Finaldi did indicate that he expected it to include more documentary-style videos as well as more live and interactive online events for people to access virtually. He also suggested that video-based educational courses on art and art history would be part of the future, potentially offered to the gallery’s membership exclusively.

About the author – Manuel Charr

Manuel Charr is a journalist working in the arts and cultural sectors. With a background in marketing, Manuel is drawn to arts organizations which are prepared to try inventive ways to reach new audiences.

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