Tate Tracks

With London's Tate Modern the second biggest tourist attraction in the U.K., the 2006 rehanging of its permanent collection, which art critics use as a benchmark of how well the gallery is doing, offered a brilliant opportunity to target audiences previously overlooked. One such group was young, inner city Londoners, who were effectively already sitting on the Tate's doorstep. "The Tate's in Southwark, which is a very poor borough, with a lot of disengaged 16-24-year-olds who were not using the facility," says Alex Sullivan, a partner at Fallon London. "So we knew from the off that we had to do something more than the weekend attractions the Tate had previously done. It was more to do with the Tate's main DNA, rather than something here this weekend and gone the next."

Thus "Tate Tracks" was born, a year-long promotion involving established bands and musicians composing exclusive tracks inspired by their favorite works of art on display at the Tate. Visitors accessed the music at listening posts situated in the gallery next to the work of art that inspired it. Musicians included The Chemical Brothers, ex-Blur guitarist Graham Coxon, The Long Blondes and Willy Mason among others from the worlds of hip-hop, garage, indie and dance.

It grew out of a collaboration by everyone in the agency, says Sullivan, beginning with a conversation between himself, account manager Chris Kay, copywriter/art director Juan Cabral, creative director Richard Flintham and designer Hugh Tarpey. They knew that involving and engaging this particular audience was key, and that just adopting clever signage or graphics would not be enough.

Then, a comment during one discussion sparked a key insight. "Someone said that this audience didn't really engage with, or in, art," says Sullivan. "That's when it became apparent that actually, yes, they are engaging in art, just not your or my idea of art." Furthermore, they also saw their music as a part of their being and as essential to culture, in that they became seekers of it. "The way they get respect and accolades from their peers is through the medium of music," he says. "It's all about underground discovery and getting there first. So the idea became simply, ‘How can we make a bridge between your art and their art?' And how can we then motivate them towards something they are seeking?"

"Tate Tracks" became that bridge. It got their interest by getting their favorite iconic artists to collaborate and create a piece of music only available at the Tate and on a Web site for a month after. "So, we were saying, you can discover a new piece of music by your musical icons that's been inspired by art and you can do it at the Tate," says Sullivan.

The biggest challenge says Sullivan, lay in just getting the right artists to engage and do it for free. "Obviously, the Tate Modern is a big name in itself, and offers a lot of PR for artists who want to collaborate," he says. But some, often the ones that they felt would be most effective at motivating the target audience, wanted to be paid. "They didn't really love the Tate as much as we thought they might. For them it was no big deal. ‘The Tate? So what?' They were coming from the same place as the audience."

There were also lots of bands who really wanted to do it, but whose followers were students, and knew about the Tate anyway. "So, striking a balance with the right people and no money as well was difficult," he says.

In addition, nothing like it had been done like this before. "It was chancy waters for both parties," says Sullivan. "The Tate said that they were not a record label and they don't produce music. The ultimate objective was to get them through the door. There would have been no point at all in making the tracks available anywhere else other than the Tate."

It was a strategy that has paid off. "Tate Tracks" was promoted the same way as music albums, via posters, postcards flyers and packages, as well as radio, online street media and PR. Results, says Sullivan, have been impressive. Not only did attendance at the museum go up, but, with a budget of £100,000, the resulting publicity and buzz amounted to around £1.5 million, he says.

The question then becomes, how do you keep them coming back? It's the same with any brand, says Sullivan. "If you don't produce new products, any audience will become stale. If you look at who goes to the Tate, it's white, middle class kids and parents. But those kids who we introduced to the Tate, well, hopefully they'll come back anyway."

"Tate Tracks" runs until September 2007, releasing one new unreleased track each month, after which the public will be invited to create their own tracks.

While the Fallon team is currently mulling over what comes next, Sullivan emphasizes the importance of collaboration. "In our conversations about how these guys don't appreciate art, there was a nugget of something that everyone jumped on as an inspiration," he says. "That was a light bulb moment. You need conversations for that to happen. It wasn't just people sitting in a room saying, ‘here's an idea.'"

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