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The art of good business in south Cumbria

Published on: Wednesday 11th March 2015
Categorised under: Play , Culture, Investment

IT might be known for its big exhibitions and grand historic houses but Lakeland Arts is also a fast-developing enterprise with a new museum on the way.

Lakeland Arts, which runs Blackwell Arts & Crafts House House, just above Bowness, along with Kendal’s Abbot Hall Museum and Art Gallery, and the Museum of Lakeland Life, is expanding.

In 2016, it will open the Windermere Steam Boat Museum as The Windermere Jetty, a huge project worth £13.5m.

Lakeland Arts' 50-strong team looks after several different enterprises. These include Abbot Hall Art Gallery; The Coffee House at Abbot Hall; The Shop at Abbot Hall; The Museum of Lakeland Life; The shop at the Museum of Lakeland Life; Blackwell Arts and Crafts House; The Tea Room at Blackwell and The Contemporary Craft Shop at Blackwell.

In order to do this well, Lakeland Arts has just finished two years of visitor research with Morris Hargreaves MacIntyre, a Manchester based cultural research organisation. This has helped them put together an audience development plan, to ensure that their activities align with the audience they wish to attract to each venue.

Marketing director Jeanette Edgar explained: “We looked at what motivated people to visit. For example, at Blackwell most of our visitors are coming for the first time – around 75 per cent, while at Abbot Hall we have more repeat visits - due to the changing exhibition programme.

“The research suggested one reason people visited Blackwell was because they considered the house to be iconic - a ‘must see’ for anyone interested in history. "The challenge is how do we attract them back - again and again? So we go back to the research - which says visitors want to know more about the Arts and Crafts movement, the architect, and the family that first lived here.”

In response to this, and with a successful bid to the Heritage Lottery Fund, it is investing in better interpretation and new displays of furniture and objects at Blackwell.

It is working with the Victoria & Albert Museum, in London, allowing it to borrow certain pieces from its collection to show at Blackwell, starting this winter.

Meanwhile, the team had just put out to tender a call for exhibition design to revamp its rooms – a project which is expected to be completed late this year and through into 2016.

This is all being organised to fit before the grand launch of Windermere Jetty, which will see the rehousing of 40 historic vessels, among them boats dating from the 11th century, displayed through a series of purpose-made buildings.

Jeanette said: “We are in competition with every other attraction in the area because people coming to the Lake District have a finite amount of money to spend and so much choice. We are even competing with the lakes and mountains.

“Cultural visitors are high spenders and we are just part of the cultural mix that attracts them to comes to the Lake District - we have to do our part to attract them directly to our door.”

There is then the added challenge of nurturing a local following at the venues.

“We want the Kendal community to feel like they own Abbot Hall - have a real pride in it.” Jeanette said.

“We have expanded the programme to involve more families – with regular 'Crawl in the Hall' events and InKuBet events for older children, as well as Lakeland Arts’ programme of activities and events designed to engage people living with dementia and their carers. It’s a lot more than standard exhibitions these days.”

The team overseeing all of these initiatives includes a Chief Executive, Gordon Watson, and six ‘man’ Senior Management Team, Curators, Learning Team, Visitor Experience Team, Finance, Marketing and admin and a body of Trustees.

Jeanette said: “A lot of people think tourism is generally a low paid, casual business but that’s not really the case here. We have people who have worked for the National Galleries and internal businesses and we work to bring in more experience and expertise each time we get an opportunity to recruit.”

Image Credit: Blackwell, The Arts & Crafts House © Lakeland Arts. www.lakelandarts.org.uk

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