Much like any visitor attraction, sustainability and customer care should be an integral part of cultural organisations and art galleries business strategy .

Two questions are usually brought to mind here when considering your customer experience offer as a venue:

How can you attract new customers to the venue? And what will attract these customers to return to the venue on a regular basis to improve your sustainability as a business?

How do others do it?

I recently visited the world-class gallery and multi-purpose arts centre Hauser & Wirth Somerset to see how they manage this as part of their operation. It was encouraging to see how the team are keen to offer an accessible contemporary arts experience for all ages as well as managing a thriving commercial gallery.

A warm welcome at the reception of any gallery or arts venue is always a winner in my eyes; something which was clearly evident at this venue. The front-of-house staff are keen to welcome you into the space and provide you with the current programme of events and exhibitions.

Louise Bourgeois 'Maman' in front of Hauser and Wirth

© Hauser and Wirth

It is free to the public and open Tuesday – Sunday every week. This is great for the local community as a space to go to throughout the year, as well as something culturally rich for visitors to the area to experience.

The very nature of the farmhouse building helps to break down any preconceived notion of the ‘white cube’ contemporary art gallery. From here the layout allows you to be easily lead to an open shop area within the foyer, then onto the Roth Bar & Grill restaurant and two main gallery spaces. The main gallery spaces are subtly manned with invigilators who are happy for you to take photos  of the exhibition if you wish.

Here we viewed the current exhibition by Rashid Johnson ‘Stranger’ which was inspired by ‘Stranger in the Village’ by James Baldwin. Originally published in Harper’s Magazine in 1953, it is the account of Baldwin’s experiences as a young African-American man, living in a small village in Switzerland. Rashid’s exhibition unfolds throughout the entire gallery, with a combination of painting, sculpture, installation, and drawing, all completed during his two-month residency at the gallery.

The attention to detail was definitely part of the charm here for me – black soap in the toilets and blocks of shea butter were left out to sample as a direct relation to some of the materials used by Rashid Johnson throughout his exhibition.

From here, the gallery spaces naturally led to the beautiful landscaped garden designed by internationally renowned landscape architect Piet Oudolf.

Umbrellas were available to use at all entrances to shelter from the frequent unpredictable British climate; another small attention to detail, which was a pleasant reminder that the venue had their customer experience at the fore front of their operation.

Hauser and Wirth Building behind flower meadow

© Hauser and Wirth

Next stop was the Roth Bar & Grill restaurant for a delicious lunch sourced from a variety of local food producers, and served by the attentive staff who are well versed on the current programme of exhibitions. The obligatory exit through the gift shop felt unforced and showcased a broad range of affordable and high end products, both from local and international artists.

Conservation, education and sustainability

Of course, it is easy to say that Hauser & Wirth Somerset are able to provide such a refined customer experience given that they are part of a highly successful global brand within the art world.

That said, taking note of attention to detail, approachable and knowledgeable staff and deep rooted community integration doesn’t usually require any hefty price tag to go with it.

Alice Workman, Senior Director, alongside the Head of Education Debbie Hillyerd were keen to note that for them the success of their venue is ‘centred round a core belief in conservation, education and sustainability’.

Their extensive learning programme for local schools, young people and families has grown since they opened and can have up to 300 school children visit in any given week throughout the year.

They also offer a wide variety of special events including talks, seminars, workshops and screenings. The centre also provides resources including a bookshop and dedicated learning room.

Two people seating on the floor enjoying exhibition

Img; © Hauser and Wirth

What can we learn from this?

For me, this visit was more than just seeing a world-class art gallery but it presented an visitor experience in all senses.

Perhaps this is the formula to consider when thinking about how our customers experience the numerous arts centre and galleries throughout Dorset, Bournemouth and Poole.

What happens to the bottom line when you take a holistic approach to your business operation by tying all strands of activity together in one immersive experience for your customer?

Furthermore, how can the local community not only engage but shape your programme of activity to encourage our centres to become not only sustainable, but to thrive?

Perhaps Mike Glier, the artist in residence at their Maltings studios in Bruton at the time of our visit, sums up this concept well when speaking of his work,

“My landscape projects are propelled by a number of things, including the love of paint and abstraction, but most importantly, by a desire to do my part to help make the changes in philosophy that are required if humanity is to create a sustainable future.”

Visitor admiring painting in gallery

How about you? Have you visited any gallery, museum or arts establishment that is paying attention to the finer details?

How does your organisation consider your customer journey? Leave us a comment below.

We are running a free Customer Care workshop for Cultural Organisations’ customer facing staff or volunteers.