Nina Rogers is the communications manager at Yorkshire Sculpture Park

Poppies: Wave widened our visitor base

Nina Rogers, Issue 116/03, p15, 01.03.2016
Poppies: Wave was a fascinating experience for us, with plenty of interesting insights
Like most people, we knew about the Tower of London poppies. So when we heard that Yorkshire Sculpture Park would be the first venue to host part of the installation, known as Wave, we were thrilled.

Time was tight, so planning began immediately and frantically. While the 888,246 poppies had drawn record crowds to London, Wave is formed of just 5,800 ceramic flowers. We were curious to see how this would be received.

Press coverage and social media soon suggested that Wave was likely to be a big hit. We quickly made arrangements to welcome a larger number of visitors, recruiting new volunteers, securing extra car park space through a deal with a local farmer, and establishing relationships with local police and St John’s Ambulance.

On the opening weekend, 5-6 September, we welcomed more than 20,000 people, and visitor numbers stayed well above average for the duration. When the installation closed on 10 January, more than 340,000 people had experienced Poppies: Wave.

It was a pleasingly varied crowd. Some were lapsed visitors returning to Yorkshire Sculpture Park after several years’ absence, while for others it was the prompt they needed to come for the first time.

The installation was sited in the middle of the park on the historic Cascade Bridge. This was a mixed blessing. On one hand, it was a beautiful and unique setting. On the other, it was a challenge for some first-time visitors with limited mobility or advanced age. Our Poppies Shuttle Bus was a big help though, and our team worked hard to look after everyone, pushing wheelchair users up hills and giving lifts in Gator vehicles.

As Remembrance Sunday and Armistice Day approached, we began planning complex logistics, expecting large numbers on both days. For the first time ever, we made access to the park by ticket only. This was an experiment, so we weren’t sure what to expect. And it raised questions about access – how could we close the park when a public footpath runs right through it? We spread the word through social media and local press, and worked with the Highways Agency to signal the closure on surrounding roads. Both events were a success – there was good awareness of the events and the closure, and tickets sold out for Remembrance Sunday.

Poppies: Wave was a fascinating experience for us, with plenty of interesting insights. For example, by siting it away from the military surroundings of the Tower of London, we presented the work as an art installation and a memorial. We’re glad we did this because it meant new visitors experienced artworks they otherwise might have missed. As one visitor said on Twitter: “I came to view the poppies, but I found Bill Viola mesmerising.”

14-18 NOW is presenting the poppy sculptures Wave and Weeping Window at selected locations around the UK until December 2018.