Running paid events online - Museums Association

Running paid events online

A case study from National Galleries of Scotland
Digital Events
Lee Haldane
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National Galleries of Scotland opened the exhibition Ray Harryhausen: Titan of Cinema at Modern Two in October 2020.

The show, which runs until September 2021, explores the life and work of film special effects superstar Ray Harryhausen. His creative genius helped elevate stop motion animation to an art. His innovative and inspiring films, from the 1950s onwards, changed the face of modern movie-making forever. 

 The exhibition (reviewed by Museums Journal) is the largest and widest-ranging exhibition of his work ever seen, with newly restored and previously unseen material from his incredible archive. The exhibition is currently closed in line with Scottish government guidelines.

At the start of 2020 we had already been in touch with Aardman Animations about the possibility of running animation workshops at the gallery as part of the programme of events to support the exhibition. It became clear as the year progressed this would no longer be possible, so we looked at the possibility of running these online.

Luckily, Aardman Animations has an online events package in place via Zoom that is similar to the offer they conduct in person.

We scheduled the first workshop in December 2020. The format was three 60-minute sessions, with up to 60 participants at each session.

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The hour-long session was led by a senior model maker at Aardman who made a chosen character live, enabling participants to make along with him in real time.

The main aims of the workshop were to:

  • Maintain a presence of the exhibition online while the gallery was physically closed
  • Provide audiences with an at-home activity
  • Pilot running online ticketed events that generate an income
  • Encourage positive brand association

Delegates could book tickets on our website, and then they received an email confirmation and a sheet listing all the materials they would need for the session, as well as additional information about how the session would be run.

During the week of the event users were sent a worksheet and their Zoom link, and a survey was sent out to all participants after the session.

The first workshop tickets were priced at £6.50 per household. Over a three-week period, we sold 110 tickets out of a possible 180 - we had anticipated the events would sell out, and were unsure why we hadn't reached our target. The event had been promoted through our social channels and newsletter, and we also paid for a boosted Facebook post and ran a listing in a local What’s On title.

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After December, and in a new lockdown with all galleries closed, we organised a second session. This time, we agreed a different pricing structure and decided to trial a pay-what-you-can format.

Participants were given three different prices to choose from: £5.50, £7.50 and £9.50. They were also given the option to donate. All three sessions sold out in a matter of days.

One of the key learnings from the pilot has been the need to schedule plenty of time to promote events and to allow delegates time to purchase materials, particularly during lockdown when deliveries may take longer.

Museums also need to be explicit about when they will send out the Zoom link. For the December workshop we had multiple participants who missed the email with the Zoom link. This was possibly due to the increased volume of emails (from schools, Christmas promotions and other activities) but also the email address it came from was a generic account rather than a named person.

Finally, it pays to experiment. We found the pay-what-you-can format was more appealing than a fixed price.

Lee Haldane is the projects manager of Ray Harryhausen: Titan of Cinema, at the National Galleries of Scotland until 5 September 2021

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