THE AUSTRALIAN ART CURATOR BLOG' - What is Place Curation?
Have you ever wondered what makes people behave a certain way in a space? Why in one retail space patrons are milling around quietly, and in others they are pawing frantically through stacks of new designs?
It’s not rocket science. It’s called place curation and, as I recently discovered on my trip to the US, America is acing it! Through catching up with old friends in New York for gallery hijinks, exploring out of the way neighbourhoods in L.A. and discovering the hidden art collaborations in Chicago, I came across so many incredible spaces that were doing place curation well.
It’s the rejection of aesthetic minimalism, making way for carefully managed maximalism.
Place curation turns ordinary hotel lobbies into cultural hotspots that beat the curve when it comes to rethinking retail models. Not only does this approach increase consumer dwell time, these endeavours provide a memorable and organic experience.
So just what is the process of place curation? No longer solely in the realms of the arts, the term curation is increasingly bouncing around the meeting rooms of developers, hoteliers and retailers. It refers to the practice of manipulating specific elements, in order to give a particular experience to the person in the space. It’s the rejection of aesthetic minimalism, making way for carefully managed maximalism; combined with the practical elements of what will make the space work (are the exits optimally placed? Does the lighting encourage dwell time?).
All to a finely tuned effect.
It’s almost the art version of UX experience design: heavy emphasis on the customer experience.
Still not quite sure what place curation means? Think about the obsessive way a curator will arrange the structural elements within a gallery to have a specific (or multiple) experiences, both emotional and physical. It’s almost the art version of UX experience design: heavy emphasis on the customer experience.
America is not only doing it well, they’re ahead of what’s in Australia. There’s a dash of fearlessness in the way they innovate for creative and commercial success that would be incredible to see more in developments here.
As a bit of place making inspiration, here’s just what I learned about what makes a stand out curated event space (and who is doing it well).
COWORKING HOTELS: Blurring Business and Leisure
I walked into the lobby of the Ace New York, and was immediately struck by the gaggle of young New Yorkers in the lobby. They were sitting in groups, perched on the edge of plaid armchairs, hunched over vintage-style, dark grain coffee tables, faces glowing in the light of the laptops they were furiously typing on.
This is the hotel that prides itself on being a ‘hotbed of startups (and) freelancers’.
Outlets such as Time Out NY have called it “the hotel that made working in hotels cool”, and recommends it as one of New York’s best place to freelance from, making it a hot destination. It makes for a buzzy atmosphere, and gives the hotel an idiosyncratically lively feel.
The creators have curated a lobby space to be a balance between beautiful and welcoming, as well as practical. Champagne is on hand if that inspiration isn’t coming, but they also have communal tables and free Wifi.
A half hour stroll across Manhattan takes you to the Bowery’s CitizenM Hotel: another incredible foray into the realm of hotel curated spaces.
Instead of the coworking taking part in the lobby, eager working beavers are directed to the ‘anti-lobby lobby’. The space is stuffed with seating, artworks and books that the person in the space can flick through, and is extremely Instagrammable with tiered seating at one end of the room). It even has a 24-hour canteen.
It positions hotels to soak up that generation of workers who don't want to work in an office, but still need some of its practicalities
So why are hotels ditching bedrooms for these curated non-offices? Well as pointed out by Victoria Lawson of The Hotel Series, spaces in hotels for coworking opens it up “to new audiences and the community”. Plus if they charge a fee, “they can be revenue generating, capitalising on existing space and activating profitable economies of scale”. It positions hotels to soak up that generation of workers who don't want to work in an office, but still need some of its practicalities.
There’s definitely movement towards this in Australia. Art Pharmacy Consulting recently created an art narrative for hospitality group Kafnu’s new Sydney-based coworking space, which features integrated hotel accommodation. As everyone knows, in order to break previously conceived notions of the model, you have to go the extra mile. Here the hotels have done it through place curation.
CONCEPT RETAIL STORES: Highly Curated, Extremely Local
In a noisy world, New York’s Maison 10 sells itself on uniqueness. With the tagline ‘10 Categories / 10 Items / 10 Weeks’, the limited number of objects within this extraordinary shop are carefully chosen and displayed on pedestals during launch events. They also collaborate with other local organisations, with 10% of the profits going to one of 10 local charities chosen by the consumer. (If you can see a numerical pattern here, I tip my hat to your excellent mathematical skills.)
What does this do for the customer? This quality over quantity approach provides an experience as yet unavailable in online spaces. Combine this with a hyperlocalism that sees the owners regularly featuring works by New York-based artists, as well as launch events open to the public, and you get high engagement plus a distinct ‘10’-shaped calling card etched on the memory.
The experience of walking through this curated collection becomes a memorable event in itself
Are you of a fan of the aspirational apartment interiors that Instagram throws up? Then you’d love The Apartment by The Line. Also taking the curated approach, this ‘shop’ is laid out like a home. From dining room and living room, to walk in wardrobe and bedroom, the objects for sale are ‘storied’ by the place they’re in. For example, instead of having a woolen throw stacked up unnaturally on a table, it is placed (as if my accident) across the bed.
The experience of walking through this curated collection becomes a memorable event in itself, with the act of purchasing becoming the buying of a story instead of an object. Like Maison 10, this offers it “a different experience to online shopping, one that offers a ‘social/community space’ (Urban Land, 2018) as opposed to the purely commercial
If you want a space with a difference it’s well worth spending your time researching how best to do place curation.