Interview with Elisabeth Delin Hansen, Former Director of the Nikolaj Kunsthal Contemporary Art Center in Copenhagen, Denmark

Within the field of international contemporary art, Nikolaj Kunsthal Copenhagen Contemporary Art Centre’s exhibition profile focuses on art that reflects and addresses current political, social and cultural issues. This profile is based on dialogue between Danish and international art, bringing historical perspectives to new material and media multiplicity, stylistic diversity, art in public spaces, digitally based art and – not least – an openness to new developments. The Centre shows art that has not been shown before and that can generate, inspire and intervene in social debates.

The Centre is involved in a number of outreach projects to engage and dialogue with new audiences. While Elisabeth Delin Hansen was Director of the Nikolaj Kunsthal Contemporary Art Center, she talked with ADESTE about the Centre’s approach to audience development, lessons learnt and advice for other professionals working in the field.

ADESTE: Which new audiences are you targeting with your outreach projects?
Elisabeth Delin Hansen: I can’t say that we have a general audience we always try to reach. The Centre has been doing outreach in various ways, but with more recent project we have been focusing our efforts on people living in residential areas. This audience is not attending our exhibitions and we want them here, to engage and dialogue with them. We have also been targeting young people to participate in the Centre’s outreach projects.

Based on the experience you’ve had with previous outreach projects over the past ten years, is there a series of questions you always ask yourself before you begin a new project?
I would say the experiences we’ve developed are very different and we haven’t been working in such a way that after ten years we can say, “Ok we’ve decided this is something we are going to investigate.” Often our work has been done in relation to the grants available to help fund in part what we have been doing. Of course we do ask ourselves questions like who do we want to engage with?  How do we reach them? Which artists would be best to collaborate for this project? The Centre has always tried to bring in artists who have a strong connection to the residential area we are trying to reach, but it’s not always enough. We know from experience we must carefully consider the choice of artist and speak with him or her to know if they really want to work in close dialogue with the young people. It’s not enough to say we’ve got the money to do this project to engage young people so let’s work together. The challenge in some previous projects has been that artists were interested in engaging with adults more than young people. These kinds of things should be clear before you begin a collaboration. The dialogue can be a very demanding component, but it’s key for the project’s success. Things cannot be discussed enough at the beginning. You have to talk very carefully about the various aspects and expectations from each person involved in the project.

In a more recent project the Centre has been using video to work with young people and it functioned extremely well because it has been very, very clear from the start about the target and expectations. It also helps when what we’re doing is of our design and we’re not spread out too much. In a past project we were working in three different areas all at once and that was much too much. We worked for two years on the project which wasn’t enough time and our staff was spread too thin. From there we decided to concentrate on just one spot of one residential area and to do this carefully for four years. Two years in to that project and we could see this concentrated method paying off. It is so inspiring to see young participants excite others whether that be brothers, sisters, neighbours, etc. We can say it is a good way to grow.

What is the name of the project?
The four-year project is called Set Culture in Play (SKIS) and it’s a huge project taking place in eight regions around Copenhagen and the Centre is involved in just one part of the project taking place in a residential area in the city. SKIS develops cultural institution offers to users in selected social housing areas that usually do not even seek out institutions. The project is an initiative of Culture Metropol Sound, where municipalities can draw from each other's experiences and jointly organize big events. The project’s special focus is on families with children, but citizens are actively helping and engaged to create cultural projects.

What do you think helps make for a successful outreach project?
I think one of the most important aspects is the ability to establish good and strong relationships with the people and with the area in which you’re working. If not the project will never function well. It’s really with the SKIS project where the Centre has been successful in creating this bond. We’ve been lucky to collaborate with people in the area, establish a good connection and work with the social workers who have excellent contact with young people. Social workers can be amazing resources to provide you with information you may not get elsewhere. For example,  you won’t attract many young people to an activity in that area if you organise it on Wednesdays because that is when they’re going to football. Insights like this one are critical. In cultural institutions, we often talk in theoretical ways, about curatorial considerations, but outreach projects can be flawed because of the a small practical detail you may not think about. Knowing your target audience cannot be stressed enough. Also having good people and contacts in the area who are passionate about your project, who believe in its importance; their support an enthusiasm is so necessary. Institutions such as the Nikolaj Kunsthal Contemporary Art are situated right in the centre of Copenhagen. We can go to these residential areas further out of the city, but we don’t have the same connections of knowing the families.

Are there other challenges encountered while doing outreach?
Time. These projects take so much time, dedication and work. You need to know in advance the amount of time you’ll have for a project, calculate it, expect it. And then except to need even more time needed once you’re in the implementation phase whether that be the people on the ground, a project coordinator, or support from the staff at your organisation.

Learn more about  Nikolaj Kunsthal here:
http://www.nikolajkunsthal.dk/en

Learn more about the SKIS project here:
http://audienceseurope.weebly.com/skis---denmark.html

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