Tate looks at the bigger picture with Net launch

The Tate launches its Website on Thursday this week, designed by Web design company the Hub, with hopes that the site will help boost visitor and commercial revenues across the gallery’s three UK sites.

Damien Whitmore, director of communication for the Tate, describes the gallery’s investment in the site as “the most effective

way of developing an overseas market” for the Tate’s collection and exhibitions.

The gallery has set itself an ambitious target of doubling visitor numbers to more than 2 million a year across its venues over the next few years – with overseas visitors seen as a major contributor to that growth.

The young age skew of Tate visitors, plus the high rate of Internet access among this target market of international travellers and visitors, makes the Internet an ideal tool for the Tate to sell itself abroad, says Whitmore.

“The Web is going to be an important part of our marketing mix,” he says. “We can reach a new market, and we can encourage people to come and see us in the comfort of their own home. We want people to use the site as a sampling tool before they visit us. But we also hope it will be used for generating revenue through mail order from our shop, and to build support though our membership schemes.”

Many hundreds of British and American museums and galleries have already developed Websites. Their connections with academia, one of major driving forces behind widespread exploitation of the Web, means institutions such as the Victoria & Albert and National Gallery have been able to exploit in-house resources in establishing homepages covering their activities.

But few sites go beyond offering a basic service of listing opening hours, transport deals and a couple of perfunctory illustrations of exhibits. The Victoria & Albert Museum, for example, was last updated in December 1996 and designed by in-house staff – although a new site is now being built.

Whitmore points to US galleries such as the Art Institute of Chicago and the Museum of Modern Art in New York as establishing a benchmark for other galleries to meet in exploiting the Internet.

British Web design company Hub Communications has developed the Tate site. A key feature will be an online catalogue of the Tate Collection, with a complete listing of 25,000 works, displaying thousands of images. The catalogue “reflects the Tate’s commitment to free access for a wide audience”, says Whitmore. But how does this square with Whitmore’s avowed intention of exploiting the Web to meet the Tate’s commercial objectives?

“We’re not profit centred – entrance to the bulk of our gallery is free,” he says. “But we are commercial. Our existing business plan is aiming to achieve a doubling of visitor numbers to over 2 million a year across our sites in the coming years.”

More visitors makes it easier to attract commercial sponsorship and secure prestigious paid-for exhibitions, he adds. It also helps leverage more revenue from shops, cafés and the promotion of other commercial activities such as membership schemes.

“And the more we earn, the more justification we have for applying for grants and other forms of support,” says Whitmore.

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