Richard Moss talks to Annelisa Stephen of The Getty, Los Angeles about her 2015 Let’s Get Real experiment and her experience of working with Culture24 and partners in North America. 

Annelisa StephenBased in North America?  Find out about the latest version for North American organisations and how to sign up

How did you hear about Let’s Get Real?

I heard about you guys from the previous Let’s Get Real report and the work you have done over the last few years and it was good to find other organisations out there thinking in this strategic way.

Give us a bit of background about your Let’s Get Real project.

Obviously this is my first time doing Let’s Get Real so initially I wasn’t really sure what I was going to do, so I put together a little team. We wanted to do something with Periscope but initially there was this feeling of ‘what do people actually want – if you could do anything you wanted at your job what would it be? Forget Periscope’. And someone said I would really like to have a space to talk about art that’s kind of honest and irreverent.

We wanted to do this but we didn’t know why or how. So we used a Twitter poll to find out what people wanted. As a result we decided to have a show called “Literally Anything” where you can ask about anything, say anything, talk about anything and there are no rules. It’s a gallery tour that is very embracing and open that focuses on one artwork at a time. We sometimes have a curatorial co-host with our main host who is an educator who appears every week.

What has been the organisational impact of your action research project?  

I personally really liked the time it gave us to tightly conceptualise a project – as opposed to just going ‘everyone’s joining Periscope, we should too, let’s film this curator’. And I think being able to share that process with peer organisations has been really helpful. We had some really good successes with the tools too – we have been featured on the Periscope app and both of those broadcasts got over 100,000 views.

So even though it’s not about the numbers, it’s having a model that we can talk through so we can say: “Remember how we did that Periscope project? This is how we did it”.  We didn’t just jump in with both feet, we did a lot of pre-production so to speak. I think it has been a very useful model.

What about the personal impact?

Certainly for me it has been an interesting model that I now use when thinking about moving forward other projects. We now have this little log that we call the experiment log. For example today we are doing a twitter Q&A and the same on Instagram and even though we thought it may work better on Twitter, we don’t know so we’re doing both. It’s this idea of rolling with a hunch, testing and repeating and it’s been really helpful.

Are all your projects now effectively action research projects?

Before I started with Let’s Get Real, planning digital projects could be really stressful – I would be thinking ‘What if it doesn’t work? How should we do it?’ But now it’s more about the mind set rather than anything else – it’s just an experiment. If it stops, that is actually as good as anything else because what we’re trying to do is define and decide what we do next.

I think it’s alluded to in the introductory essay for the Let’s Get Real 4 report, which talks about how there’s this kind of burdensome thing where anything digital has to be a huge viral hit and there’s a kind of shame judgement when it is not. That to me is almost more important than anything. With Let’s Get Real there is this feeling that we are all in this together trying to move towards improvement – how can we continue improving and learning?

Did you feel you benefited from being part of a North American and UK-based peer group

Yes definitely. It was really interesting in the skype workshops with other North American partners that all of us had pretty different projects but we all had similar challenges. Also the peers I now have in the UK are real buddies. Getting the logistics together was challenging but it was very, very helpful to see how the very different museums from halfway around the world are thinking about the same things. I worked with people I would never have met otherwise – even at conferences.

The Getty is a huge place – 1,400 people so it’s so helpful to see people from different museums of different sizes with different collections and realise we’re very much in the same boat. The internal relationships and barriers seem to be universal.

Where is your Persicope Action research Project now?

We’re just continuing it. It was set up in a large part based on the advice of Matt Locke, who gave us some really good professional input as our adviser and mentor. We had a really interesting conversation with him – because I was saying to him that we were having all these meetings and I was struggling getting something off the ground and what was I doing wrong?

Matt basically said just pick out a structure for your project, keep it simple and commit to a small time each week that you can do your periscope project. And that’s what we have done. It was really valuable getting an outside expertl opinion.

We have also done little experiments – we have tried it outside, we have tried it with a co-host, we have tried different topics. We make little iterations as we go.  I really like this idea of a show, with a structure that we can use on other show concepts

We recently got in touch with Periscope in San Francisco and they got back to us and advised us to be a little nimble – so for example if there’s an amazing sunset, Periscope that. Don’t just stick to the same stuff, keep trying different things.

How was the experience of workshopping and developing ideas via skype?

It’s been a lot better than I thought it might be, with skype you can occasionally drop off or lose the connection, but it wasn’t a problem and overall it was really good. When I saw there were whole or half day sessions in the UK, I really wished I could have had access to that – that space to get away and be with other people and just think differently – I missed that a little bit, but I want to reiterate how insightful Sej and Jane’s comments were – they were really good. They are full of insights which they offer in a really helpful way.


Read all about Let’s Get Real 4 – What’s the Story and download the report will all the great case studies. 

LGR4 report cover