Warwickshires Compton Verney Art Gallery and Park
was a beacon of light amongst the gloom of 2020, according to visitor figures.
Despite Covid-19, two major lockdowns and the introduction of tier regulations, the cultural attraction was able to welcome almost exactly the same number of visitors in 2020 as it had seen the previous year.
The reasons for this success are, says Compton Verney Director-CEO Julie Finch, a combination of a tenacious spirit amongst her team of staff and volunteers and being able to adapt their offer to respond to the pandemic.
In early 2020, with major exhibitions - including the critically-acclaimed Cranach: Artist & Innovator and Fabric: Touch & Identity - encouraging art lovers to the award-winning gallery - along with the prospect of exploring its 120-acre Lancelot Capability Brown landscaped park, Compton Verney had looked set for another successful year. However, those prospects looked far from rosy when it was forced to close its doors to the public with the first national lockdown in March, less than a week after both exhibitions first opened.
Although the main house was closed for twenty weeks and the grounds for eleven, the tenacious spirit of the team soon became evident, Julie explains. We realised we had to adapt our offer from a physical visitor experience to an online one. In the early days of lockdown our curators made a series of video tours that enabled people to see the exhibitions and learn more about them and our permanent collections. These proved hugely popular and helped us to considerably increase our presence on social media at the same time.
When we were allowed to re-open our grounds, so that people could enjoy the positive aspects of being outdoors in a beautiful and historic landscape, we enhanced the visitor experience by holding the first outdoor event of the summer, a creative intervention of music, spheres and dance, and through commissioning the Birmingham-based artist Foka Wolf to create a new series of fun sign posts that were inspired by our renowned Folk Art collection. We also created a series of family-focused activities for Half Term and were able to introduce our dramatic Firegarden, as part of our Winter Festival, events and trails. During the build up to Christmas, we even turned the exterior of the house into a huge advent calendar, with each new window unveiled every day on our Instagram, Twitter and Facebook pages.
As a result of such initiatives, over 8000 people visited Compton Verney during December alone, at a time when it is traditionally closed for its winter break. Indeed, the total footfall for 2020 was 78,758 compared to 2019s total of 79,473.
Of the 2020 visitors, 50% were Local Pass Members, 22.5% Access All Areas Members and 27.5% were grounds pass day ticket holders.
Compton Verneys three online social media platforms, Facebook, Instagram and Twitter all saw increased engagement, with its Instagram reach growing from 206,875 in 2019 to 490, 907 last year thats an increase of over 137%.
Compton Verney is now preparing for its exciting 2021 season, which will see two major exhibitions by the remarkable, self-taught painter Mary Newcomb and contemporary artist, Rebecca-Louise Law, plus a series of complementary activities and events.
What 2020 taught us was that in a time of such crisis, people turned to art and nature. The sheer appetite to engage with paintings, sculpture and crafts, along with the natural world showed us just how important culture is and what an amazing resource Compton Verney is. With this in mind, the Mary Newcomb and Rebecca Louise-Law shows bring these aspects together and I hope once again serve to demonstrate that Compton Verney is a beacon of light amongst the gloom of these challenging times.