Westminster Reveals is the overarching cultural campaign Westminster Council developed in response to the pandemic this year, which sought to support the cultural sector and attract footfall back into Westminster through the curation of a programme of accessible art interventions in outdoor public spaces and vacant shops. A dedicated PR campaign was also created and delivered to promote the campaign and showcase the diverse and exciting range of cultural activities on offer.
The council launched its inaugural Inside Out festival of free outdoor events that featured collaborations with the city’s theatres, museums, galleries and performing arts venues, attracting over 250,000 visitors from August to October.
The Society of London Theatre, National Gallery, National Portrait Gallery, Somerset House, The Photographer’s Gallery, The Cartoon Museum, Serpentine Gallery and Exhibition Road Cultural Group worked with the council on the festival to bring a range of exciting and interactive content outside of their respective venues.
The council also hosted its first series of Pop-up & Activations in empty shops across the city, offering grants to local entrepreneurs and creatives along with rent, and rates-free space.
The project responded to the need for visitors to find a reason to safely return to Westminster following trends developed during the pandemic – online shopping, shopping local, digital cultural consumption, as well as hesitancy about using public transport and engaging in social gatherings. On 16 June 2021, even after lockdown ended, footfall was still at 78% of pre-pandemic levels across the borough.
As a consequence of the pandemic, Cultural organisations were forced to close their doors and then, even after initial lockdown restrictions were lifted, audience and visitor numbers were limited, prompting institutions to seek new ways engage audiences. Dialogues led to the council supporting business recovery by co-producing outdoor experiences and brokering partnerships with Landowners and BIDS to find safe and innovative ways to reignite cultural activity.
A notable pop-up was by Pursuing Independent Paths, who support adults with learning disabilities and autism, which included a public exhibition where over £1,000 of art works were sold by their members. The organisation reported their students felt valued and experienced pride; one of their students who has ASD and was generally a non-verbal communicator “showed great initiative and customer service skills in standing up, approaching and welcoming visitors and showing them her art work”.
Black Heroes Foundation won a grant to take over a Windrush Living Room installation in a large two-storey space in Haymarket to tell untold stories of Caribbean heritage, with an exhibition alongside well-attended performances, readings and lectures that raised £1,700 ticket revenue in a week.
“West End LIVE” was revived as an Inside Out partnership with Society of London Theatre, and achieved a record number of free shows in Trafalgar Square performed on 18th and 19th September 2021 with 57,000 attendees. 41% of those surveyed purchased tickets thanks to West End LIVE with an additional 45% intending to in future, thereby boosting the fortunes of local theatres. This complex production provided vital employment for 300 people, and with a total 850 creatives delivering the performance content.
The scale of this project is huge as is the ambition. The response to Covid is really impressive in particular. Partnership appears to be at the centre of the success of this project. Well done!"
What is impressive about Westminster Reveals is the wide range of inspirational art projects that were engaged with - performance, exhibition and interactive engagement involving sketching for the public, a light show, dance shows and workshops, skateboarding, theatre and more. The project ensured the involvement of diverse communities through a Caribbean project, the facilitating of a charity that supports disabilities and autism, the welcoming of schoolchildren. There was also a fantastic use of outdoor space and the high street; using abandoned units to help artists, bring footfall back and provide partnerships between business interests and cultural regeneration. This shows sensitivity in the response to issues presented by COVID19, and it is a very imaginative initiative."
A gargantuan task well-executed at a time when the heart of London seemed to have been ripped out. I was particularly impressed by the use of space to create pop-ups to keep businesses hopeful and hopefully afloat. The engagement with social media was also impressive."
So many cultural organisations struggled with getting people back through the doors after the first lockdown, and so it’s fantastic to see ‘Westminster Reveals’ utilising otherwise empty spaces to draw people back in. It’s amazing to read that 41% of those who saw the free ‘West End Live’ in Trafalgar square then purchased tickets, providing a huge boost for theatres. Great, too, to see them using these spaces as opportunities to gently educate people on issues of diversity, whether through the Windrush living room installation or the exhibition celebrating pioneering women. This campaign capitalised on the already large numbers of people coming through these spaces and allowed them to encounter art in a way that encouraged them to take their relationship with art even further."
A huge and ambitious project which really embraced a wide community both culturally and commercially. Innovation shines through, particularly leveraging existing partnerships in a new and different way. I also sense real ‘Legacy’, the success of many of the initiatives within this project will inspire and inform what can be achieved in the future. In different and challenging times, this project rose up to make a real difference."
It does feel like Westminster Reveals has been about joy. What a glorious thing."
Westminster is lucky to have such cultural riches, but looking after them still requires effort and energy. When the prospects for the sector went off a cliff at the start of the pandemic (I had a show going into the West End, which was cancelled), the future looked dim. Westminster Reveals not only spread joy, but was an accessible way of getting people, many of whom had never set foot in a theatre or art gallery, into town again."
A broad collaboration of artists, public institutions and commercial partners yielded a creative and celebratory campaign of activities, and which put the cultural sector at the heart of attracting footfall back into Westminster"
Westminster is fortunate in having a world-class cluster of high-quality cultural institutions within its borders, but the range and reach of the Westminster Reveals project shows the way in which cultural organisations can adapt to engage new audiences and transform public spaces in an inclusive way through the leadership of the council."