When Kelvin Browne, the Executive Director and CEO of Gardiner Museum in Toronto, decided to ask artists and designers to reimagine the Christmas tree, giving them carte blanche and asking them to come back with nothing less than exceptional and unexpected, he wasn’t merely being adventurous; he was being strategic. His vision was not only to create an exhibit worthy of word-of-mouth discussion, but also to expand Canada’s National Ceramics Museum’s reach by encouraging its target to see them differently. Breaking from 26 years of the Gardiner’s traditional approach to Christmas exhibitions was a bold move that brought not only holiday joy, but also a few lessons for other brands to take away.
By selecting Dee Dee Eustace, an architect and interior designer as the curator of the exhibit – not a ceramics expert as one might expect from the Gardiner – and by giving the artists and designers the mandate of “exceptional”, Browne gave all involved the confidence and encouragement to push the limits of their imaginations. Had Browne chosen a more expected curator and chosen to be more ‘evolutionary’ in the exhibit’s approach, the end result would have been quite different: less inventive, less unusual, less fascinating and mostly, less talked about.
Subtitled ‘The Joy of Creativity’, the exhibit’s joys turned out to be truly multifold. Torontonians were more than ready to break free from the conventional glitter of Christmas towards a more unexpected and sophisticated contemporary art experience – one they might not have expected from a museum devoted to ceramics. Audiences, it seems, benefited from the Gardiner’s cultural shift as much as the museum did.
In addition, each of the twelve trees was sponsored by a major corporation. The proceeds from the Gala Party, featuring a silent auction and raffle, will go towards Gardiner’s education and outreach programs. The museum also encouraged local retailers to be more inventive with their own holiday traditions with its Joy of Creativity tree inspired displays and a #SpreadtheJoyTO window signage.
All in all, the Gardiner Museum’s 12 Trees of Christmas exhibit offered an encouraging perspective that helped to open the Gardiner’s doors and visitors’ hearts another notch wider. With the popularity and success of the exhibition, it would be great to see other Canadian brands getting inspired and breaking away from their own branding traditions. Torontonians seem to be more than ready.
In our next post we’ll explore space, the new art-fusion frontier. See you in 2016.