Tate Modern and Uniqlo on one year of Tate Lates and the key to a good partnership

More than 100,000 people have attended Tate Modern and Uniqlo’s Tate Lates events this year and 75% of them are aged 18 to 35. We spoke to Chris Condron, Head of Campaigns at Tate, and Ben Cook, Head of Brand at Uniqlo, about curating events for young audiences and the key to a good brand partnership

Visit Tate Modern on the last Friday of each month and you can enjoy a night of live music, talks, creative workshops, film screenings and art from new and world-famous artists for absolutely nothing.

Tate Modern and Uniqlo’s Tate Lates series launched in October last year and 115,000 people have since turned up to the monthly events. Three quarters of them are aged between 18 and 35 – a younger demographic than the average Tate visitor. It has been a huge success, helping Tate Modern bring in a new audience and Uniqlo boost its presence in London’s creative scene, and planning for next year’s events is already underway.

The Tate Lates partnership came about after Tate Modern partnered with Uniqlo for an event marking the opening of its Switch House extension last year. Tate was keen to curate a programme of late night events at the museum and Uniqlo wanted to support the arts in London.

The brand has a long-running partnership with the Museum of Modern Art in New York and runs a scheme offering free entry to the museum on Friday afternoons. It has also partnered with arts venues in Germany and Australia. It regularly teams up with artists to create limited edition collections and this year launched SPRZ NY – a limited edition range of t-shirts created in partnership with artists and galleries. The inaugural collection (a collaboration with MoMA) featured designs inspired by Keith Haring, Jean-Michel Basquiat and Andy Warhol.

“We’re very aware that Uniqlo’s products appeal to the creative industries audience and creativity is something we’re very passionate about,” says Uniqlo Head of Brand Ben Cook.

“We think it’s really important to be an active part of the communities we operate in,” he adds. “London was the first place Uniqlo opened a store [in] outside of Japan and it’s still one of our most important markets.”

What we realised was that we’ve got an entire night out in one building if we just open it up and activate things in a different way

Chris Condron, Head of Campaigns at Tate, says the aim with Tate Lates was to create “an alternative night out in London”.

“We have this new building that has a café, a restaurant … and a cocktail bar and on top of the food and drinks offerings and the artwork people could come in and see we also have a cinema. What we realised was that we’ve got an entire night out in one building if we just open it up and activate things in a different way,” he explains.

“It always seems amazing to me that there wasn’t a lates programme at Tate Modern before considering how prevalent the lates scheme is across London … but it requires a certain level of scale and I think we wanted to hold off until we could do it right.”

The museum was keen to reach a young audience through the programme. The average visitor to Tate Modern is over 40 and Condron says younger people are often reluctant to spend £15 or more on a blockbuster exhibition. Tate Lates visitors can see temporary exhibitions and buy food and drink at a reduced price. They can also listen to gigs or try their hand at making in between exploring permanent collections.

A Tate Lates workshop with the Craftivist Collective

Condron describes the programming as “a pick and mix”. Different events might appeal to different demographics – an LGBTQ night will naturally bring in more LGBTQ visitors or people with an interest in LGBTQ art for example – but the aim is always to provide entertainment for the broadest possible audience (ideally one aged between 18 and 35).

Each event has a different theme: some are inspired by temporary exhibitions and others by cultural trends or current events. August’s Lates event offered free access to Soul of a Nation – an exhibition exploring African American art during the Civil Rights movement – and featured art by Solange Knowles Ferguson and a Black Power writing workshop. Another event held in summer explored multiculturalism and London’s diverse population.

A Tate Lates workshop with the Craftivist Collective

October’s event takes place tonight and includes a performance from Mount Kimbie with visuals by artist Adham Faramawy, a slogan-making workshop, a new art piece by Yoko Ono and a DIY print station. There’s also a chance to try out a three-person swing by Danish art collective SUPERFLEX or see the London Contemporary Orchestra perform in Tate Modern’s cavernous Tanks.

There is a strong focus on showcasing emerging artists from London and the UK – in part because it reflects Tate Modern’s remit to support new artists but also because it makes the museum seem more accessible to younger visitors.

“It’s great for that age group to see that people like them are able to have their work in the Tate. There might be a perception that an institution like the Tate is out of reach to young artists so when you see that … it makes you feel like it’s partially owned by the audience,” adds Condron.

Online radio station NTS curates the music for each event, selecting DJs and musicians to perform. Condron says curating a Tate Lates event is a very different experience to putting on a blockbuster exhibition – “If you’re going to make things more accessible, and work with emerging artists … then you have to loosen the reins on the curation process,” he explains. “It might be a bit more rough around the edges but maintaining that top level of polish isn’t always our objective.”

Tate Modern and NTS have complete control over curation and Condron believes this has been key to the project’s success. “[Uniqlo] are brilliant to work with and really respectful of Tate as the curator,” he says. “They’d never dream of trying to influence the curation but we do work collaboratively with them – they’ll try and make as many resources available to us as possible to benefit the night and we’ll have ongoing discussions about the themes for each night and how they can activate those themes in stores and in their marketing.”

I have definitely seen collaborations where it felt like a brand was trying to force its way into an organisation, to borrow some of their credibility and brand equity, whereas for me this is very genuine

Cook considers this approach common sense: “The thing we have to understand about the audience [at Tate Lates] is that they like NTS and Tate Modern because of their authenticity and if we in any way taint that, then we’ve lost the appeal,” he says. “We definitely have a lot of respect for [Tate] and maybe this is something that’s inherent in our Japanese-ness – relationships and respect are culturally very important in Japan – but actually, I think the most important thing is understanding why an audience is interested in something.”

“I’ve worked at agencies in the past and I have definitely seen collaborations where it felt like a brand was trying to force its way into an organisation, to borrow some of their credibility and brand equity, whereas for me this is very genuine,” adds Condron.

“[Tate Modern and Uniqlo] are trying to speak to the same audience, and that audience has a genuine warm feeling towards both of the brands, and Uniqlo has not tried to take advantage of that or force their marketing objectives into the night. It’s very much “you guys do what you do best” … and that’s quite rare.”

Tate expected its Lates programme to attract around 3,000 extra visitors to the museum. But three times that turned up to the first event and it regularly draws in around 13,000 people. “It really took us by surprise and we’ve really had to upscale our event management [team] to handle that … but obviously that’s a great problem to have,” says Condron.

Tate launched a poster campaign in areas of London with large creative communities ahead of the first event but now relies on social media marketing and word of mouth.

“We do a survey every few weeks where we ask people ‘how did you hear about this event?’ … and we were seeing that 30 or 35% of people heard about it directly from social and [around] 40% had heard about it through word of mouth,” says Condron.

“When you dial down into what word of mouth means you find it normally means social as well – someone’s friend has posted photos or tagged themselves at an event…. Social media is the single biggest driver of traffic to the Tate aside from organic search … and we spend a lot of time building engagement [on Tate’s social platforms].”

NTS and Uniqlo also promote events on their social channels and Uniqlo puts on workshops with artists at its flagship store on Oxford Street ahead of events.

Investing in Tate Lates has several benefits for Uniqlo: “When we’re talking to our customers, it gives us some really great content [to share] over and above our product information,” explains Cook. “It’s also a great way of reaching Tate’s audience and the NTS audience to let them know who we are.”

Rather than pigeonhole a young audience … do as much insight work as you can into the types of young people you are trying to speak to

Uniqlo has committed to supporting Tate Lates for three years and Condron says the programming will include a similar mix of music, art and film in 2018. The plan is to keep events at a similar size but next year Cook hopes to “do more” with content generated at the event.

“The music all lives online afterwards – all of the NTS DJ sets are uploaded to Mixcloud – and we have some great imagery and videos … so we need to focus more on how we take this amazing event and make it available to our customers around the world online and through our social channels as well as in stores,” he adds.

Many cultural organisations are looking to attract younger visitors – and Tate’s Lates programme is a great example of how this can be done with some careful curation and good partners.

Offering some advice for other organisations looking to do the same, Condron says: “Rather than pigeonhole a young audience … do as much insight work as you can into the types of young people you are trying to speak to,” he says.

“What I see a lot [in the cultural sector] is people benchmarking their performance against other members of that sector but we didn’t start with that. If we’re competing with all the other things that are on offer on a Friday night in London – and there’s amazing innovation going on in London’s night life scene, it used to be music or food or drinks but now you’ve got amazing events like Gingerline that combine all three … so that’s our benchmark. You have to understand what your audience is looking to do elsewhere and try and do something completely unique that is more attractive than that.”

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