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Audiences and Engagement

In response to the ongoing impact of COVID-19, including interstate and international border closures, the National Gallery set reduced visitation targets for 2020–21. In previous years approximately 65% of the Gallery’s visitors have travelled from interstate. In the early months of the year, strict visitation capacities were introduced for public venues including museums and galleries. The National Gallery adhered to these requirements, monitoring visitation through timed general entry sessions and through close management of visitor flow in gallery spaces.

Targets for on–site visitation to the National Gallery in Canberra were exceeded. While the Gallery was open daily, visitation for the first eight months of the year was on average 49% of the capacity of the previous year. The opening of Botticelli to Van Gogh: Masterpieces from the National Gallery, London in March saw a dramatic increase in visitation. Almost every weekend session was sold out throughout the exhibition season, and the final visitation for the exhibition was 200,975. As a result, total on–site visitation for 2020–21 was 524,860, which exceeded the on–site target of 300,000.

The National Gallery’s Touring Exhibitions program was similarly affected by external factors, with many regional and touring venues having to close or being impacted by border closures. Total visitation on tour was 92,351, from a target of 100,000.

The National Gallery loaned 232 works to other institutions to support both Australian and international major exhibitions, a lower number due COVID-19, however visitation arising from works on loan greatly exceeded the target of 500,000. Key international exhibitions and loans, as well as multiple works to the Art Gallery of South Australia, Museum of Contemporary Art Australia and the Art Gallery of New South Wales ensured works from the national collection were seen by more than 2,202,973 people.

Targets for online visitation were doubled thanks to diverse digital offerings during the COVID-19 closure and period of restricted visitation. These programs, which included content such as videos of curatorial talks, the Know My Name Conference, blog posts, and art-at-home activity sheets, reached wide audiences, many of whom had not engaged with the Gallery previously. Total online visitation for 2020-21 was 2,292,604, more than doubling the target of 1,000,000.

To raise the profile of learning programs in an environment where COVID-19 impacted on–site visitation, the Learning department focused on revitalising offerings to engage digital audiences. As a result, 48,412 people engaged in learning online – more than seven times the online attendance of last year and exceeding the Gallery’s target for 10% growth over four years. The Know My Name digital season delivered a new standard for access and inclusion, demonstrating the Gallery’s leadership and commitment to accessibility in the learning space. In formal education programming, the Gallery increased its virtual excursion offering, adding 8 new programs to engage 2,670 students and teachers over the year.

On–site, 58,919 people attended learning offerings with 21,636 students and teachers completing education programs and 37,283 visitors attending a public program or tour.

The Gallery recommenced delivery of learning programs on tour to support regional galleries. Almost 23,000 people engaged through the outreach program, including 21,204 through public programs and 1,793 through formal education offering. While continuing to offer in-person programming where possible, the Gallery also incorporated online offerings to increase reach and provide flexibility in the face of border restrictions or lockdowns. Programming focused on the Body Language, Skywhales: Every heart sings, Terminus and Defying Empire Touring exhibitions as well as delivery of core teacher professional learning and Art and Dementia programs.

Initial scoping for a new research program attached to the National Summer Art Scholarship program was also completed this year.

Temporary Loans Program
The Gallery made 232 loans to support exhibitions by other Australian and international institutions. This was less than previous years and reflected the continuing effect of COVID-19.

Three outward loans were made to international exhibitions: Francis Bacon’s Triptych, shown at the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston, USA, for the exhibition Bacon: Books and Painting; Claude Monet’s Meules, milieu du jour (Haystacks, midday), for the exhibition Monet: Places at the Museum Barberini in Potsdam, Germany; and Jo Baer’s diptych painting Untitled (vertical flanking diptych-red), which was exhibited in the exhibition Documenta. Politics and Art at the Deutsches Historisches Museum in Berlin. The National Gallery supported many Australian institutions presenting major temporary exhibitions. These included: 35 works loaned to She-oak and Sunlight: Australian Impressionism at The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia; 32 works to Dušan and Voitre Marek: Surrealists at sea at the Art Gallery of South Australia; 13 works to Australian Love Stories at the National Portrait Gallery, Canberra; 20 works to HABITAT: Ways of living at the Canberra Museum and Gallery; seven works to the Art Gallery of South Australia for Clarice Beckett: The present moment; 5 works to Lindy Lee: Moon in a Dew Drop at the Museum of Contemporary Art Australia; 19 works to Streeton at the Art Gallery of New South Wales; three works to Unfinished Business: The Art of Gordon Bennett; and four works to William Yang: Seeing and Being Seen, both at the Queensland Art Gallery, Gallery of Modern Art, Brisbane.

Promoting the National Gallery

With the ongoing impact of COVID-19, a range of strategies and channels were employed by the Marketing and Communications teams to promote the Gallery and its exhibitions, events and programs, including advertising, public relations, social media, digital engagement, content collaborations and partnership initiatives. The Gallery acknowledges the invaluable support from its media and tourism partners, whose investment enabled greater marketing reach and engagement nationally.

Two major marketing campaigns were delivered during the year for the Know My Name and Botticelli to Van Gogh exhibitions. Due to COVID-19, the opening of Know My Name was presented on–site, delivered from the exhibition space through Facebook Live and via the Know My Name microsite to create an accessible and wide-reaching event. Pre-recorded videos released across the Gallery’s social media increased the reach nationally.

A significant Know My Name marketing and communications focus in early 2021 was on the promotion of Patricia Piccinini’s Skywhales: Every heart sings. This period also included activity for Joan Ross’ Collector’s Paradise as part of the Enlighten Festival. The Know My Name campaign generated $2.6 million of in-kind advertising.

The campaign for Botticelli to Van Gogh commenced in December 2020. The exhibition was launched in Canberra on 3 March with a media preview, VIP opening and Gallery members opening. Despite COVID-19 restrictions, the exhibition generated $5.1 million of in-kind advertising and delivered an economic impact of $49.7 million to the ACT, a significant result in the current environment. In addition
to major exhibition activity, the Gallery’s website, email marketing and social media continue to be major channels of awareness for audiences, while earned channels such as online and print editorial
and word of mouth also raised significant awareness.


The National Gallery’s media coverage in 2020–21 had a potential reach of 9.4 billion views through local, national and international media, equating to 9,970 mentions in print, radio, television and online media, with an advertising equivalent value of $86.5 million.

A highlight was the media coverage for Botticelli to Van Gogh which generated 1,616 total media items, with a potential reach of 115 million people, and an advertising equivalent value of $14.3 million. This included cover stories in The Australian’s Review, The Sydney Morning Herald’s Spectrum and The Canberra Times’ Panorama sections. Botticelli to Van Gogh was reviewed in several major publications – The Australian (two-part review), The Sydney Morning Herald, The Saturday Paper, The Canberra Times, The Guardian, Broadsheet and ArtsHub, among others. Another campaign highlight was the media partnership with News Corp which generated over 117 media items and $1.2 million of editorial value across their mastheads alone.

During 2020–21, the communications campaign for Know My Name generated editorial coverage in 1,989 total media items across print, radio, television and online, with a potential reach of 1.1 billion people and an equivalent advertising value of $10.5 million.

A highlight of the Know My Name communications campaign was the collaboration with Vogue Australia, where for the first time in the title’s 60-year history, an original work of art – Betty Muffler’s Ngangkari Ngura (Healing Country) – featured on the cover. As a part of a global campaign for ‘hope’ when the world was in lockdown, the National Gallery partnered with Vogue Australia to commission Muffler, a senior Pitjantjatjara and Yankunytjatjara artist who lives and works in Indulkana in the Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara (APY) Lands in South Australia, to paint a work for the September cover, which Vogue then gifted to the Gallery. Vogue are also a media partner for Know My Name.

An exclusive cover with The Sydney Morning Herald’s Good Weekend magazine revealing Patricia Piccinini's Skywhalepapa began a significant media campaign for Skywhales: Every heart sings. The Canberra launch and national tour of Skywhales: Every heart sings generated 3,508 total media items across print, radio, television and online, with a potential reach of 1.1 billion people and an advertising equivalent value of $11.4 million.

In addition to major exhibition activity, publicity and promotion was undertaken for collection displays and smaller exhibitions including XU ZHEN®: ETERNITY VS EVOLUTION, Joan Mitchell: Worlds of Colour, The Body Electric, Belonging: Stories of Australian art, Emotional Body and Towards Abstraction, as well as 20 new acquisitions to the national collection.

Social media

The Gallery saw major growth across key social channels during the year:

The Gallery’s Instagram following increased by 7,000 followers across January and February of 2021, which is attributed to content from the Skywhales: Every heart sings project and the Botticelli to Van Gogh exhibition.

The Gallery’s Instagram growth in this period was the highest rate among national cultural institutions. The national average is 15.8%. The Gallery’s Facebook following has also grown at a rate above the national average.