Jean-Michel Basquiat’s groundbreaking and provocative artistic approach translated 1980s New York into a radical visual language: one that confronted issues of racism, class struggle, social hypocrisy and black history. Good Digital Culture was charged by the Art Gallery of Ontario to develop and execute an outreach campaign for the North American debut of a retrospective of Basquiat’s work, highlighting his innovative approach while educating the city - crossing cultures and bridging demographics. A campaign to intrigue and inspire Toronto and radiate beyond.

Nine-Week Teaser Microsite

To generate interest in the retrospective, we launched a teaser microsite two months prior to the opening, revealing a Basquiat work of art and related interactive content each week for nine weeks. To resonate with a new, younger AGO audience, each work was presented with a curated playlist from a notable Canadian band inspired by the art- leveraging key music influencers such as The New Pornographers, Broken Social Scene, MSTRKRFT, Shad and A Tribe Called Red. Additional background content ranging from events happening at the time of artwork’s creation to events in the world created a deeper context for those unfamiliar with Basquiat.

Three Interactive Environments

Coinciding with the official opening of the exhibition, three interactive environments were designed and produced by GDC. Two in-city locations (Regent Park and the Financial District) enabled visitors to interactively explore nine works of art and encouraged them to create a Basquiat inspired digital art card. This digital burst of public creativity was moderated by GDC and then proliferated through a variety of platforms: social media, in-gallery and outdoor digital billboards. A third customized interactive environment was designed within the AGO Shop.

#crowningheroes

Inspired as much by high art as by hip hop, jazz, sports, comics and graffiti, Basquiat used recurring motifs to explore issues that he continuously grappled with in his life and art. The crown was one of these motifs. It appears on a variety of figures including renowned jazz musicians Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie; celebrated athletes, among them Joe Louis, Sugar Ray Robinson, Muhammed Ali and Hank Aaron and sometimes personal friends like Michael Stewart. Basquiat used crowns to ennoble his icons and we used this as the visual trigger for the project’s social media campaign: #crowningheroes.

#crowningheroes utilized Instagram, influencers, paid media and grassroots tactics to provide the final exhibition push. The force behind this push: the bringing together of twenty urban social media influencers who photographed a travelling AGO Basquiat 4’x4’ neon crown, while sharing their own musings on crowning heroes as Basquiat often did in his own work. Influencers then rallied their own social networks to find/see/shoot the crown and share their stories.

GDC produced the neon crown and co-ordinated the appearance of it in different locations around the city, every two weeks over a six week period. The impact of the crown (and therefore the AGO) situating itself within established urban communities generated intrigue and awareness of the AGO in a new and surprising way.

Simultaneously, capitalizing on Dundas Street West foot traffic, GDC designed a Basquiat pop-up environment framed by two 4’x4’ neon Basquiat crown displays in the AGO’s retail display window. Droves of visitors took to social media to share ‘crowned’ selfies.

NEW ART. NEW MEDIA. NEW AUDIENCE.

By reaching out to expose a disruptive urban artist at a major institutional gallery in new, unexpected environments and interacting with a new public through key musical and cultural influencers #crowning heroes was a crowning success within Toronto and across North America.

What we did

  • Video Production
  • Visual and Digital Design
  • Micro-site Development
  • Print Design & Production
  • Analytics & Reporting
  • Digital Strategy
  • Communications Strategy
  • Event Design & Execution
  • Event Management
  • Visual Identity
  • Social Media Strategy & Management

Basquiat has significant relevance to the Regent Park community. Having said that, many of the folks that visit Daniels Spectrum have not been to the AGO and are not accustomed to traditional gallery exhibitions or untraditional interactive ones like the Basquiat kiosk. In fact, for many, this was their introduction to the AGO.

Measuring the qualitative impact of this exhibition is challenging. We saw smiles light up on the faces of children who had never experienced an interactive kiosk, we saw youth who shy away from their artistry creating artwork and feeling inspired to exercise their creative muscles, we witnessed conversations between strangers over Basquiat’s work, and much more.
— Seema Jethalal, Managing Director, Daniels Spectrum