Revelry at the museum! The Mona Bismarck American Center on its ephemeral summer soirees

September, 18, 2018

Revelry at the museum! The Mona Bismarck American Center on its ephemeral summer soirees



Fleur d’Aboville joined the Mona Bismarck American Center (MBAC) in 2016 as CFO. She is now the managing director of this prestigious institution located on the Quai de Seine in Paris. In anticipation to her talk at Communicating the Museum Chicago, she discusses Summer House, an ephemeral summer program first launched in 2017 at MBAC.

With 39 000 visitors over 4 months, Summer House — a daily event occurring between 6pm and 2am — successfully catered to both recurring and new audiences through a series of film screenings, concerts, and performances including waacking and voguing battles.



Seek inspiration


In 2016, when the Mona Bismarck American Center (MBAC) team was looking to design a program based on exchange and conviviality, it took inspiration from the many Parisian initiatives such as Ground Control, La Friche Richard Lenoir, Le 6B and other urban wastelands or ephemeral venues. “We reached out to the people who had created those spaces,” explains Fleur d’Aboville, “at first they told us we were crazy, and that they would never manage to bring their audiences to the Mona Bismarck American Center.” But the MBAC team was so enthusiastic about “creating something new in this old mansion” that they made it work. Located in the 16th arrondissement — the poshest of the French capital — the Mona Bismarck American Center succeeded in reaching a more diverse audience than usual thanks to Summer House. “Our neighbours were our main audience but we also had a fair share of people from the suburbs and other districts within Paris, coming to see the waacking competitions.”



Find your own voice

Any advice for people wanting to launch a new, fun program in their museum? “Everybody is trying to be fun and immersive now,” says Fleur d’Aboville “but I think you need to have a vision of what you want to be, and of what your DNA is.” Defining a strong identity and scope is precisely what the MBAC team worked on between 2011 and 2014. The institution’s leadership delineated a new positioning that would be strategic — how do you stand out in a city filled with cultural and entertainment venues — but also relevant to the history of the building and of Mona Bismarck. “What is your specificity? Know yourself!” urges Fleur d’Aboville“. Once you really know what you can provide, what your specificity is and what makes you unique, then you can start building fun and innovative experiences.” According to Fleur d’Aboville, a new program will never be a failure — whether it attracts audiences or not — as long as you don’t betray who you are as a cultural institution.



Check your finances


“Finding a team who would understand what we wanted and be ready to take on that challenge was the hardest,” confesses d’Aboville. Part of the new strategic plan at the Mona Bismarck American Center was to find an economic model that could guarantee financial stability, and ensure all activities were catering to this goal. For Summer House, it was essential to offer free entrance in order to attract a more diverse audience. The bar and the food are what allows the institution to break even with their cost. “If you are trying something new, there is de facto, a financial risk,” explains d’Aboville, “so make sure you have that financial strength or be creative!”.



Re-invent yourself


“We truly managed to create a sensation in the first year of Summer House, yet we quickly realised that each new edition would be a whole new challenge.” Being fun and experimental requires work, over and over again. “You can’t just assume that people will come back because they loved it the first time,” explains d’Aboville. According to her, not only do you have to compete against other institutions offering similar experiences but you also need to challenge yourself to do better every year. She says: “Even in terms of communications, you can’t repeat the same campaign you had the previous year. If you are thinking: ‘Now they know us, we have 11,000 followers, we don’t need to try as hard anymore’ you are wrong.” As was mentioned in a previous interview with two of our CTM speakers, resting on your laurels is not the best strategy for innovation.



This year’s edition was titled Mona Darlin’, “it went extremely well but it wasn’t the earthquake we experienced in the first year, “confesses d’Aboville. “We want to continue innovating, which is why we are attending CTM. We are ready to talk, exchange and get inspired!”

Fleur d’Aboville will be speaking on Tuesday, September 25th as part of the “Dare to Experiment” sessions at the Communicating the Museum Conference. Besides her work at the Mona Bismarck American Center, Fleur d’Aboville paints and cultivates a great interest for artist-led spaces and repurposed wastelands.