Sarah Toplis, Commissioning Editor, Tate Collectives

As Commissioning Editor for Tate Collectives, Sarah manages and develops the digital strategy and ongoing schedule of digital projects for younger audiences at Tate. Tate Collectives is a youth art initiative run by and for young creatives, giving everyone the opportunity to reach their own conclusions about art.

We spoke with Sarah about the importance of knowing your audiences, how to measure success, and future trends for engaging young people online.

Getting to Know Youth Audiences

The audience for Tate Collectives are creative youth, 14-28 years old. With the redesign from Young Tate to Tate Collectives, the gallery employed many evaluation techniques including focus groups, environmental scans to determine what other websites youth frequently use, online surveys, and user-testing of the design and functionality. Tate Collectives is project-based, which allows each new program to build on the successes of those that came before it as well as allows Tate to experiment with new platforms and modes of interaction–in other words, this is a constant learning experience.  Tate uses many different tools to measure the success of its online efforts, including Google Analytics, Datagram, and Topsy. Ultimately, however, success isn’t about numbers of people but a small community of highly engaged youth who find Tate’s offerings to be relevant and will keep them coming back.

Sustaining an Online Community

The community section of the Tate Collectives website was built to provide protection and safety for users online while keeping the process and moderation workflow as lightweight and quick as possible. Sarah explains that if the community was too cumbersome or closed, it would be deterrent to youth who are already accustomed to more open community platforms elsewhere on the web. In order to succeed, Tate’s site needed to feel open, contemporary, and accessible.

A key challenge for sustaining Tate Collectives is the insatiable appetite for content and the pace of today’s web. Without more resources and staffing, it is very difficult to meet the needs of such a fast-paced environment, particularly with the proliferation of new social platforms. One model that could be a future direction for Tate Collectives is that of a hub, similar to, in which there is a core Tate-run website which then connects users to existing social platforms (e.g., Facebook, Tumblr, Twitter) that have built-in audiences and already-created interactive functionality. One major challenge to this model, however, is the need to publish to so many platforms and to keep up a high level of activity and relevance on all of them.

What’s next?

One of Sarah’s favorite projects was The Hello Cube, in which Twitter users could use digital means of communication to control projections in a physical gallery space. The project challenged the Tate to think about the relationship of digital in both the online and on-site environments. This convergence is one of the trends we should expect to see more of in the future. Sarah also sees Tate experimenting more with music platforms such as SoundCloud and, hopefully, putting more financial and staff resources towards digital engagement.

Listen to the interview

Listen to the streaming audio above or download the mp3 file.


  1. Matt Eaton says:

    I found Sarah’s reasoning behind not using an existing service such as Facebook or other social media sites for building this particular community (young people in her case) to be interesting. While one could be at an advantage to meet this audience on a familiar platform, using too many different sites would likely become cumbersome. Plus, judging from the Tate Collectives website, their current site is much more visually arresting, and solely has features that are relevant to the group.

  2. Linda Hruza-Jones says:

    Thank you for sharing your invaluable experiences with those of us in the museum studies program. So much of the discussion had direct links with our readings and presented real life examples of how to successfully engage younger audiences and creatively use a website to do interesting things instead of just marketing the museum. The following are just a few points that particularly resonated with me-
    *the need to think about audiences in an “up-to-date and relevant way”
    *that specific techniques of evaluation vary according to the project and take into consideration goals and objectives
    *the importance of engaging audiences in a wide range of digital platforms
    *the benefits of building key relationships and taking time to understand an institution before embarking on new projects

  3. Joan Lovell says:

    I was interested to hear how project work allows the Tate Collective to design, test and evaluate programs for their target audience while experimenting using social media channels. Tracking and analysis of in-person and virtual audience behavior provide answers to “What is a user’s journey in our gallery and/or on our site?” and inform whether a project is successful.

    Project objectives focus on the interests and needs of the core audience/artists and their digital engagement and feedback. The program works even within tight financial and staffing constraints and while collaborating with staff in four Tate locations, to deliver cutting-edge programs for a changing and evolving audience.

    Increased animation in Sarah’s delivery when she mentioned the “Hello Cube” conveyed some of the excitement that the audience might have experienced when interacting with this exhibition. Sarah’s increased animation hinted at the success of this project in terms of audience engagement. How can one quantify such qualitative metrics of success? There must be a way of presenting such rich feedback.

    Ongoing research about programs and activities in other London Galleries informs the selection of projects, underlining the hybrid collaborative nature of the work and the singular focus on a very specific audience and the goal of addressing their needs.

    Tate Collective delivers a necessary steering role in this niche. A shortfall of funding could diminish the “fizz” of this avant-garde program and leave potential audiences wanting.

  4. Ruth Goerger says:

    I absolutely love Sarah’s description of how members of the Tate Collection are involved. It really seems as if the group is leading the way, rather than being pushed by Tate staff members. In my experience with my own museum, it is very hard to get young people to grasp onto an idea with such vigor – where they would go so far as to lead projects and approach artists themselves, with what seems as little guidance from Sarah. I think every museum has a goal of inspiring user-generated content, rather than having to constantly push out their own content.

  5. Brittany Baksa says:

    Hi Sarah,

    I find fascinating the initiative of Tate Collective as a gathering place where young audiences are connecting and creating a dialogue around their personal interests in art through engagement, content, and participation. Something that really struck me was the only way to understand an audience is to continually have dialogue, observe, and learn from them. Social media is an excellent way in facilitating a conversation amongst individuals as you try to find new ways in which you can convey your collection to your audience. I like how Instagram and Tumblr were implemented into the program and to see that it was a successful platform in which to upload content and create dialogue.

    I appreciate your advice on observing the mechanics of an organization and to take the time to learn how people build relationships, when coming into a new position. Communication is key all across the board and I believe that everyone should work together to understand one another in order to create successful programming even if it may mean instituting change or stepping outside of one’s “role” in order to achieve that.

  6. Lisa Eighmie says:

    Thank you for the valuable information Sarah! I think the Tate Collective is a fantastic forum for visitors to share creativity, ideas, and inspiration on their own terms without the pressures of a formal, structured environment. I like that you decided to set the age for uploading content to 16 years and older rather than monitor and sensor the submissions. The idea of creative freedom and trust on the site really appeals to me. I also believe that freedom to submit content without being monitored promotes a sense of maturity and will foster confidence in Tate’s younger audience.

  7. Carly Dykes says:

    Thank you so much for taking the time to speak with us.
    I love the information about young people working within the program, and how much they are involved with minimal supervision. Also, I enjoyed you speaking to what kind of artists and activities this group has been interested in and how it has worked itself into the program.
    Thanks again!

  8. Brian Wolly says:

    Thanks Sarah so much for speaking with our class. I was really interested in the idea of using different social media for different exhibitions and initiatives, where some would work on Twitter and others would be a better fit for Tumblr or Instagram. Even though the Tate Collections already has a specific audience, it’s neat to think that you can really split that group out even more by which social network they are using.

Comments are closed.