The Bower Birdbath
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The Bower Birdbath

First Thing’s First: Write, then Edit

David Dawson discussing Lucian Freud. Image courtesy Acquavella Galleries.

Welcome! It’s the premiere of The Bower Birdbath, a new blog from Bower Blue. From time to time we’ll be diving deeper into digital content & strategy for visual arts and design. Subscribe and stay tuned for monthly posts with behind-the-scenes insight into the videos and podcasts we produce for galleries, museums and architecture firms, plus spotlights on the new trends to follow — or avoid — in the pursuit of great content. First up: a post from our Director of Digital Content & Strategy, Ryan Leahey, about the undying power of the written word.

Digital content comes in many colors. Depending on a few variables — preferences, trends, budget — your museum or gallery might want a short video, a new podcast series or Instagram-friendly photos of a new exhibition. Fortunately, you have endless options when it comes to spotlighting your artists, curators and community. Bower Blue produces these kinds of content and others, and we spend a lot of time in preproduction deciding which content is best for the project and the people we’re collaborating with. But one kind of content serves as the foundation for all others: the written word.

To get good answers, ask good questions. We write and rewrite probing questions, which we ask off-camera to steer the interview into fruitful territory. Above: David Dawson discussing Lucian Freud in an exhibition video we produced for Acquavella Galleries.

Plain copy may not be as flashy as a stunning video or as punchy as a podcast, but that’s OK, especially in our realm of visual arts and design. After all, you should lean into the visual in visual arts. Likewise, there’s infinite value in hearing an artist’s voice — the timbre, the rhythm, the emotion that can’t be replicated.

But writing and editing subtly serve as the foundational framework for every kind of content. For videos, we write an engaging script to guide the production and help explore the subject’s ethos. For podcasts, we compose interview questions to form a storyline and pull at new narrative threads. For social media campaigns, we write catchy captions to bolster the photos and videos often shared with tens of thousands of followers.

We write and edit the introduction to each podcast episode so we’ve got a polished intro to an unscripted conversation that can venture wherever it wants. Above: Dana Schutz and Carroll Dunham in conversation for “Between Two Palms,” a podcast series we produce for Two Palms.

Think about it this way: A lackluster script can take the shine off a beautiful video. A sloppy caption can deflate an Instagram post. Dull email copy can derail an e-blast. Regardless of the platform, your content is made worse when you don’t invest the time and energy in good writing and editing.

Of course, writing can be its own content, too. Just think of the verdant art blog ecosystem, the essential art periodicals, the definitive essays in a catalogue raisonné. You’re still reading articles from 10, 20, 50 years ago.

Plus, a well-rounded article can easily incorporate other kinds of content, making it the only true form of multimedia content. (Consider the video and audio embeds in this very blog.)

Spontaneity is key, but don’t underestimate the firm foundation of a great script. Above: A video we produced for Magnusson Architecture and Planning about design and dignity in affordable housing.

As a writer and editor — and, at Bower Blue, a video and podcast producer — I’m partial to the written word. I’ve written and edited for print magazines, new media online-only publications and, yes, blog posts. These days, I collaborate with our gallery, museum and architecture clients to film visual stories and record enlightening conversations. But there’s still something special about reading a perfect thought in a perfect sentence.

Trends come and go — pivot to video one year, podcasts another — but great writing is evergreen. Write, then edit, and see where it takes you. Make it the foundation of everything you do.

Ryan Leahey is the Director of Digital Content & Strategy at Bower Blue. He produces videos, podcasts and content strategies for galleries, museums, architecture firms and cultural nonprofits. Previously he was an editor at Artsy and Kirkus Reviews.

The Bower Birdbath is Bower Blue’s new blog about digital content & strategy for visual arts and design. Subscribe for more behind-the-scenes insight into our videos and podcasts. Follow us on Instagram and Twitter for more.

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