Oliver’s inside view

Our founder Oliver talks about Contemporary Vintage and what we do…

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A post-digital perspective

Oliver Vicars-Harris giving a post-digital perspectiveI was flattered to be invited to speak at this year’s TiLE Forum in Florence as part of a panel on innovative design and interpretation. TiLE stands for ‘Trends in Leisure and Entertainment’ and has been running for over twenty years as an international forum for exploring best practice in creating engaging visitor experiences in museums and attractions.


Following on from three interesting speakers who had shown all manner of impressive visuals, it was with some trepidation that I took to the stage armed with nothing more than an orange…


I decided to share my personal journey ‘from the physical to the digital and back’. This seemed particularly appropriate since it started in Florence around twenty years ago when I was there studying art history, surrounded by all the wonderful art works that up to that point had only been accessible to me through books. It was that experience which led me into working with museums and to the preoccupation with the object so inherent in the cultural sector.


In my case however, it didn’t take long for that preoccupation to give way to frustration with the limitations of the physical object and a desire to go beyond. After all, an object can only be in one place at a time and be shown in one context. It wasn’t long therefore before I became a digital evangelist, championing that brave new world of virtual museums through major initiatives in the ’90s such as Tate Insight. It wasn’t easy to convince the sector back then and I quickly found out that ‘innovation’ is just a polite word for ‘disruption’. My work was less about technology but more about driving cultural change in museums – institutions where the central mission of preservation and specialism might be seen to run counter to access and innovation.


Oliver Vicars-Harris speaking at the TiLE Forum

So does digital provide the answer? If I was to continue driving change through use of digital I needed to believe it did. However, as the years went on I was increasingly dogged by a nagging doubt about this, which was brought into perspective one day (and this is where the orange comes in) by the realization that there is nothing I’ve seen in the world of digital that I would swap for the simple yet visceral experience of eating an orange!


That’s a bit of a dilemma if you’ve forged your career on being a digital evangelist, but the simple reality is that digital is great at offering a ‘representation’ of something but really not so great at providing an ‘experience’. It is clear to me that the more we continue to weave our digital worlds, the more need there will be for the live experience to bring people together and for building bridges to connect the digital and physical. It is this ‘post-digital’ challenge which we should all now be grappling with.


I set up Contemporary Vintage to connect audiences to culture in new and unexpected ways with a particular focus on the physical/digital divide. We are interested in telling old stories in new ways by mixing traditional and modern forms of communication. We look for ways of taking messages out to the audience, rather than expecting them to come to us, by utilising the tools people are already using. Perhaps most importantly we are interested in giving the audience a voice and putting them at the centre of the action; it is this factor which has become increasingly key to creating the authenticity necessary for real public engagement. What we do is less about creating finished products and more about creating starting points for interaction.


Contemporary Tweet Vintage Tweet

To take the example of our recent Glamour Factory project to complement Glamour of the Gods at the National Portrait Gallery. Here the brief was to extend beyond the exhibition and fully involve the audience, using the exhibition theme as the starting point for an evolving dialogue. One of the challenges facing museums is to take a more joined up approach to the ‘before–during–after’ visitor experience, so we conceived this project to closely connect the marketing–exhibitions–learning functions. Digital was key to this and social media was used not only for marketing but to extend interpretation of the exhibition and interaction at the event. We used simple devices such as Twitter #Tags on the gallery labels and and played with the relationship between the physical and the digital in our ‘Vintage Twitter Bureau’.


The Glamour Factory was highly successful in enabling the National Portrait Gallery to reach a new audience of close to 5,000 fun-loving Londoners who turned up for the live event. It was amplified through different platforms and creative partnerships which added enormous value at very low cost. Importantly, it helped the Gallery to experiment with new ways of connecting virtual and live experiences.


My perspective seemed to go down well at TiLE, since I was invited to form part of a small panel for the closing session on new creative approaches for audience engagement. The mission continues as various commentators speculate on the emerging post-digital landscape


Connecting audiences to culture

This is our vision, but what do we mean by this?


Contemporary Vintage connects audiences to culture using three main platforms:


  • Digital to connect with niche audiences
  • Broadcast to connect with mass audiences
  • Experiential to connect with hearts and minds



A diagram of what we do might look something like…


Contemporary Vintage overview


Clearly I’ve spent too much time as a consultant!


Contemporary Vintage Q&A


Contemporary Vintage is a creative collective which connects audiences to culture in new and unexpected ways. We specialise in collaborative multi-platform projects which explore life today and its relationship to yesterday. We bring the highest production values to generate stylish material in order to challenge, inform and entertain.




In an increasingly fragmented world, it is vital to communicate in a connected way to compete effectively for public attention. We help to access new audiences and strengthen understanding through innovative engagement beyond traditional boundaries. This delivers a deeper relationship between organisations and their public, extending content reach and maximising return on investment.




We have a keen understanding of how to connect lifestyle to heritage through our passion for culture in the broadest sense. We communicate content and values through joined up use of broadcast, digital and experiential, using the power of social media to connect in far-reaching and cost-effective ways. We are equally comfortable developing our own content ideas, or delivering solutions in response to a specific brief. We are sensitive to the evolving strategic objectives of our clients and plugged into the changing demands of public taste.



Established by Oliver Vicars-Harris, with 20 years of championing innovation within leading arts organisations, we are a network of highly experienced associates with a strong understanding of delivering cultural content. We tailor solutions to specific needs bringing a background in strategic planning and communication. We specialise in the effective management of integrated design, broadcast, digital media, and event production.




We are newly established and based in London, building a strong network of associates to support work with clients across the UK and beyond.




With competition for culture becoming ever more confused and audience attention more complex to satisfy, there has never been a better time to work with Contemporary Vintage.