by Olu Jenzen

University of Brighton Media Studies students were invited to take part in a study day on Hasting Pier, focussing on the development of mobile and digital media products for the heritage sector as well as touching on debates about popular culture and heritage.

Digital Producer Natasha Waterson introduced the students to examples of digital interpretation products used in different heritage and museum environments before they were set a brief to work on that specifically involved the pier’s heritage. Working in teams, students developed and pitched their ideas for new events, permanent exhibits or smart phone apps to engage visitors while on the pier, or to extend a visit afterwards.

Natasha has worked closely with the pier on their digital media suite for the new visitors’ centre on the pier, that takes a 21st century approach to telling the almost century and a half long history of the pier, using interactive multi-touch tables and other forms of digital media, and the students were particularly keen to get the industry professional perspective on working with digital media within settings such as exhibition spaces, museums, visitor centres, tourist attractions and similar.

In this hands-on session, using Hastings Pier as a case study, they considered key factors such as the audience, the content, interaction and desired outcomes when developing digital media for heritage interpretation and engaging with visitors. The winning team pitched a particularly strong concept that aimed to bridge low-tech activities and mobile phone use and was aimed at all generations.

The 1960s psychedelic band, Pink Floyd, played on the pier on 20th January 1968. This advert is from theHastings & St Leonards Observer.
Pink Floyd played on the pier on 20th January 1968. Advert from the Hastings and St Leonards Observer.

The People’s Pier research team’s pilot podcast which explores how to tell the popular culture heritage of the pier through music and oral history was used as an illustration of how digital and social media can be utilised to create engaging and immersive experiences of ‘lived heritage’. And despite the wet British seaside weather we were able to enjoy a bit of silent disco on the pier to experience and evaluate the podcast.

Image from:
Image from:

In relation to this students also looked at other examples of popular culture heritage sites from across the world, from AC/DC Lane in Melbourne, celebrating Australia’s most successful rock band, to the Grade II listed Zebra Crossing famous from the Beatles’ Abbey Road album cover, and Elvis Presley’s Graceland which may possibly be the world’s most well known and visited popular culture heritage site, welcoming over 500,000 visitors each year, and since ten years classed as a National Historic Landmark. More current examples include the Dreamland Margate amusement park in Kent, and the controversial Grade II Listed Status awarded to the one-time home of the Sex Pistols on Denmark Street, London, the walls of which are covered in singer John Lydon’s graffiti.

Recently, Boris Johnson’s Punk London campaign has been much debated in the press and provides an interesting case in point as it illustrates the tensions around the heritagisation of pop culture, both from elitist perspectives – wanting to eliminate popular culture from national heritage for reasons of prestige and status  – and sub culture perspectives that forcefully resist being appropriated by the mainstream culture that their music and style rebelled against in the first place.

‘Anyone who, like me, lived though punk’s brief, liberating moment, and glimpsed, however briefly, its self-empowering possibilities, can but look on Punk London and despair.’ -Sean O’Hagan in The Guardian

Although it is true, as Garton Smith (1999) has previously noted, that many heritage spaces of popular culture, such as history theme parks, ‘remain marginalised when compared to high culture spaces which are listed and registered’ this is rapidly changing and both local councils and businesses are becoming increasingly aware of and serious about the management of public spaces associated with popular culture heritage.

Popular culture heritage is significant not just for the music industry, but also for the broader creative industries as well as the tourist and leisure economies. For example, Beatles heritage adds £82m to the city of Liverpool’s economy each year and creates 2,335 jobs according to a recent report by the Liverpool John Moores University which also indicates that the Beatles-related economy is growing by up to 15% a year.

The report also notes that engaging with Beatles heritage is a valuable route into other aspects of both Liverpool’s non musical heritage and contemporary music scene. So for graduates interested in a career within the area of digital media production and/ or the heritage sector this is absolutely an area to keep an eye on.

Further reading:

Frost, W. (2008) Popular Culture as a Different Type of Heritage: The Making of AC/DC Lane, Journal of Heritage Tourism, 3(3), 176-184.

Garton Smith, J. (1999) Learning from popular culture: Interpretation, visitors and critique. International Journal of Heritage Studies 5 (3/4); 135–148.