Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Architecture, Art, Gardens and Social Media

One of my life goals is to be a master gardener. Last fall I finally applied to the program. I’d been told that virtually no one was accepted on the first try, but I was optimistic because I thought I had a lot to offer. When the rejection letter arrived, I felt, well--rejected!

To make up for my disappointment I started looking for a gardening tour. Most of the standard ones either weren’t what I was looking for or didn’t fit my schedule. I was, though, intrigued by the ad I found in the English Garden magazine for a course called English Architecture, Art and Gardens in the Age of Jefferson. It was offered by the University of Virginia at Merton College, one of the colleges of Oxford University. What’s not to like about that? I signed up for it, and I’m really glad I did! We had an absolutely wonderful week—learning a lot and making new friends.

I hope the link to the course description still exists when you read this; it will give you a better idea of the richness of the content. Lectures on architecture were given by Richard Guy Wilson of UVa while lectures on art were by Justine Hopkins of Bristol and Oxford Universities. We had wonderful guides everywhere we went, supplemented by expert commentary from Richard and Justine. One evening we had a delightful lecture on the food and drink of the Middle Ages by Elizabeth Gemmill, Oxford program director. The UVa program director was Joan Gore, and the two of them made a great team.

We had meals, including served dinners, in the Merton dining hall; we’re standing on its steps in the group shot. The dining room itself was incredible—channel Shadowlands or Harry Potter, whichever is your genre. Lectures were conducted in a room in the Examination Schools building. It was a treat just to be there and to imagine the rooms filled with angst-ridden students clad in academic robes. In the spirit of full disclosure, Diana took the group shot; I took the one of Richard and Justine conferring in the examination room. It’s obvious who’s the pro here!

Two highlights for me were the field trip to Stowe and the choir concert. Stowe was a complete unknown to me; apparently the gardening magazines don’t write about it because it doesn’t have flowers! It was the first major garden commission of Capability Brown and seeing the incredible grounds (no, I didn’t miss flowers) helped me immensely to understand the impact of the movement he represents.

On Wednesday we attended Evensong at Christ Church, and it was very pleasant. We were told that the same choir would give another concert that evening in Merton Chapel and I liked the music, so I decided to attend. The performance of this visiting choir at Evensong was enjoyable; the second one was mind-blowing. The Merton Chapel is smaller and the acoustics were infinitely better, both because of the late hour and the absence of outside distractions. It was almost an hour uninterrupted liturgical music in a spectacular setting—truly a memorable experience!

My new friends are going to have additional high points and better pictures, I’m sure. That’s the main point of this post—to give us a central place to record our impressions and a place to link the pictures and slideshows that we’ll upload. I’ll link pictures as well as blogs and personal pages under the participant’s name on this post as they’re sent to me. I hope others will add their reflections as comments to this post. It will become a delightful record of our trip. Personally, I plan to inflict it on my family and friends as part of my annoying Christmas email!

A final note to my regular readers. This course was well done on all dimensions but I don’t know of any travel program that has gotten the social media implications. Mark got it from a participant’s standpoint on his personal blog (be sure to look at the comments on this post; that’s what it should be about). See what happened (the comments) when posted the following year about his forthcoming Oxford trip. That’s real CRM!

As I said, the purpose of this post-trip post is to give the participants a central place to store memories. Why doesn’t a travel program put it all together? Travel is inherently a learning experience. Emphasize whichever aspect (is it learning; is it experience?) is most central to a given offer. Better yet, give your clients a way to emphasize the aspect that is most central to each of them! Engage them in preparation, let them post if they wish during the program, and provide a place for them to store both visual and verbal memories.

It’s another instance in which customer reviews of experiences become the best marketing for future offerings. Right now, the travel programs are ceding that function to sites like Trip Advisor!

Happy rest of the summer!!! I’ll resume social media posts after Labor Day.

Ann's trip blog
Debra and Pat's Slideshow
Richard's show at UVA
Pat's watercolors
MLR My Room with a View


Unknown said...

Mary Lou, Thank you for placing our trip on your blog! I think you have captured the essence quite well--I also underscore your amazement at the lack of "feedback" space provided by the tour organizers. Alas, self-starters always find a way. In case folks are thinking about renting the Gothic Temple at Stowe, here is the web site: http://bookings.landmarktrust.org.uk/BuildingDetails/Overview/76/Gothic_Temple#. Wish we had gotten to go up to it--it is a triangular shaped building! Photos coming soon...

Mark Alvarez said...

Thanks, Mary Lou, for your efforts here. I was astonished to see the links to my blog, which I started—very hesitantly—in late 2007 as a way to get to know others planning to walk across Scotland in the 2008 TGO Challenge. As you discovered, it worked very well for that purpose, and helped me make a number of friends, some of whom came to see me in or near Oxford during the course.

To a certain extent I was along for the ride at Merton, though the intersection of art and architecture has long been a special interest. (I even have a a blog post on that!) I thought that the course was excellent and that the field trips were well-chosen. I enjoyed the lectures, our lecturers, our support staff, and most of the site guides. My only worthwhile criticism is that we didn't have enough free time. (Actually, I did, but I had to steal it.) Oxford and the area around it deserve wandering and poking about. I'm not sure how that could be fitted in...maybe a longer and less dense course schedule?

Anyway, cheers to all!

Ann said...

Hi, Mary Lou, et al. The delightful week already seems So Long Ago, doesn't it? It was fun to get your recap. With some hesitation, I'm sharing with you all my pathetic first-time blogging effort, kept during the week & intended as a journal for my own recollections. Just delete, if it seems too much the Other Person's vaca slide show: http://annie-oxford.blogspot.com.
Perhaps some of us can re-connect in Charlottesville next month.

MaryLou Roberts said...

Ann's delightful trip blog is just the sort of thing I was talking about; a wonderfully personal perspective on the course. I've put the blog connection on the main surface of the post. Also note that Mark has made additional posts about his experiences since his original comment.Two different approaches--a dedicated blog vs. including on your ongoing personal journal. Both terrific reads!

Unknown said...

I have posted many (but not all!) of our photos on a Flickr set. Take a look: http://www.flickr.com/photos/oxford2009/sets/72157622178277510/show/with/3868600194/
Enjoy--hope to see some photos from others!

MaryLou Roberts said...

Thanks, Debra! You and Pat got a lot of good pictures; I particularly like the ones of the two of you and Peter looking "verry British" on the croquet lawn :)

Unknown said...

Here is a link to an article about Mr. Wilson's show, which is opening at the Bayly Museum: http://www.virginia.edu/uvatoday/newsRelease.php?id=9660
There is a sldie show with voice over.

Unknown said...

Mary Lou - I thought you and others might enjoy seeing some watercolors I painted from our trip. I painted some on the trip and others afterwards at home. See link below - enjoy!


Pat McClane

MaryLou Roberts said...

Those are wonderful, Pat; one of the things you do with all those sketches you made on the trip, I assume. I put the link to the slideshow on the main page; it makes a delightful gallery!