Case Study: How Barbican Art Gallery in London hosts private views with zkipster Sessions

One of London’s best-loved cultural destinations.


The Barbican is an international benchmark for programming and events across music, theatre, film and art. Set in a Brutalist multi-use complex in the heart of the capital, the venue was hit hard during COVID and welcomed the loosening of UK restrictions in May 2021.

But how could their celebrated events return to some form of normality in a safe and seamless fashion?

barbican art gallery

What we’ve learned from the last 18 months is that the Barbican — like all arts venues — is nothing without people.

Barbican Art Gallery typically hosts five or six opening events each year. With a unique curatorial approach and a knack for capturing the imagination, the Gallery’s private views are some of the hottest tickets in town.

Art can certainly be enjoyed in digital formats and we gave our audiences as much content as we could during lockdown to enjoy on screen. But it doesn’t compare with the experience of sharing the same physical space with art, where you can not only see the colour, form and beauty of artworks, but you can really feel it.

When restrictions were eased in May the Art Gallery was able to re-open, but social distancing rules remained in place, and the Barbican was eager to welcome audiences to its Brutal Beauty exhibition by Jean Dubuffet, one of the most provocative voices in post-war modern art.

BARBICAN ART GALLERY
Photo by Jordan Benedetti, courtesy of Barbican Art Gallery

When we opened the Jean Dubuffet exhibition on 17 May 2021 — the day entertainment and hospitality venues in London were able to reopen after five months of lockdown restrictions — we were still under strict social distancing rules. In the past our private view events had no capacity limits and guests could arrive at any time between 6.30pm and 8.30pm. This time, we had to strictly limit guest numbers to allow for social distancing, and find a way to manage guest arrival times to avoid capacity problems.

  • Facing capacity limits, the usual 700-900-person guestlist had to be reduced to just 250 people, and guests needed to arrive at intervals rather than all at once.
  • Built specifically for such occasions, zkipster Sessions allows hosts to stagger guest arrival times by allocating time slots.
  • zkipster can even be used to run breakout sessions as part of a main event with a capacity of up to 10,000. 

barbican art gallery
Photo by Jordan Benedetti, courtesy of Barbican Art Gallery

  • They were able to maximize the number of guests they could welcome across two and half hours by having them arrive at 15 minute intervals. This made the process smooth and efficient, and above all, safe, because it meant social distancing rules were adhered to.
  • Another positive feature of Sessions is that the Barbican events team can use it to track different aspects of their events for the first time. The ability to view detailed data about each Session, all in one place, is a wonderful opportunity to gather helpful insights about guest needs and behaviors.

We used Sessions for the first time, which enabled us to control the number of guests attending the event and the timing of their arrival. Upon booking tickets, guests received an email confirmation with a QR code. It was also the first time we had used this feature and it made check-in a breeze for our hosts and our guests, as scanning QR codes with iPads is far more efficient than looking up guest names.