'‘Behold our pockets of madness!’ What if we aimed to be the most Instragrammable spot on earth?'

Douglas Kruger

By Douglas Kruger

ON rare and magical occasions, the universe tries to nudge you in the direction of success. Sometimes, it’s not even subtle. Take the Dreaming Trees project…

Entrancing young and old alike, the installation at Howard Davis Park drew crowds by the thousands. So, they tried it again. The crowds were bigger the second time around.

When something works that well, we might want to pay attention.

Magical things work here. Perhaps to a disproportionate level. It’s like words appearing on an enchanted map: “Go this way, it works!”

And it’s not just the trees. Remember when a visiting artist plopped a shiny replica of our home planet into the reservoir, and that, too, drew crowds by the tens of thousands? We may be on to something…

So, what if we made it permanent?

What if we took the essential principle – that people love quirky, magical, breath-taking things – and amped it up to the nth degree? What if we strove to become a permanent repository for the curious, the creative, and the eminently Instagrammable, beginning at our airports and seaports, and working backward onto the Island? Indeed, what if we made it our stated goal to become the most photographed spot on the planet, and advertised ourselves as such?

I don’t mean to say: “What if we did a little more of it?” I mean: “What if we decided to lead the world?” Then designed an island strategy accordingly.

Think of it: a small island desperately trying to lure back tourists. What might such a place offer that you can’t get, much cheaper, somewhere else? Half the time, our restaurants are closed, which baffles my inner entrepreneur, so that certainly ain’t gonna do it. It’s going to have to be something else.

What if the answer were: the highest concentration of delightful weirdness anywhere in a thousand-mile radius, all crammed into a space so intimate that it’s worth a few days’ trip?

Consider the nature of our destination offering. We are crowded and expensive. But so is London, and people go there in droves. Yet they don’t go to London because it’s crowded and expensive. They go because there is simply so very much to drink in, from the ancient and venerable, to those whacky giant ants crawling all over a train carriage restaurant near the Bermondsey Underground. It is a hive of delightful weirdness. Rich in the higgledy-piggledy, with a surprise around every corner.

And you needn’t build something as formidable as the British Museum to entice the curious. Float a glowing globe in some water, and the reaction is phenomenal. People stream.

These installations have something in common: they are visceral, unexpected, visually compelling, slightly nutty, and, as tourist attractions go, punch well above their weight. So let’s do more.

Imagine advertising the “Pockets of Madness and Nooks of Wonder” tour. Come to Jersey, the only place on earth quite like it.

In one sense, Jersey is already a work of art. In another, it’s a blank canvas. For instance, there is a tunnel under the Fort that remains entirely undecorated. No creative lighting, à la the tunnels in the Faroe Islands. No murals. No Sistine-Chapel style depictions of, say, Vikings landing here, or castles being built, or angry islanders hurling their governor bodily over his own banister.

We do already have some permanent installations of this kind. I think of the devil rising from his pool of green seaweed, the cows marching through St Helier, the behemoth puffins perched on Plémont.

Here, then, is the challenge: What more could we add? If we imagined this island as a wonderful set of creative curiosities, from one end to the other, what might you add? What would make wealthy tourists with cameras smile and say, “Wow!”? I’ve long believed that that form of storytelling should begin at the airport, which, as New Zealand knows, is a prime opportunity to do something special.

And thinking that way, a few old favourites might need resurrecting in Jersey. For instance, we have an upside-down boat as a restaurant facing the castle. That’s awesome. But there’s only one. Several quirky competitors would not go amiss.

And what happened to that train? Or the cable car? And aren’t Ferris wheels and fun parks pretty much a fixture at every famous pier around the world? I flat-out reject the argument that they’re ugly, or would ruin our aesthetic as a lovely island – twinkling lights and laughing children make everything more beautiful.

Much of what might increase a place’s charm needn’t even make sense. Stick a red, hobbit-style door on the side of a grassy mound, and you have something superb for passing photographers. Same goes for tiny fairy-doors in walls. Weird little bridges.

London is not the only place that does it. In Texas, the city of Austin has the slogan: “Keep Austin weird.” They trade on their status as an artistic, eccentric, visually fascinating location, and it works.

There are even very small things you can do, at low cost. For instance, wherever you have a park, why not add a smattering of outdoor exercise apparatus? Those attract gleaming, straining muscles, and that, in turn, attracts cameras and crowds. London also likes to convert odd nooks and crannies into subterranean skate parks. How delightful.

I’ve long believed that photography of our island is our strongest marketing channel. I believe we could amp that up. And here’s how you go about it: invite the Island’s artists and engineers to submit their proposals for delightful public installations. Let them dream; let Jersey be the canvas. Bet you we already have the talent and the ideas to make this the world’s number one destination for shining pockets of madness. Bet that would make a difference to the coffers.

  • Douglas Kruger is an author and Hall of Fame speaker. His books are available from Audible and Amazon. Meet him at douglaskruger.com.

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