Economics, Culture and Leadership

Attended a great event last week, which was ostensibly to launch The Economics of Cultural leadership: An economic impact assessment of the Cultural Leadership Programme, and debate how we assess the benefits of leadership development. It did absolutely both of theses things, but it also evolved into a celebration and wake for the great work of the  CLP, the closure of which in March had been announced a few days previously; and a fanastic disscussion of how we could use broader measures than simply economic impact studies to capture the value of arts and culture (and warning that if we dont grasp the opportunity to do so soon it may be too late).

It was orgnised by the Work Foundation and it was a delight to hear from the inspirational Will Hutton in person, as well as Hasan Bakhshi from NESTA, Ruth Jarratt from the ROH, Ben Reid from the Work Foundation and David Kershaw from the CLP.

My take-aways:

A plea for assessing the economic value of culture not just the economic impact. And related to this, a warning that economic impact studies, which are only as good as the worst    – you know who you are flimsy multipliers and exaggerated claims  – are increasingly not believed by funders.

We need a ‘Frascati’ moment in arts and culture (yes, the home of the Italian wine of the same name). This was the location of,  apparently, a meeting of leaders from the sciene and technology sectors at which they  created their own set of measures by which their impact and success could be measured by government – and lo and behold their measures were taken on board. Rather than fitting into a different stakeholders’ various  measures (instrumental, economic, intrinsic, social  etc) what is stopping our leaders working together as a sector to create a set of agreed meaures of the impacts of arts and culture? Its not like we are lacking the brains – ( the people in that room could do it) – but what about the will ?

A warning that if we don’t seize this opportunity we could be in the same position as medical research, the impact of which is measured by the profits of pharmaceutical companies rather than the number of lives saved…

Let your customers do your marketing for you…

A recent exchange with the excellent Ali Tomkinson, Director of External Relations at the CBSO about capturing and communicating the magic of live concerts, got me thinking about how we could use the amazing impacts we have on our audiences more effectively in our communications.

Two recent examples of organisations doing this really well caught my eye.

A cinema ad for Canada which uses (what looks like) real people’s own videos of the their holidays – the antics of a skidding bear, filmed from a ski lift, and the dramatic disintegration of an enormous iceberg. This really worked for me – I shared the amazement and delight of the people experiencing these great holiday moments.

Though annoyingly I can’t find them on the website.

Snow in Canada

Another one is over at Tate Modern where they are making the most of their swipe card technology and following up Tate Friends who visit a particular exhibition with an e-mail from the curator hoping that you enjoyed the experience and inviting you to write something about it for the Tate blog.

We know we provide incredible experiences to audiences, surely with the technology we now have available we could capture and communicate this magic more effectively ?

More images of audiences having a good time would be a really simple start…..

State of the arts

Together with hundreds of other arts professionals I was at the State of the Arts conference last week. A number of the discussions were better than last year, and I liked the format of the first session with the audience tasked to answer and devise a question at their round table.

I lucked out for this, as I had Andrew Nairne and Laura Dyer from ACE, Jo Healy from Photographers Gallery and Gavin Stride from Farnham Maltings at my table – so we had a great discusson. Our answer to the question ‘what needs to change’  – Arts organisations need to listen to their audiences.

I found the parallel panel Where are the new audiences a frustrating experience –  the panel members weren’t well placed to address the question and despite the chair’s best efforts, the audience contribution didn’t really get us anywhere.

Back to some positives – Deborah Bull from the ROH was great talking about how we need to place audiences and artists at the heart of what we do, and I like Phil Redmond’s trajectory for arts orgnisations to

1st – survive

2nd -listen

3rd – become self aware

Plus he had a wonderful John, Paul, George and Ringo response… finishing with his prefered  philosphical response from George  that all things must pass…

Note to orgnisers –

Next year, I’d like to see fewer politicians on the panels (5 was too many, and 2 on the same panel the kiss of death) as this led to a not very sophisticated political point scoring style of debate.

Please bring back Matthew Taylor, who is a brilliant chair and John Knell who effortlessly combines being clever with being clear.

Muybridge at Tate Britain…

For someone who isn’t a fan of horses, murderers or old men with big beards, I found the Eadweard Muybridge exhibition at Tate Britain over the weekend really amazing. I had to keep reminding myself that this mad genius created his art and science over a hundred years ago.

Highlights for me included his panoramic work covering San Francisco, and spotting some of his really random subjects doing really random things (there’s one set of photo’s detailing what Muybridge looked like naked while chopping wood… not a sight for the sqeemish).

This ends on the 16th of this month, and I really think you should check it out before then if you can- he was so ahead of his time!

Audience-focused artistic development

Here at Audiences London we’ve been talking recently about what it means for an arts organisation to adopt an audience focus at its core.

As well as making sure you know and understand your audiences, communicate with them in ways appropriate to the different audience types, are clear and appropriate in your offer and welcoming when people come through the door … what about the nature of what you programme? How do programming decisions take account of what will appeal to your target audiences and draw them into a quality artistic journey with you?

Where are the examples of co-programming or artistic development in collaboration with audiences?

Well, here are two recent examples we know of, coincidentally both from Stratford in East London.

Stratford Circus; audience focused artist development

AcroJou at Stratford Circus

AcroJou at Stratford Circus

Acrojou has been in residence at Stratford Circus, through an award granted by City Circ.  Their aim was to develop a first show for children, with Stratford Circus children’s theatre programme, The Circlets, acting as consultation group with insights into the kind of work these parents and children enjoy.

As part of its support, Stratford Circus introduced the company to local primary, Jenny Hammond School, and Acrojou spent a week getting to know the students. A key goal of the company was for the project to be responsive to its young audience rather than prescriptive: towards the end of the research, gifted and talented students aged 7 – 11 spent an afternoon with the company, who performed and tested three excerpts with the children. 

At the start of the process, Acrojou admitted to some nerves – they had never worked with children before and they were opening themselves up to audience scrutiny and inputs so early in the development process. But the experience was wholly positive, with the children contributing a wealth of ideas and incredibly useful feedback. For Stratford Circus bringing these young artists to the children was rewarding and a great way for the venue to work with and further develop a relationship with one of its local schools and a young audience. 

Acrojou say that their attitude to this kind of collaborative development is very positive and an approach that they would like to continue to use. ‘This project has allowed us not only to develop Waste Time, a new piece of work for an entirely new audience group, but also to really reinvent our creation process as a company. Having the children so involved, and involved so early in the process, was daunting but incredibly valuable, and something that we will continue to incorporate into our working process. It has shaped not only the content of the show but also the type of show that Waste Time will be; the immersive and collaborative factors emerging as key ideas in terms of what excited both us and the children.’

Theatre Royal Stratford East: Open Stage

Over at Theatre Royal Stratford East, Open Stage is asking the public what they would like to see at the venue, from which a group of 25 volunteer programmers will decide on the season programme for January to July 2012. The process is as likely to see brand new work as it is to stage revivals of much-loved shows – the entire process will be ‘up for grabs’:  the programme pattern, the timings and the length of pieces. 

To do this the theatre has begun to build a two-way dialogue with the community. Their reasons are many, but include an ambition to reach, connect and empower new audiences and the wider community; and a recognition that Open Stage extends Theatre Royal Stratford East’s founding philosophy (as the Joan Littlewood Theatre Workshop) of inspiring and being inspired by its audience, a ‘theatre of the people’.  

There’s a sector-wide perspective too: “Despite progress the UK theatre ecology is still far from matching its demographic profile and remains elitist.  Building on Arts Council England’s strategy  “Great Art for Everyone” and political thinking about the empowerment and involvement of communities in the decisions that affect them, Open Stage wants to examine ideas about audiences, art and engagement.”

So far, TRSE with Audiences London’s help has piloted ways of holding these wider conversations – through creating partnerships, collecting first-hand viewpoints from people passing the venues – over half of whom had not been to TRSE before – and testing out with them the kind of questions that will really illuminate what it is to be a theatre that is locally responsive to its audience. The full ‘mass communication’ will start in late January.

If you have other examples of audience involvement in artistic direction – whatever the art form – that you’d like to shout about, do let us know.

Theatre of Sound

Last week I went to three cultural events which all used the theatricality of sound to various effect.

First up was a trip to The Rose Theatre, Kingston where I caught the end of Filter’s Twelfth Night tour.

The programme notes describe this production as a:

‘radical and riotous interpretation of Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night [which] reflects the anarchic energy running throughout the play. With a stage covered in cables, synthesisers, microphones, instruments and amplifiers, Filter creates the world of the play through sound, making the whole experience more akin to a rock concert than classical theatre.’

It was striking to see an audience comprised in the main by two extremes of the age spectrum. There seemed to be equal numbers of young people (of both school, university and graduate/young professional age) and older people (past retirement) with a few children and middle-aged adults mixed in for good measure. I’m guessing the key selling point for the younger audience was that they were studying, or had recently studied Shakespeare or perhaps had heard about Filter’s innovative work before. While I suspect that many of the older audience members were loyal attenders who would have been attracted by anything associated with the RSC (this production was originally commissioned for the Complete Works festival in 06/07).

The other thing that was striking was how the production seem to polarise audience reaction – more so than any other I can remember seeing. As it says in the show programme:

‘ The company are developing a cult status (the Lyric Hammersmith is said to have received more letters of celebration and more letters of complaint than ever before after their Three Sisters). But then experiment is, by its very nature, challenging – and to divide audiences is a great deal better than to leave them numbly non-committal.’

Some people walked out during the show, and I heard others sounding off in the foyer afterwards that they had not liked it one bit. But it seemed the majority had a brilliant time – and it was really great to see so many people deriving such visceral enjoyment from The Bard in 2010.

To return to the programme notes – ‘Filter’s unique collaborative language explores the interaction between sound and music … in a desire to make theatre that truly awakens the imaginative senses of an audience…’  And love it or hate it, you had to acknowledge that the company really did get to the essence of the characters and the spirit of the story, by making  ‘audiences actively participate’ – at point some of us found ourselves involved in a game of ‘Butthead’, dancing a conga line around the theatre, downing shots of tequila and munching on pizza!  

Next up was a visit to Theatre 503 to see Auricular which The Londonist described as a ‘testament to the power of theatrical radio’. This was the latest in a series of ‘immersive audio adventures’, where radio drama was performed live on stage for a theatre audience in ‘an interesting fusion of dramatic media to explore the potential of our aural imagination’. It was fascinating to see a range of scripts brought to life with added visual elements, and to be able to watch the sound effects being made before our very eyes – things that would usually be hidden from view becoming exposed.

And then I rounded things off with One Day – a collaboration between London Sinfonietta and Matthew Herbert, which formed part of the London Jazz Festival. On entering the Royal Festival Hall, we were all handed a copy of the Guardian from 25 September 2010 – the inspiration for this new work. The stage was a hubub of activity throughout the evening – with Matthew mixing samples on a sound desk in front of the Sinfonietta players, a singer, a compere, a foley artist, food being prepared and cooked in a kitchen area, film projections on the back wall, volunteers building and inhabiting a brick house, and a jazz quartet up in the Royal Box. We were encouraged to do the crossword, reference and read various articles in the paper, and use our copies to make paper aeroplanes. At various points we were invited to help make the music  by rubbing our credit cards together (to make a percussive sound) in a piece inspired by an article about finance, and to jangle our house keys (for a piece influenced by an article about property) and then at the end of the evening we all joined in the finale, making music by tearing, blowing, banging and waving our copies of the Guardian. The floor was awash with paper as we left the auditorium… I didn’t envy the poor ushers who had to clear up after us!


Road to Damascus

Just back from an amazing week in Damascus, Syria talking about audience development.

The trip was facilitated  by the British Council and consisted of two days contributing to an international cultural management course  followed  by a lecture at the Damascus Higher Institute for Dramatic Art and a materclass at the Syrian Opera House.

The cultural management course included delegates from Syria, Egypt, Oman, Jordan, Palestine, Morocco, Algeria, Yemen and Mauritania.  It was a privilege to spend time with these bright, passionate and ambitious  arts workers; to hear about their  achievements and work out how we could apply arts marketing principles to their very different situations (censorship and secret police….). The course took place in the fantastic location of Gallery Mustafa Ali, a traditional Damascene house in the old city,  that is now a sculture gallery, arts venue and simple hotel.    

Above; the first of many delicious meals, breakfast on my first morning, and below;  Gallery Mustafa Ali.

The course is organised by  Al Mawred Al Thaqafy (Culture Resource)  a non-profit organization based in Cairo that  supports artistic creativity and creative exchange in the Arab region. Running since  2006 and previously taking place in Marrakesh, Amman and Algiers, this annual cultural management course for delegates from across the Arab world is always heavily over subscribed.

This is the group at the presentation and party on the last day of the course (apologies its a bit dark, you might be able to just make me out in the centre)

More to follow on other aspects of the trip.