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.

Fortune favours the networked!

At this time of uncertainty it’s really easy to stay heads down at your desk, ploughing through all the to do items on your list.  My job here at Audiences London is all about engagement and often that is easiest to make happen by meeting up and listening to people face to face.  So in the engagement team we’re big fans of networking events, and we’re doing whatever we can at the moment to make sure these stay as regular features.  Why do we think it’s important?

  1. It’s knowledge building – each person you talk to will have some information that you don’t
  2. New work comes from it – people bring with them ideas, partnerships and opportunities
  3. It’s inspiring –  hearing what other people do and why will re-energise you too
  4. You can build trust more quickly in person –  and personal introductions from people you’ve met have far greater credibility than cold calling or emailing

To give you a flavour here’s  a pic of our most recent event aboard the boat the Golden Jubilee on the Thames.

Over 100 people interested in the arts and older audiences joined us for a beautiful afternoon of performance, networking and fun in an event we hosted in partnership with our friends at the wonderful Entelechy Arts and Capital Age Festival.

To find out about future networking opportunities with us sign up for free to our Community Engagement Network and we’ll keep you posted by email…  or if you’re interested in partnering with us to host an event please contact me anytime at

While we’re thinking about networking I just want to credit the lovely team at Create KX who sadly closed their organisation last month and who have held some of my favourite networking events in London.  A big thank you to them all, we’ve loved working, socialising and collaborating with them and look forward to carrying our connections on with them at the various organisations they’re heading to where we know they’ll continue to do a fantastic job.

From left to right: the lovely Fiona  Smith, Catherine Packard, Gill Henderson, Susanna Roland, Sian James and Siobhan Henderson.

How innovative is your organisation?

We keep hearing that  innovation is critical for success, in both the ‘for’ and the ‘not for’ profit sectors. But what is innovation?, and how innovative is your organisation?

Rather than sitting around thinking up crazy ideas, real innovation is about putting in place the means for systematic creativity.

I’m a firm believer that innovation in the cultural sector shouldn’t only be the preserve of our creative colleagues, but that across all aspects of our organisations we should develop a culture and processes that help us all think creatively. 

I recently went on a course run by our colleagues over at the management centre  (highly recommended) and they have done some really interesting work on this topic.

You can rate how innovate your orgnisation is using  =mc’s free online quiz.  Here at Audiences London we scored well for generating and fostering new ideas, but have work to do when it comes to launching and learning from them… how about your organisation?

Transformation, Organisational Development and the RSC

Demos All Together ReportIt’s good to know that it’s not only us here at AL that are championing Organisational Change as a transformative way towards improving relationships with audiences. I’ve just come across ‘All Together: A Creative Approach to Organisational Change’ a report from think-tank gurus -Demos, that had been following the Royal Shakespeare Company as they embarked on a three-year organisational change process that successfully introduced ‘ensemble’ as a way of working throughout the company. The internal transformation process led to a significant change in fortunes for the RSC both financially and achieving critical acclaim with their audiences. You can download the report and see how they did it, find out just what ‘ensemble’ really means and how you might try implementing it by downloading and reading the free report.

Need to Know – Graham Leicester and Ulster Bank

Our fellow audience development agencies and other colleagues got together last week for a couple of days in Durham to take part in ‘Need to Know – Audience Development in the UK – from understanding to engagement’. Long title. Good debates.

I particularly enjoyed Graham Leicester’s philospical discussion of ‘making money and making meaning’. I’m not going to fully do it justice here, and it’s not published yet, but keep an eye on International Futures Forum. Graham proposed that we continue to measure the value of arts through proxy rather than real measures – and are still bound by an economic model of value. He suggests that we should consider ‘experience’ as a currency in an ‘economy of meaning’, in the same way that, say, votes are the currency in the economy of a democracy. The value of culture is therefore in providing experiences which are the currency in this ‘economy of meaning’….

He also spoke about the work of Watershed in Bristol which is playing out some of these ideas in practice.

Equally interesting and totally practical was Julie Murray from Ulster Bank who spoke very engagingly about how they use information about their customers to develop their business. From benchmarking to mystery shopping and propensity modelling to reactive analysis – she shared lots of examples of  using customer insight that were very transferable to arts organisations. If the slides get published I’ll follow with a link.

Arcola leading eco-concept in London’s theatres

Arcola Theatre representives were at City Hall last week to launch their vision for a new eco-theatre in Dalston Junction.  Executive Director, Dr Ben Todd, said:

Our aim is to create a place Da Vinci might call home where creative people across multiple disciplines drive innovation for a sustainable and equitable future.

The theatre’s environmental sustainability and community engagement programmes are seen to be a crucial part of the site which will include a public garden and growing space as well as space for sustainable technologies research.

With London’s theatres needing to reduce carbon ommission by 60% over the next 15 years (read the Mayor’s Green Theatre Plan here), and other art-form venues starting to follow, the lessons Arcola are learning now are likely to come in handy for other organisations considering how best to meet their own target. Our eco-champion here is Bryony who I’m sure will be keeping an eye out…

Follow the project at Future Arcola

Musings on the LSO Digital Symposium

lsodigitalI’ve just got back from the LSO “All Change?” Digital Symposium. Both Anwen and I were in attendance and I think our feelings about the day are about the same – lovely to network and join in the debate as always but we really need to move on this conversation now and talk about the impacts, actions and responses of digital development. One thought from the day stood out for me in particular:

Government should have led the way in testing and researching digital content and social media, much as they tested new school learning frameworks in laboratory conditions in the 50s and 60s, we should expect them to finance and develop models for the public to engage with online media, test them, refine them and release this information to publicly funded organisations.
Although I think it might have been an interesting approach, my argument with this is that approaches to interactive social media (by which I mean not videos or podcasts, but a platform that genuinely allows the audience to participate) should be unique to each organisation due to online content’s very nature of transparency and openness.

Hmm, I could have phrased that better, but it’s been a long week!

You can view comments from the day at Were you there? What did you make of the day? And can you refine my response above?!