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.

Digital trends amongst children

Apparently …

  • Half of 5-16 year olds have Internet access in their own room (49%)
  • Six in ten children now have their own PC or laptop (59%)
  • The proportion of children social networking online has doubled since last year

Statistics produced by CHILDWISE, a research agency specialising in children and young people.  If you’re interested, their trend data report drawing on data from 1997-2009 is available to buy from

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

Transparency Rules OK


It’s not going to be an astounding revelation to any of us but Nielsen’s latest Global Online Consumer Survey shows that word of mouth is the most powerful form of communication when it comes to getting people to trust your brand. No fanfares there.

What I think is interesting is the second highest result in this league table of “trusted sources” – ‘Consumer opinions posted online’. The opinions of strangers posted on online forums and review sites are now incredibly powerful portals for gaining consumer trust, and there’s not a thing the brands can do about it! Although I do wonder if this will provoke some corporations into trying to infiltrate the message boards… My advice? Focus on good CRM and values that you believe in and stick to and let the quality of your product shine through, and this fits perfectly well with cultural organisations too. The consumer (audience) is king!

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?!

AMA conference – open up and let them in!

openingdoorThis year was my first AMA conference and as a non arts-marketer I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect.  Being someone who networks a lot in my job, I liked the encouragement to get sussed about who you wanted to meet in advance.   So I arranged some quick hellos and some longer meetings with other delegates in advance and enjoyed making good use of the meeting spaces provided, discussing cpd, community consultation and artist studios in housing associations amongst other topics.

From my perspective the conference messages were delivered incredibly well by some smart and professional speakers.  Diane Ragsdale opened really well, and I loved her assertion that cultural institutions only exist to matter to people right now, Dan Germain at Innocent kept it simple but memorable about creating a well loved brand – the worst thing we could do at Innocent is clam up and get too serious and stop talking to people.  Ed Sanders from Google/You Tube shared the quick way to digital upskilling 1) Find a geek 2) Buy him beer 3) Reap rewards and Dick Penny talked through how his organisation in Bristol, Watershed has made sense of the disruption of changing their organisation by understanding that their work so far has resulted in their role as custodians of a shared cultural space held in shared ownership.  A role that brings them both rights and responsibilities.

There was a massive emphasis on 2 way interaction during the conference and my AMA wordle overall would have to include…

Open  Honest  Trusted  Humble
Listening  Co-created

All principles central to community engagement.

The atmosphere amongst delegates still seemed to show a range of barriers to reaching this ‘open organisation’ nirvana.   When it comes to putting the vision into practice, some messages I took away were:

  • There’s a culture change afoot (and not everyone will like it)
  • Self-awareness includes listening to and not being offended by criticism
  • Not listening will soon be a criminal offence (well as good as…)
  • Willingness to see other viewpoints or wear different shoes will put you ahead of the game
  • Our to do lists should be changing – taking the time to listen and plan your actions in response is the work… it’s not an extra bit.

Some places to look for inspiration

S.L.A.M (referenced by Diane Ragsdale).  They say –

Our space is open to the public.  Come in and watch the process as it unfolds and if you have a great idea let us know.  Bring lunch and use our WiFi!

Watershed’s D’shed (Dick Penney).  They say –

Welcome to dShed, Watershed’s online showcase of digital creativity, it’s a publishing platform for artists, media producers and communities and a space to view, explore, create, learn, discuss and debate.

AMA Conference – what’s changing in organisations?

evolutionI enjoyed this year’s AMA conference a lot. I thought the debates were timely, speakers excellent and I caught up with colleagues I hadn’t seen for a while as well as meeting really interesting new people. I just wished that there were more colleagues from beyond marketing and audience development to share the experience…

From my perspective the highlights were:

Diane Ragsdale from the Andrew J Mellon Foundation – her excellent keynote combined inspirational ideas, practical actions, real examples and references for further reading. My takeaway is let’s move from being powerful gatekeepers to enthusiastic brokers.

An organisation that is already doing this is Watershed in Bristol, Dick Penny from there spoke about how he considers them  to be custodians of a shared culutral space and sees Watershed’s  role as bringing people togather around ideas that matter to them.

The urgent need for cultural organisations to change to keep pace with the changing world around us was a constant theme. This was brough to life by Cornerhouse in Manchester, whose experiment in adopting an open source way of working is inspired by Charles Leadbeater’s We Think. we-thinkStill very much a work in progress,  Dave Moutrey and Sarah Perks shared the organisational changes they have made, which include merging their programming and marketing teams.

It is always a pleasure (and an enjoyable intellectual challenge) to listen to or read John Holden’s work, and his AMA appearance talking about the value of culture was no different. He eloquently outlined how our conceptions of art and culture have shifted  from simply ‘high’ and ‘low’  to ‘publicly funded’ ‘commercial’ and ‘home made’  – and what impacts this has had on how we organise and communicate about culture. Like Diane, he referenced Bill Ivey’s Arts Inc, which I’ve not read, but am about to track down…  Questions included a lively discussion on the role of ACE funding policies in shaping how we  value culture. The John thought I’m taking away is that people’s value of culture is, of course, subjective, and we need to help them to create their value through a relationship of mutual respect between organisations, artists and audiences.

Finally, and I’m sure  a big hit with most delegates, Dan Germain from the legendary Innocent shared the  now apocryphal story of how the company was founded and the principles that guide the way it works. Very entertaining, with totally relevant and practical things we can use in our own organisations:

  • Know what you stand for – live your values
  • Have a regular AGM (A Grown Up Meeting) – meet your customers, to talk to them and listen to them

and my favourite….

  • Limit updates to 1 minute at team meetings

If you were there, what did you think?