When engaging with new audience groups, you must communicate, include, and create identification, told a panel of audience development experts at the conference ‘The Art of Scene Changing’ in Copenhagen in January 2011 during their one-hour discussions about audiences, giving rise to diversity perspectives and fruitful, inspirational ideas.
By Ginka Rinkova
“Audience engagement is a long-term process, not a quick fix!” stated the Norwegian expert in audience development, Harm-Christian Tolden from Audiences Norway.
Referred also as “arts marketing” and “audiences engagement”, today the concept of “audience development” focuses on how institutions in the field of arts interact, understand, engage and participate with their audiences.
Debating on these and related complex issues, director Harm-Christian Tolden of Audiences Norway in Bergen participated in a panel together with Doro Siepel, director of Zuidplein Theatre in Rotterdam, and Rich Hadley, the British coordinator for a European network of professional audience engagement experts called Audiences Europe Network. The panel was moderated by Danish PR and marketing consultant Ib Jensen.
The session took place from 1.50 to 2.50 PM on 26 January 2011 at The Danish Film Institute in Copenhagen, Denmark.
Focus on existing attenders
“There is a major difference between developing an old audience, getting more of those people who are almost there and who just need a ‘friendly push’, and attracting totally new audiences. And there are different methods attached to it,” said Harm-Christian Tolden from Audiences Norway.
To begin with attracting a new audience group is related to the emotional and the intellectual competences of the existing audience, explained Rich Hadley.
“Who comes in the arts institution right here and right now, and how do we get these people come to more things and be more open to contemporary arts? What we know is that the audience is fairly conservative in their taste, so how do we get them to be less conservative, more open-minded, more open to taking risks in unfamiliar uncharted territory? And then what about the new audiences, how do we attract completely new audiences for whom the arts and culture has very little resonance?,” asked Hadley.
It is a fact that many people go to theatres, concerts or galleries once and then they do not come back. Thus the level of attendance is very infrequent, so even the so-called core audiences are infrequent attenders. A financial strategy – a survival strategy for all arts organisations nowadays – is to focus on the existing attenders and get them to come back more frequent, suggested Rich Hadley:
“And this should be the prioritising effort within the arts business – not trying to go out and get completely new customers all the time.”
Delight, inspire, Enthuse
One of the things that people from arts organisations should do, as Rich pointed out, is to start connecting:
“People don’t come to theatres, or to galleries, because there are brick walls in front that are stopping them from entering. It's the wide open empty space that divides them. In other words, people often don’t perceive those places to be relevant to them: they are not anti-theatre or anti-gallery, they are just not interested. So one of the key elements for audience development is doing things that delight, inspire, and enthuse. Be relevant, identify with your audience, hold their hands.”
Identification is important
Zuidplein Theatre in Rotterdam was highlighted as a ‘case study’ of the session, and the theatre’s art director Doro Siepel stressed on the importance of diversity and inclusion as a survival strategy for her organisation.
“Inclusion and especially people with a lower education, that is my market. And I am happy to say that it is not difficult to get them to theatre. It will take some time, and you have to be prepared to let go of your way of working, but the best thing you can do is communicate and ask people,” she said.
To be passionate and to listen to the needs of your public is a key element for success according to Doro Siepel. Because audience development is also about doing good PR and marketing. However, doing good marketing and PR starts with the programming – doing some good reflections, starting with the product you offer, to see to whom you can offer this product and then find the channels to distribute the invitations.
“Because you have to see what are the issues in your society at the moment, and then: are they issues in the art programming in my theater that appeal to that? If so, then the audience will come, but only with the right marketing,” stressed Doro Siepel.
“Identification is very, very important,” said Doro Siepel. “The audience must be able to indentify with what is going on the stage. That’s when the numbers are growing and new people are coming. So that is the most important we have to learn, identification – the identification is very important.”
“The successful strategies within arts business and arts organisations are multi-layered. There are no simple magic bullet solutions to this thing”, added Rich Hadley. Yet one way of doing it is, according to Doro Siepel, to “take your public along, take them into the process of visiting your institution, and also of changing your institution towards your audience, which is a sustainable way of thinking about of reaching audiences and new public.”
More articles from the same session:
• Theatre celebrates cultural identity of people
• Launch of a European project about audience development
• Collaboration and networking about art and audiences in Norway
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