Audience Engagement – part 1
James McQuaid, Audience engagement in arts and heritage: the traps we fall into, The Guardian, Culture Professionals Network, 6 October 2014
Audiences are always on my mind. They are my constant reference point in a role that requires me to help heritage organisations remain relevant and appealing to people. As part of my fellowship on the Clore Leadership Programme, I recently entered the world of the arts and through my secondment to Bristol’s Watershed, I was asked to look at the relationship between arts providers and audiences in the city. By talking to the leaders of these organisations, I gained what was for me a fascinating insight into the challenges the arts face and how these compare to those in heritage.
This made me think about the role these two arms of culture have to play and what makes them relevant to society today. Crucially, it brought into question how we think about audiences: how we position them within our organisations and how we structure our thinking and development around them.
Arts and heritage organisations have to radically change their approach to audiences if they are to remain relevant and survive. In the first part of this two-piece series, I’ve outlined a number of traps these two sectors currently fall into. In part two I’ll look at how I think things could be done differently.
Let me know your organisation’s experiences and what you think below the line, whether you agree or disagree.
Some of the traps we fall into
Everyone finds us interesting, they just don’t know it yet
As a theatre, gallery, monument or garden, you will almost certainly be interesting or at least have the potential to be interesting. But when do we ever sit down and think about what our activity or site really means to people? Part of the problem may be that those who need to do this thinking are too in love with what they’re doing: too close and clouded by devotion.
Do we not actually want our audiences to be a bit like us? Interested, appreciative, forgiving, giving.
Interestingly, when an organisation is looking for growth in existing or new audiences, it often dances around the elephant in the room. It might look at brand, marketing, tone of voice; it might devise a campaign or set up a project designed to appeal to new audiences; it might even create project posts. The elephant in the room in this case is the actual culture and core activity of an organisation: how does it speak for you and to the audiences your wish to attract? How integrated and congruent does it feel? Will your audiences see themselves in your people and your messages?
Read more here.