UK arts marketing expert
1. What started your interest in arts participation?
I worked with a small arts centre in a working class area of England which was in danger of becoming purely ‘civic’ - meaning primarily commercial product of dubious quality to get people in. The arts development officer there, an inspirational woman, wanted to develop a strand of high quality artistic programming that genuinely connected with and engaged its communities and managed to obtain funding to that end.
The programme of work, across 3 years, included risk-taking audience engagement in order to provide contexts for the work to resonate. Her choices were brave, not obvious. My role, across the three year programme, was to evaluate the impact of the engagement programme and subsequent arts experience on all those who took part.
The results were outstanding. From teenagers working with professional dancers tackling the issues of street crime and performing their work to an invited audience of family and friends to middle aged empty nesters ‘finding themselves’ when they performed on stage with a professional theatre company, some changing their lives as a result … for me the transformative quality of engagement transcended that of ‘consumption’ . This observation is not made lightly. After 20 years of researching audience experience of ‘the art’, it was a revelation to get up close and personal with people for whom arts participation had impacted on them in a ways that were more immediate, deeper and potentially life changing or perspective altering than the hundreds of people I’ve spoken with about seeing a play or visiting an exhibition, for example.
Now, as an audience experience designer, I am actively seeking ways to bring arts participation into a model of strategic value creation that embeds it as a core function, rather than an add-on, to a venue’s arts programme.
2. Why does it matter?
It matters because we are becoming a global society of creators not consumers. We crave agency. We crave connection in an increasingly disconnected world. Arts participation, done well, can transform, connect, empower, activate and engage. Enough said.
It matters because there is a cliff in front of us - one down which traditional institutionalised arts practice will fall if it doesn’t surf the zeitgeist and compete in an experience economy that is rapidly overtaking it.
It matters because despite the great leaps made in technology, social media and entertainment contexts, there is still huge demand for engaged, meaningful transformational experiences where the public is an active agent, and the arts is best suited to deliver this.
it matters because in the future, it won’t simply be enough to buy a ticket, sit in a darkened auditorium and ‘receive’ a piece of work.
It matters because it is the future of the arts.