How to place audiences at the centre of cultural organisations

After an open announcement in 2015, Fondant Fitzcarraldo, Culture Action Europe, ECCOM and Intercult was assigned the task of identifying and analysing the best praksis in a representative selection of art- and culture institutions in the EU. The work has been going on throughout 2016 and will shortly result in a report laying the ground for EU's continued focus on audience development. 

A pre-launch of the report took place at Sødra Teatern in Stockholm on Fabruary 22nd 2017. (http://www.intercult.se/konfer...). Ingrid E. Handeland was part of the panel discussing the utilisation value of the report. Audiences Norway consider the report as a valuable means of understanding, execution and evaluation of audience development in the arts and culture sector. 

The report consists of an introductory literature study; an analysis and putting together of the most important works in audience literature. Secondly, an evaluation of 30 medium sized institutions in 17 countries. It contains guidelines for effective audience development and recommendations with regard to establishing audience development as subject and method. 

One of the findings shows that the term audience development itself is unclear to may people. Most associate it with marketing and communication. This in contrast to the consortiums  definition, which renders audience development by an independent principle for policy and management. Accordingly, audience development is a systemic challenge involving everybody in the field, policy-makers as well as managers in arts and culture. The report focuses on 20 institutions that have undertaken a development in the direction of putting the audience at the center of the business. The review is followed by a description of the technical and policy-related context the given actors are operating within, as well as other types of organisations operating the field. The types of relevant actors within the field are divided in three categories: 

1) Large influential national institutions functioning as trend setters (f.ex. Rijksmuseum and The Spanish National Orchestra)

2) European projects and plattforms ( like f.ex. Adeste)  

3) Resource centres in variuos countries. Hereby The Audience Agency (UK), RePublik (SE), Cultuurnet Vlaanderen (BE), and Audiences Norway.  

On the importance of the resource centres the report states that

(they) emerged in the fertile space between practice and policy, commercial need and ambition to make positive social impact. Over time - and driven by sector need - they have all developed some way to enable audience-focused collaboration; providing real audience insight, they have played a highly applied research function, useable by practitioners. They also act a influencer for policy to be more audience aware/engagement orientated, and enabled cross fertilisation of effective practice and ideas - often through training/guidelines/case studies. 

One of the most interesting aspects of these kind of resource centres that should be investigated further is how they are able to contribute at local level and to raise the bar of best practice, helping organisations to be strategic about their audiences . 

As resource centres, they speak the language of both the cultural sector and the “real world”. Small and medium sized organisations can hardly find the resources – both human and economic - to continuously work with audience initiatives, apart from the traditional marketing strategies. The lack of staff, time and balanced priorities leaves cultural institutions and organisations unequipped to manage a fulltime, on-going engagement with audiences, new or old. Another important argument for these "Audience Development Centres" is that the knowledge - database, experience, networks, media contacts - remains in the organisation and can develop further for each new effort made, instead of disappearing with temporary (project) staff. The next challenge for a progressive development of both theory and practice is probably how to make this knowledge base available to other cultural institutions, and shared both at local and international level. Overcoming knowledge and practices fragmentation should be a priority for shaping the next policy towards European cultural development. For this reason we have added - as one of our Recommendations (namely The Guide/part 2) that each city or region could invest in a centre of this kind to empower and encourage underfinanced cultural structures. 

Pending the final version of the report you can browse the websites of the consortium, to stay tuned: http://engageaudiences.eu/.


 

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