Cimeon Ellerton To the NPU Conference

by NPU — 2016-06-22

The world is complex and we are increasingly global citizens. We in the cultural sector have a responsibility to respond to this, but how, given the cultural influences, geographic reach and economic pressures are at such inhuman scales?

Whats the driving force behind your engagement with Audience development for the arts?

I’m fascinated in why people do what they do and how they make decisions. This goes back to my days studying music in London and hanging out with both classical musicians and DJs. Generally, the two groups didn’t really mix apart from a very small number of my closest friends and I thought this was very strange. Even some of my closest DJ friends never came and saw any of my concert performances…. Why was this? We all loved music and were pretty experimental in our tastes. But there was a huge barrier to some of my friends attending a concert hall, and equally I knew great musicians who couldn’t understand why I would go see a DJ. This is what sparked my passion for audience development. I couldn’t understand what the problem was and felt frustrated by value judgements that certain artforms or genres represented quality cultural activity and others didn’t. I wanted to understand why they felt the way they did and what would make them consider trying something different.

What does "cultural responsibility» mean to you?

For me, culture is directly linked to the expression of our humanity. Our human rights cannot be separated from a right to culture, and with rights come responsibilities, particularly for those whose privilege it is to manage the institutions that secure and disseminate that culture. So cultural responsibility is the social contract to maximise the value and reach of the cultural assets, both tangible and intangible, that are held by those in these positions of power. I was recently thinking about my past as a conductor, and the politics of that position. In particular, the way that the conductor’s baton is not only a tool, but a signifier of position; however, without mutual respect and the consent of the individual members of the orchestra, that signifier is meaningless and the full power and single intent of the whole cannot be realised. Equally, the audience provides so much of the energy and power of a performance the concert hall doesn’t even sound the same without them in it. The conductor has the responsibility to put all their effort into harnessing the energy of the audience and the expertise of the players, to achieve the best possible performance and experience for all, because the concert only happens with the consent and contribution of all of them.


Data driven decision-making is about drawing meaning from the noise of mass media and communications around us, so that we can respond in a considered way to the challenges of the world as it is now.


How is cultural responsibility linked to data driven decision making?

The world is complex and we are increasingly global citizens. We in the cultural sector have a responsibility to respond to this, but how, given the cultural influences, geographic reach and economic pressures are at such inhuman scales? Data driven decision-making, rather than being inhuman (as it is sometimes portrayed), is actually about bringing these challenges down to a human scale. Data driven decision-making is about drawing meaning from the noise of mass media and communications around us, so that we can respond in a considered way to the challenges of the world as it is now. And what makes it a really powerful tool is that it not only helps us understand the world as it is now, but can also make predictions about about the future, so that we can manage risk effectively. Without risk, there is no creativity, so managing risk is key to a sustainable and creative cultural sector.


My love of audience intelligence comes from the fact that it is easier to adopt a continuous improvement approach when you have a constant supply of information on which to base your decisions.


If you where managing a cultural institution - how would you balance between economical, social og artistic goals?

It might seem rather oversimplified, but I don’t see any contradiction between economic, social or artistic goals. Perhaps that’s because I have a background in project and programme management. I’m used to balancing competing needs. One of the guiding principles of project management is the idea that you can’t deliver anything fast, good and cheap. You can only choose two. But of course, in reality, the pressure is always to have it as fast as possible, as good as possible and as cheap as possible. Over-prioritising any one of these will lead to failure because nobody wants anything bad, or late, or unaffordable. So the challenge really lies in properly defining constraints and honestly prioritising needs. This is why the mission, vision or purpose of an organisation is so vital. Who are you for, what is it you’re trying to achieve. This is what provides the criteria for assessing and prioritising the relative artistic, social or economic impact of the endless decisions a manager has to make. Another useful way of thinking comes from the idea of the continuous improvement process. I find it too easy to focus on the one thing out of ten I didn’t achieve, rather than the nine I did. Even when everything seems to have gone perfectly, there will always be room for improvement, so embedding continuous improvement process accepts that perfection is unattainable, but seeks to learn from the past and improve for the future. My love of audience intelligence comes from the fact that it is easier to adopt a continuous improvement approach when you have a constant supply of information on which to base your decisions.