Increasing audience engagement requires a major cultural change

Europe needs to increase cultural participation, and cultural and artistic organisations also need to be equipped to manage the challenge. How to enable those organisations to reach and engage a wider and diverse audience?

The general and increasing attention on Audience Development (AD) in Europe is due to different factors, stemming from different legacies and motivations. There are “old” reasons, political ones, rooting in the idea of democratisation of culture. There are economical (the decrease of public funding pushing the sector to look for financial sustainability) and social policy reasons, since cultural development is associated with social and economical development. And, last there are cultural reasons, which have shaped our new ways to see old problems: globalisation, migrations, and technological evolution are fostering huge changes in how people behave and interact, enabling an active attitude towards content and decision making, something unprecedented in our society.

Audience Development is an on-going, transformative process. It is a strategic, not only a technical issue. The sustained development of an audience – increase in its size, diversity, or in the scope of members’ experiences – is more likely where many aspects of a cultural experience are shaped and offered with the needs of that audience in mind. AD should be embedded in the whole organisation. Programmers and curators, operational and communications teams, educators and animators, need to be informed of, and inspired by, the needs of different audiences in a co-ordinated way. Evidence shows that reaching out to new or different audiences inconsistently achieves, at best, only short-term results.

Audience development is still mainly a ground-based activity, not a discipline (yet), strongly related to single professionals’ and organisations’ practices across different countries. This rich but fragmented knowledge lays on range of practices. “Study on audience development – How to place audiences at the centre of cultural organisations” aims to unlock these practices to the whole cultural sector.

So, developing audiences depends on the ability of a cultural organisation to place them at the centre of its philosophy and practice, with real commitment and leadership. Such audience-centricity is still a new idea for many cultural institutions where conservation of the object, or production of the artwork has been the exclusive mission. Increasing audience engagement requires a major cultural change for many organisations across Europe.

By Alessandra Gariboldi


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