Engage Audiences Study in a blink: when one size doesn’t fit all

In our previous Newsletter, we told you that we had just finished interviewing 30 cultural organisations to analyse their audience development strategies and practices. ArtLab16 (held in Mantua, 30th of September 2016) we had the occasion to share preliminary results of this analysis with a wider audience.

If we consider the key action areas that we identified after the background research, the first three – building capacity, place and co-creation – actually reoccur in almost all the experiences; on the contrary, the fourth one, the digital dimension as a core action area to develop AD strategies, is less present in our case studies. This is an aspect that we need to investigate further, since it might at least be partially related to the size of the organisations and to their ability to invest in the new technologies.

Other recurring key-words emerging from the case studies are: different audiences; economic sustainability; partnerships; data (gathering and analysis); relationship with the community. These keywords reflect some major issues:


There are as many audience development practices as organisations. Political, social and economic contexts play a huge role in diversifying the way cultural organisations interpret their role and responsibility towards audiences and communities. We already knew that one size does not fit all, but we have been surprised by the variety in premises, strategies, organisational structures and actions stemming from these case studies. Also audiences are different: starting from the point of view of the EU Commission that identify current / existing audiences and non current audiences, the working group proposed to rename the three main audience categories as audience by Habit, audience by Choice and audience by Surprise.

Embedding of AD activities within the organisations

Of course, national cultural policy backgrounds mark a first clear difference in the playground where arts organisations enact: there are European countries where audience development is a priority for public funded culture, in some other places this priority is enacted through cultural policies and investments, while somewhere else it is barely an argument. Organisations we interviewed are different: different environment, dimensions, ambitions, kind of activities, countries, motivations and stories: from ancient institutions that are rethinking themselves, to organisations born as audience centred, from artistic paths naturally drawing to participatory practices, to marketing and communication changes motivated by a new management. Nevertheless, most interviewed have something in common: a listening attitude, a trial and error approach, data relevance and shared objectives (or at least, a clear and shared awareness of the need of such things).

Institutional change

The implementation of AD strategies requires in most cases a deep institutional change, starting from a re-definition of the mission and going on with the re-shaping of the strategies and of the tools to be used. In some cases this change happened as a result to external pressures (political, economic, social); in other cases it has been fostered by the actions/vision of a single leader.


It seems very difficult for cultural organisations to set up an evaluation system based on qualitative and quantitative data; structured for medium-long term analysis; conceived to “measure” different results related to different organisational missions and AD objectives.

The next step is to present analysed experiences to a wider public in a form of a catalogue as well as of guidelines for cultural professionals and policy makers, in order to put audiences at the heart of cultural organizations!


Cristina Da Milano/ECCOM

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