EngageAudiences: the final act

The journey has come to an end. Like many founding journeys, it has required the courage to abandon old and well known territories, the strength to endure the mistakes and to learn from them, the willingness to meet new travel companions, the desire to learn new languages and stories, the generosity to share the richness gained throughout the trip with the others.

One year, hundreds of stories, many seas and uncountable routes for discovering that audience development in Europe needs more than a single map for being represented. It is more a multifaceted landscape that requires – as a prism – to be factored in a plurality of aspects and filters for being appreciated in its complexity.

Some questions raised have found plausible answers; new unpredictable demands have emerged during the path, a bulk of lessons were learned to be shared and few but important convictions.

We have become convinced, as the study comes to a close, that a strong attention to audience development can re-frame a role for culture in a rapidly changing social and political context. We have seen that an altered perspective by cultural operators, policy makers and artists towards a citizen/visitor perspective can trigger the change, in the organisation, in the community, in the entire social structure. We have seen that when cultural organisations open themselves to audience impulses, it makes great demands on the staff, on the cultural leadership and ultimately on the budget.

The task of strengthening the connection between audiences and art is not only the responsibility of the producers and animators. Successful audience development is cultivated under complex conditions, including policy frames and the commitment of cultural decision makers.

At the same time, we have distilled a group of Key Factors that represent the main assets for AD strategies. Far from being rigid categories, these instruments are the prevailing action assets (in practices as in rhetoric terms) for developing audience, although with huge crossover characteristics.

The Place Factor is especially significant when the cultural organisation has a geographical and architectural venue, a physical space, where the core of the activities takes place. This is the arena of confrontation between the audiences and the artists. The act of ”invitation” to join the gathering, to repeat the experience, to become regular visitors defines specific audience engagement tools. Place also meant the will to move outside the usual settings, looking for unusual and unconventional places and extraordinary circumstances in order to renovate old liturgies, to encourage as many people as possible to take part and to make culture resonate with their daily life.

The Program Factor relates to the importance of relevance. When programmers have altered appropriately their offer to intended audiences, they get clear results. Often this has been done in an open discourse with audience representatives, reference groups or members of the community.

The Time Factor highlights the fact that lasting work with audience development requires long-term support in order to deliver a substantial change within the organisation. In particular, integrating an audience/citizen perspective requires also serious investment in staff training.

Building Capacity is a necessary step for cultural organisations dealing with heritage, tradition and stable and emerging audiences. Actions, which empower the capacity of the staff, also lead to embedding audience engagement into the fabric of the organisation.

Organizational change. We have identified Co-Creation (active audience participation) as a field of action for cultural organisations, with diverse motives. For those with a stable and habitual audience, the intention might be to deepen the experience for all parts, to actively transform the artwork with the audience. Other, community oriented organisations may find co-creation and active participation as an opening and a prologue to a longer relationship.

Finally, the mapping of the sector has led us to a series of “tools” and “rules” for Audience Development. By tools we mean a collection of discernible actions, innovative attempts or constructive failures that address a specific audience objective. By rules we intend a cluster of concrete recommendations for adapting cultural policy to an audience-centric approach. The capacity of cultural organisations to meet demands on diversity and accessibility is dependent on the environment in which they work. Clear objectives by investors, public or private, create ambitions and set the stage for appropriate artistic and communication decisions.

By Alessandro Bollo / Fondazione Fitzcarraldo

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