Building Audience Capital – Creative NZ 21C Arts Conference 2012

Building Audience Capital
Creative NZ 21C Arts Conference 2012

Last week saw 250 delegates converge on Wellington for the fifth annual Creative New Zealand 21st Century Arts conference. The conference has grown steadily, and it was good to see a broader range of museums represented this year, although there were some notable exceptions. As always, a conference is at least as much about collegial sharing and networking as it is about the content and learning, and it is important for museum people to be part of their wider community of professional practice.

This and previous conferences focused on developing arts organisations – and growing their audiences – using research and strategic engagement tools. Much of this is based on work by UK-based consultancy Morris Hargreaves McIntyre (MHM). So successful has this partnership between CNZ and MHM become, that the latter now have an office and staff in NZ to undertake the work being commissioned independently by our arts organisations.

There is no doubt that this is having positive results for many. CNZ has just released its latest 3-yearly engagement study, New Zealanders and the Arts (research by Colmar Brunton). The report says that some indicators have decreased in the last 3 years, with a slight drop in everyday engagement, and attendance figures a little lower, probably attributable to the loss of venues in Christchurch. Conversely, online engagement is growing rapidly, and young people’s participation is increasing, with powerful positive effects. In general, New Zealanders strongly support the arts in their community.

At the conference, CNZ also outlined a new piece of research commissioned from Colmar Brunton, which brings together audience segmentation work by MHM and a broad demographic survey to build an Audience Atlas. Described as ‘a new dashboard tool for arts organisations, venues and galleries’, this allows an organisation to look at its own audience in relation to participation and segmentation in its catchment area.

This year’s conference title was Building Audience Capital – not only growing the numbers, but also the emotional and personal investment of our communities in our arts organisations. This relates closely to the MA10 theme of demonstrating relevance so as to become more obviously essential to the communities who are our funders as well as our audiences. We need their engagement whichever way you look at it.

Keynote presentations developed the concept of audience capital, and what it means for arts organisations, both for their strategy and planning and for their programming.  ‘Marketing’ in the sense of pushing a product was replaced by the idea of pulling audiences in to be part of the organisation’s community of engagement. Other conference presentations and workshops explored engaging with specific audiences such as disabled, Maori or Pacific people, and ways and means such as online, social media, and working within an arts organisation, to make all these good things happen.

We heard some fascinating personal experiences and stories of success – often snatched from the brink of failure. Like the performing arts centre in Wales that had to reinvent itself as soon as it opened, and why the ‘season ticket’ approach is losing ground in favour of more personalised options.  We were encouraged to engage more thoughtfully with diverse communities, and treated to a performance by dance company Touch Compass.  Integrating disabled and able-bodied dancers, Touch Compass is celebrating its 15th anniversary with a new season opening in Auckland tomorrow.

While CNZ talks about ‘the arts’ and many of the tools are about increasing revenue and viability through ticket sales, most of the ideas apply to free-entry cultural heritage institutions as well. The general feeling of goodwill amongst conference attendees is very positive, and helps us all to renew our energy and commitment. A return visit to NZ by inspiring Canadian philanthropic fundraising guru Guy Mallabone is expected in November – if you haven’t yet been to one of his sessions, he is highly recommended to anyone needing to boost their skills and confidence for major fundraising efforts.

For those who were not at the conference, there will be a whole lot of resources online, joining the other material on the CNZ website. We’ll remind you when more is available.

Nga mihi o Matariki,

PS – you can also see photos and comments from people more tech-savvy than me at:
Twitter #21Arts


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