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Audiences are ready to return but they need reassurance to take the first step. A new digital toolkit will help bridge the gap, says Katy Raines.

People walking around a gallery
Tramway T2, British Art Show

© Tramway Revisited

For the past eight months, Indigo has been gathering data about arts audiences and their attitudes towards culture during Covid. Through a series of major national sentiment surveys, we have built an understanding of the issues facing cultural organisations when they begin to reopen, focussing on the needs of their audiences.

The results of our surveys show just how much audiences are missing their favourite theatres, arts centres, museums and touring companies. We learnt that many were planning to return as soon as they were able. But around two-thirds of audiences said they would only consider returning if they were confident the appropriate safety and hygiene measures had been put in place, and the venues they visited were Covid-secure.

Being part of a crowd is something few of us will have done during the months of lockdowns and restrictions. Our most recent results show that audience confidence soars after a first visit back to a cultural venue, with those who have attended indicating a confidence score of +48%, even if they had felt cautious ahead of the visit. However, with only 12% saying they are ready to start booking again within the next month, venues and producers face a challenge. How can they reassure audiences to take the first step and return to a cultural venue? 

A necessary shift

Creating appropriate assets and sharing them with audiences is even more of a challenge with staff working remotely and access to venues restricted – and this not limited to front of house and marketing teams. We have seen a necessary shift to remote working in all areas of the production process. With restrictions on site visits for technical and production teams, reliance on pre-visualisation and working in a digital space has increased dramatically. 

Our sector needs innovative new technology to support this change. Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden has touched on this, saying “theatre will need to find new and innovative ways to return, without packing venues and risking a rise in infections”. Now, with funding from Innovate UK’s Sustainable Innovation Fund, we are part of a new project facing up to these challenges: Tramway Revisited. Working with Glasgow’s internationally-renowned arts space Tramway as our pilot project, we are developing a set of new digital tools that we can make available to other cultural organisations.

The toolkit will enable production teams to design events safely, making compliance and risk assessment easier for producers and allowing them to explore new creative opportunities in virtual production design. We hope to equip venue managers with tools to model social distancing requirements in their auditoriums and audience flow through their front of house spaces. They should be able adapt these models at speed when restrictions change, moving away from current costly and time-consuming processes. 

To rebuild audience confidence, we must empower marketing teams to publish content that clearly shows different audiences what an experience at a cultural venue will be like, so they can get back to enjoying live performance in a safe and fulfilling way.

Building a viable future

We have learned this year how important it is to collaborate and bring together the broadest possible spectrum of skills and knowledge to tackle the new challenges we face. To build a future where our sector can recover, grow, and create opportunities to produce cultural work safely and viably, we must develop new tools and new ways to engage with audiences.

Tramway Revisited was spearheaded by Glasgow-based specialists in digital surveying and production design Stageport, They brought in architectural studio McGinlay Bell, digital media and research innovators ISODESIGN, and RVT Parametrix, whose experience lies in the digitalisation of built assets, bridging the gap between buildings and technology. With ASE Consulting’s specialist knowledge of health and safety in arts and entertainment and Indigo’s understanding of audience attitudes to cultural experiences during Covid, the project team is complete.

Tramway Revisited is still in its infancy. The first months of the project have involved extensive research by all the project team members, and a series of virtual workshops with key stakeholders to gain a deeper understanding of the specific needs we’re addressing. 

On the audience side, Indigo has been using our existing survey work as a baseline. By speaking to Tramway’s audience through customer surveys and audience panels we can assess how their attitudes vary from our national dataset. In the coming months we plan to share some of the early versions of our tools with them and feed their thoughts back to the project team. 

Our project is due to come to an end in April. The Tramway Revisited project team is determined that our digital toolkit and the wider learnings from this project will be adopted broadly by the sector - and that cultural workers and audiences alike will see the benefits.

Katy Raines is Co-founder and partner of Indigo Ltd.
 @katyraines | @IndigoLtd

Link to Author(s): 
Katy Raines