As part of this series reflecting different views on the nature of Audience Development, we approached the Arts Councils of Scotland, England, and Wales to share their views. Ros Lamont, Phil Cave, and Ann Kellaway explain why they view audience development as a holistic approach to arts development which recognises that the audience should be part of the equation.
The best art for the most people
For many people who don?t work in the arts, and for quite a few who do, the term audience development is problematic. It can sound patronising, as though funders, programmers, arts managers or marketers are setting out to somehow ?change? or even ?improve? the general public. It may even be perceived as social engineering. Many of the established definitions are very ?us and them?, which unfortunately reinforces the perception that audience development is something which is done to people. Likewise, some artists and arts organisations feel it is something which is imposed on them by funders.
A holistic approach
But as far as the Arts Councils are concerned, the term audience development simply describes an audience-focused approach to arts development. We are committed to a holistic approach whereby aspects of commissioning, programming, presentation, education, distribution and marketing are seen as one. We are also committed to developing the best art for the most people, with success being measured not just in terms of the number of people who engage with the arts but also by the quality of that experience. Within this, putting a building in the right place, devising relevant programming strategies and investing in ?ambassadors? are all legitimate examples of audience development activity.
Audience development enables us to meet the rights, needs and wants of the public. As we believe that the arts can enrich and even transform people?s lives, we would like to see an increase in the number of people who regularly engage with the arts. We would also like to see an audience which is more representative of society as a whole. This can be seen as a function of cultural planning, or even the democratisation of art. It certainly does not require ?dumbing down?, and does not restrict or compromise artistic freedom or quality. We want artists to be able to take risks, and that includes having the right to experiment away from the pursuit of widespread public appeal, where appropriate. The holistic approach we describe simply recognises that the audience perspective should be part of the equation.
However, it is unlikely that we will achieve any of these objectives unless funders, programmers, arts managers and marketers are all prepared for major change.
Being committed to audience development does not imply that arts organisations should try to be all things to all people; but it does allow us to become more open to influences from audiences, and in time this changes our policies, working practices and culture.
It is possible for all arts organisations to strive to be inclusive and seek to minimise barriers to attendance or engagement. A new report* identifies key barriers across the cultural sector and this goes beyond the physical, financial and emotional to look at much more fundamental issues such as relevance and access to decision making.
Audience development is not simply another way of delivering a social inclusion agenda, though as a process it can be an effective mechanism for meeting the needs of under-represented or excluded individuals and groups. This is not to say that all arts organisations are equally well placed to tackle social exclusion (a term used to describe communities and individuals who are disadvantaged by poverty and other social and economic factors). Advocating the part that the arts can play in this is an important role for the Arts Councils and we support specialist and community-based arts organisations that have experience and a track record in this area. The driving force however is coming from artists and arts organisations, many of which were working with socially excluded people long before the phrase was even coined.
To help other organisations to gain this expertise (and in the hope of avoiding the ghettoisation of this area) we are also piloting partnerships between specialist and mainstream organisations who are sharing skills and resources.
We recognise that existing audiences are as important to the arts as new audiences. From the public?s perspective, audience development should result in opportunities to experience art which is more reflective of society as a whole. It should also achieve shifts in presentation, programming and promotion to more closely match different communities? needs and expectations. Audiences invest more money in the arts than the funding system does and it is, in part, our responsibility to nurture and develop this investment.
Audience development can be measured in terms of cultural change. Although this kind of change is more difficult to quantify than say an increase in audience numbers, the change can often be seen relatively quickly. ?This has changed the way we do things? is frequently the feedback we get from organisations who have undertaken audience development activity. Another measure of success is the degree of ownership felt for audience development across an organisation, from Chief Executive and Board level to front-line staff.
Ann Kellaway is Senior Research & Audience Development Officer, Arts Council of Wales e: firstname.lastname@example.org Phil Cave is Head of Audience Development at the Arts Council of England e: email@example.com; and Ros Lamont is Audience Development Manager at the Scottish Arts Council e: firstname.lastname@example.org
*From ?Not for the Likes of You?, commissioned by Arts Council of England, English Heritage, Heritage Lottery Fund and Resource, and to be published early next year by the Research Centre for Museums and Galleries