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Innovative solutions to emerging problems are showing how much can be achieved right now, but getting operationally ready for the next stage is the new challenge facing the arts. It’s important to recognise it’s a shared challenge writes Paul Fadden.

inside of the Princes Theatre
The Princes Theatre in Clacton on Sea

At the moment it feels as though the only certainty is uncertainty. Planning for the future has become top priority for organisations in the last few weeks, but new strategies for reopening in the UK have to be updated frequently. A lot of questions are yet to be answered as organisations look at how they can adapt to new challenges in the coming months, not least how to maximise revenue streams, as we discussed in our recent whitepaper with Baker Richards.

Keep your nerve and build a strong network

One of the most challenging problems is time. Theatres and arts organisations are facing long periods of closure with no certainty around the end of the pandemic. Managers are concerned with how their organisational structures will need to adapt to a new and unfamiliar landscape when doors finally reopen. Social distancing, seating plans, programming and rehearsals are all major causes of concern.  

The best advice for managers right now is to focus on what you can achieve in this moment, but also to think about the strategies you will need to put in place three months down the line. This isn’t easy, with new developments and government regulations being updated each week, but something we have learned during this experience is the power of coming together and talking to other arts professionals.

The frustrations and concerns that you are experiencing today are also impacting the venue down the road, or the gallery in the next town. Right now, coming together and creating a voice for the arts will not only offer you solutions, it will also enable the sector to reopen stronger than before.

If you’re unsure about the best place to start or where to reach out, many organisations are offering advice at the moment. Join a roundtable discussion with peers and reach out to members organisations like the AMA who can put you in touch with similar organisations.

Customer sentiment and data will guide you

For many arts attenders and participants, the arts are a lifeline they use to connect to their community, and the closure of your venue has had consequences for them as well. Whatever the timeline for reopening, the most important factor will be the sentiment of our audiences and their perception of returning to the arts.

After the Interval is a free national survey completed by Indigo Limited asking audiences when they are most likely to return to live events after lockdown. So far, their findings show that 15% of people are actively booking for future events and only 20% of audiences will return to venues just because they are open. The biggest awakening for the arts is probably the result that only 15% of over 65s say they will return to the arts.

This research also gives a good insight into what measures currently matter to audiences in order for them to feel safe to return.  It reveals that the measures that would make audiences feel that returning to venues is safe are avoiding long queues (75%), limiting capacities (75%) and socially distanced seating (66%). These issues should guide any communications you are working on for audience members to strengthen and regain consumer confidence.

Doors may not be open but the work is ongoing

Arts and cultural venues may be closed, but over the past few months have seen inspiring bursts of creativity and cultural output from the arts and cultural community. The closures don't have to mean an end to creativity and engagement, and the organisations we spoke to for this latest whitepaper have been tackling the challenge head on, moving as much content as possible online and doing whatever they can to support artists.

The Princes Theatre in Clacton on Sea, part of Tendring District Council, has been responding to the council’s focus on people who are self-isolating. A big issue for this group is having no one to shop for them, and many find online shopping complex and confusing – not to mention the wait times for online shopping. The theatre contacted Ticketsolve about creating a new subdomain for the council, and now uses this on behalf of the council to organise food deliveries. After careful vetting, a link is sent out to those who are socially isolated, giving them access to an easy-to-use platform where they can order packages of essential food items.

Barriers broken

Pound Arts typically works with 15 artists and installations throughout the year, offering mentoring and advice, but they recognised the importance of re-focusing on whatever would be most useful to artists. Fringe festivals are particularly good places to network and meet artists, so many artists are worrying about the lost opportunities to do this now. Pound Arts has responded by changing tack and providing an opportunity for artists to showcase their work online.  They are now putting out a call to artists to meet digitally and encouraging them to keep creating. Russ Tunney, Director of Pound Arts, explained: “Incredibly, artists have told us that usual barriers between artistic directors and themselves have been broken down while venues have been closed. They are now able to have important conversations with key decision makers who they otherwise wouldn’t have been able to get in front of.”  

Get Your Voice Heard

A lot of organisations that are advocating for the arts sector right now and it’s important for everyone to make sure their organisation’s position is understood and its voice is heard.

Together with several theatres and arts venues, Ticketsolve has created a working group whose aim is to engage positively with policymakers and bring solutions to the table that will help theatres, museums, venues, festivals and arts centres to thrive when they re-open. The group, chaired by Kai Aberdeen, General Theatre Manager of Princes Theatre, welcomes any arts organisations that are interested in joining. Email workinggroup@ticketsolve.com to become part of the conversation, or for a copy of the toolkit being released soon to help organisations advocate for themselves.

Paul Fadden is Managing Director of Ticketsolve

This article, sponsored and contributed by Ticketsolve, is part of a series looking at the power of box office data to inform strategic decision making.

Ticketsolve resources for the arts include:

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Photo of Paul Fadden