An ArtsProfessional feature in partnership with the Audience Agency

What will the next 12 months bring for the arts and cultural sector? The Audience Agency team share their predictions for what lies ahead.

Photo of woman looking at wall of tiny images
Photo: 

Joel Chester Fildes

Oliver Mantell, Area Director North

Despite the surprisingly positive news from the spending review regarding Arts Council England (ACE) funding, I believe that 2016 is the year when the implications of the local authority cuts announced at the same time will become evident in practice. The combination of those cuts, with the commitment by the national Labour leadership to set legal local budgets, and the statutory obligations of councils (and the famous graph of doom) means that it’s either going to get very ugly – or something will have to give.

Expect museums, libraries and other arts services to close, despite ACE stepping in to cover some shortfalls and the government making a partial U-turn. This will be most acute in those local authorities with high social care costs, a low income from locally set business rates and where historically they have been particularly important supporters of civic culture. So it doesn’t look good for the north.

That said, the northern powerhouse isn’t going away. Instead, it’s likely to be the small and mid-sized towns that get the worst of it, as well as those areas that have been badly hit by flooding or coal and steel closures. But while eyes are understandably on Manchester and Hull 2017, the northern powerhouse has to mean more than ‘Manchester+’ if it’s going to achieve its social, economic and cultural ambitions, and not just short-term political ones.

Get in touch with Oliver.

Margot Walker, Regional Director, Yorkshire

2015 was a challenging year with the election in May and then the spending review in November. There was much relief that the spending review ended in some support for ACE that should trickle down to cultural organisations this year. The problem is that the squeeze remains for local authorities to fund and manage civic cultural resources including museums, libraries and parks. There is no doubt going to be more pressure to monetarise the cultural offer and to provide evidence on how cultural organisations are contributing to economic, social and educational growth.

Contact Margot to find out more about how we can help museums.

Katie Moffat, Head of Digital

I think 2016 is ‘the year of the digital pragmatist’. We are all short of time and resources and yet digital can eat up an inordinate amount of time if you don’t have the luxury of a dedicated digital team or specialist. I hope that arts and cultural organisations will stop trying to do everything and focus on doing one or two things really well. It would be lovely to set up a Pinterest account and post beautiful, original images from your shows or spend some time developing a new use of ibeacons in your gallery. But realistically, let’s focus on getting the basics right: a website that works and is optimised for mobiles, a real understanding of Google Analytics and using email marketing effectively.

In the same vein, many arts organisations are facing up to the fact that they need to be less touchy-feely about social media and more practical about it. We will see an increase in paid advertising on Facebook with the realisation that it’s an efficient way to reach an audience if you get to grips with the ads tool. Experimenting with digital is great and I encourage it, but not at the expense of the basics.

Get in touch with Katie to find out more about her webinars  and our digital services.

Cimeon Ellerton, Head of Programmes

I predict that in the next 12 months we’ll see a growing trend for hyper-local and personalised listings, improved location-based joint marketing and arts and cultural organisations being more actively engaging on sites such as TripAdvisor and Euan’s Guide.

Arts and cultural activities remain stubbornly difficult to discover compared to other sectors. It is easy to find the perfect hotel or holiday apartment and find a bargain. It should be just as easy for potential audiences to find something cultural to do. Three quarters of us walk around with a web-connected computer in our pocket. We rightly put a lot of time and energy into our websites and social media profiles, but we know from Audience Finder that well over one third of arts and culture consumers have never even visited the website of the event or organisation they are attending.

Traditionally, What’s on listings have been a key information source for potential audiences, but the search term ‘What’s On’ has stayed relatively flat according to UK Google trends. In contrast, ‘something to do in…’ is now three times more popular. This reflects our earlier findings that most audiences see arts and culture as an entertaining activity to fill leisure time.

Contact Cimeon to find out more about Audience Finder.

Pamela Pfrommer, Senior Consultant

The age of austerity is here to stay, and with some traditional fundraising methods in decline, this year presents key opportunities to plan for the challenges ahead. The corollary to that, is that resources and organisational capacity will not significantly increase so the sector will need to be more strategic in its approach, involving and engaging all staff, volunteers and trustees to undertake mission-focused fundraising. In other words, securing funds that support activities that are core to the purpose of their organisation.

Involvement and engagement are key principles that organisations can model internally, which can be demonstrated externally to cultivate donors and supporters. Fundraising using social media and online platforms will continue to make inroads given the proliferation of mobile and tablet devices in use. Access to big data will also enable many organisations to gather the right combination of evidence and insight that can make a real difference in making the case to wider stakeholders and informing funding bids.

Get in touch with Pamela to find out more about our fundraising tools and how we can help with your fundraising bid.

Leo Sharrock, Head of Data Strategy

The latest results published from the DCMS Taking Part survey suggest that last year saw a decline in the numbers of people attending or participating in the arts since a peak in 2012/13. However, I think we are starting to see evidence that some arts organisations are more adept at growing revenue and audiences for a paid product. I would like to think that the development of more effective and targeted marketing is likely to be a contributing factor.

Alongside this, my experience of working with a growing pool of fundraisers suggests that progress is being made in the diversification of income streams, helping to make cultural organisations more sustainable. Effective data analysis is helping people to plan, deliver and evaluate their marketing and fundraising activities. Not simply the enhanced access to relevant data, such as Audience Finder and other open data platforms where we’ve seen huge strides already, but more in the development of tools and genuine infographics that enhance how we can understand the information latent within the data. Furthermore, there will be an increasing demand to extrapolate associated strategies and practical actions that can help grow audiences and revenue. In a challenging economic context, more people will be embracing accessible data-driven approaches and consequently we’ll see the results of more effective audience development and marketing.

Join Leo at one of his upcoming ‘Using & managing data in fundraising’ workshops.

Carol Jones, Director, Wales/Cyfarwyddwr, Cymru

Cultural organisations across Wales will remain on tenterhooks for the first three months of 2016 as they wait for the final funding confirmation from Arts Council Wales (ACW). ACW was hit with a 5% cut as part of the Welsh government’s draft budget for 2016/17 (which lost £1.5m of its annual budget). Chair Dai Smith warned that the funding settlement only covers one year and he remained very concerned about the ongoing pressure on Welsh government funding.

Most parts of Wales are also reeling from local authority arts budget cuts including Cardiff with proposed cuts of £700,000. The deadline for consultation on 11 January prompted a series of meetings across the Welsh capital’s cultural community to make the case for continued funding and perhaps a belated recognition of the power of data and insight as a persuasive lobbying tool.

So it becomes ever more likely that Wales will remain in a curious limbo-land with many projects, developments and appointments on hold until the summer. The need for real, actionable insight will climb up the priority list, as will Welsh government priorities of wellbeing, wider social impacts and tackling poverty.

Get in touch with Carol to find out how she can help.

This article, sponsored and contributed by The Audience Agency, is in a series sharing insights into the audiences for arts and culture.