What top 3 things should arts organisations do now to prepare for the future?

The PumpHouse Theatre interviewed me for their Creative Talk series (which has moved online due to Covid-19). We spoke about how I got into the arts, the PumpHouse Board* and other things, and I was asked what I thought the top 3 things were that arts organisations should be doing now to prepare for the future.

By then organisations will have looked after their staff and immediate needs, so, unsurprisingly, I suggested to focus on audiences ;).

Here are my 3 suggestions:

1 – Find out who.
Find out who your audience is now and decide who you want to deepen the relationship with. Observe who is connecting with you now – who is staying in touch, who is not asking for a refund for a booking, who is following on social media, the website or otherwise engaging now? These are your loyal supporters and you want to thank them and keep them close. But there might also be an audience that engaged with you for the first time – who are they and what you could offer them to stay engaged in the future?


2 – Listen to your audience.
Understand your community, build your plans on research. Observe, listen, read what they post, talk with your audience, run a survey… What is going on for them? What do they need? This will help you to be relevant and connect in an authentic way. If this sounds too much to do on your own, collaborate with other organisations.
As you consider your audience’s needs, be aware of different need levels. As arts organisations we are very focused on delivering to higher needs such as learning, inspiration and self-actualisation, and these are important. But in a crisis like this we have also all moved down Maslow’s pyramid of needs to basic needs such as safety. Think through all need levels. And, practically, consider: What will make people feel safe visiting? What practical safety provision are needed and what emotional re-assurances?

3 – Stick to your guns (aka purpose).
Stay true to your purpose/mission/cause (whatever your preferred terminology). I would assume that most mission or purpose statements don’t require a building to be fulfilled and there are many ways to deliver to them. Use your purpose as a filter for your planning of future activities.


These were my suggestions – do you agree ? What would you suggest? How are you preparing?

*Full disclosure: I am a Board Member of the North Shore Theare and Arts Trust, who oversee the PumpHouse Theatre.

Author: sabine.doolin

Strategy consultant working with the cultural sector

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