„Putting on a black play doesn’t break down barriers“

Often arts organisations try programming for a specific community to attract it. However, this often doesn’t result in the desired community engagement, because all that wraps around the programme is not considered from that community’s perspective, no dialogue with the community is established and no longer term view taken.

“Putting on a black play doesn’t break down barriers for people who have historically felt un-welcomed in institutions we assume are welcoming communal spaces. Even a great production … doesn’t guarantee folks will have the capacity, the will, or the inspiration to pick up a phone and buy a ticket,” says Joe Wilson Jr., Coordinator of Activism Through Performance at Trinity Repertory Theater (Rhode Island, USA).

The OF/BY/FOR ALL Change Network shared this case study about how Trinity Repertory Theatre shifted its thinking about its programming and outreach:

A Mile in My Shoes – The Empathy Museum

A Mile in My Shoes is a travelling museum housed in a giant shoe box. It aims to ‘help us look at the world through other people’s eyes’.

With a focus on storytelling and dialogue, it explores how empathy can not only transform personal relationships, but also help tackle global challenges such as prejudice, conflict and inequality.

You can listen to some of the stories in their podcast.

More here: The Empathy Museum.

Changing default settings and tearing up rules: Nui te kōrero 2019

There was a sense of urgency in the big conversation last week at Nui Te Kōrero 2019, Creative New Zealand’s inspiring annual capability building event. The call to change was strong; respond to the challenges of these complex times, especially around access and representation, in order to thrive as organisations and to contribute to the well-being of New Zealanders.

We heard that transformational approaches that “change our default settings” (Stephen Wainwright, CNZ CEO) are required more than ever. It was a resounding “yes” from those present to relevance, equity, partnerships and change in the cultural sector.

These themes were echoed in our session on “Tear up the audience rule book” (in collaboration with Sally Manuireva), which we started by looking at the changes around us. In this VUCA world (volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous), our proposition is that the tried and tested methods aren’t enough when it comes to audiences (in the widest sense) in the cultural sector.

With their ‘future goggles’ on, workshop participants uncovered their challenges to placing audiences at the centre by discussing statements offered through our Challenges Cards. And they considered the mindset required to get ahead of the audience curve. The invitation to call out the default settings around audiences that need change was embraced.

In the spirit of #TearUp4Audiences, we gamely ripped up “dress codes”, “red carpets only for patrons”, “our audience is everyone” and “departmental silo working”. Across other conference sessions, rules were ripped apart also, especially by the fabulous rangatahi present. Our favourites were “involve young people as advisors“ – replacing it with “young people as partners”, and “older people deciding what young people want” – resoundingly replaced with “allow young people to decide”.

Our workshop participants identified challenges across all dimensions of our proposed framework but especially around resources and priorities. We were asked, how do we address the conundrum of insufficient resource and too many commitments that detract from audience focus? Our response was two-fold:

  • Be clear on intention (a dimension of the framework) and make strategic choices about what you do and don’t do. Saying ‘no’ is often the hardest aspect and yet it is such an essential capability for an organisation.
  • Work with organisations in and beyond the cultural sector who share your vision and who seek similar outcomes. Through innovative, collaborative approaches, we can access and share resources for greater impact.

We’d like to thank Johnny Hui, Public Programme Manager from Auckland Art Gallery, who – as our guest speaker – brought ‘collaboration’ alive, one of the 7 dimensions of the transformative audience framework that we presented in the session. He shared examples from his own practice of relationship building with organisations and audiences over the long term – a powerful driver of new ways of engaging audiences.

By adopting a holistic, transformative approach to audiences, the cultural sector can embrace the opportunities of these rapidly changing times to get (and stay) ahead of the audience curve.  We are looking forward to more conversations about Tearing Up the Audience Rule Book.

In the meantime, below is the framework and we’d love to hear from you if this triggers ideas or suggestions of rules to rip up!

Or download our information leaflet.


Designed and delivered in partnership with Sally Manuireva, drawing on our experience of working with museums, galleries and performing arts organisations in New Zealand and internationally.

Circuit: Test Risk Change

The big, green Circuit book has made it all the way from Tate to Auckland – thanks Tate Young People Programme Team!

The book is a legacy of the Circuit programme, a 4-year initiative to connect young people (15-25) with art, funded by the Paul Hamlyn Foundation and led by Tate and the wonderful Mark Miller.

I was involved in some of the strategies, activities and evaluation at the time.

The four Tate Galleries and six regional art galleries worked with their youth panels and youth organisations. It made the galleries think differently and learn about what they can offer young people, what culture means to young people and what role arts organisations can play for them – and the other way round.

The book brings together insights from the programme through essays, articles, quotes, evaluation results and reflections. And it shows how much can be achieved with longer term resources thanks to a committed funder.

A wonderful resource for practitioners working with young people.

More about Circuit can be found here:

Tearing up the audience rule book – at the centre


Sally Manuireva and I had a great time running our new interactive workshop “Tear up the audience rulebook” at the AMaGA2019 conference in Alice Springs.

It was a fantastic experience to be in the centre of Australia and contribute to the conference theme “At the Centre” with a taster workshop of our new transformational approach to placing audiences at the centre.

Our Challenges Cards sparked stimulating discussions. We had great contributions and feedback from participants and all together had a therapeutic moment tearing up some rules.


I attended an inspiring event as part of #TechWeek2019: FutureSlam – Harnessing technology to amplify Arts & Culture, at Auckland Museum. Thanks to the organisers!

A great lineup of speakers and case studies sharing how digital and analog work together to turn museums into „curiosity machines“ (Sebastian Chan), how screens are not enough but the 5 senses need to be influenced, how storytelling creates empathy.

It seems the museum sector is finding a mature way of working with digital, not over-glorifying it but intelligently combining it with the physical to design inspiring experiences.