6 ways to work more democratically

The success of organisations that are connecting more inclusively with audiences, such as Fun Palaces, Creative People & Places, 64 Million Artists in the UK and Of/By/For in the US, seems to be warming up the debate about cultural democracy.

In light of evidence that 20% of the population consume 80% of state supported culture, this article discusses the role for mainstream cultural institutions in this and suggests 6 things organisations can do to work more democratically and move towards a more participatory and citizen-led future.

Photo by Marcos Luiz Photograph on Unsplash

How can arts organisations assist community recovery?

As part of its audience research around Covid, an Australian study asked audiences an interesting question: What role can arts and culture organisations play in your community, to assist with recovery from the pandemic?

Six themes emerged:

  • Place: Arts and culture helping to reanimate public places.
  • Connect: Reconnecting people with others.
  • Escapism: “Safe places which can create an escape from what is happening outside in the real world and inside in the mental health world.”
  • Heal: Arts and culture helping to heal and to process difficult events.
  • Transform: “…provide community forums for meeting people, sharing resources and stories. They can encourage participation in current affairs and culture.”
  • Remodel: Offering learning opportunities and sharing skills, resources and experiences. And people felt that it’s not just about arts and culture organisations helping communities recover, but also vice versa, e.g. the public helping artists.

You can explore the data and a selection of insightful quotes from participants on Visions for Culture.

The local audience is the central audience

As museums have slowly been reopening, their strategies are evolving to smaller and more local. While some institutions are going ahead with planning blockbuster shows, others are pivoting to more modular programming: smaller, nimbler shows devised to directly engage the communities in their immediate surroundings.

The local audience is really the central audience, says Max Hollein, director of the Metropolitan Museum of Art about Museums Without Tourists, it’s an audience that has grown up with the institution and comes to you again and again. They have a much closer connection, because they enjoy and notice constant changes within the institution.

Photo by Changqing Lu on Unsplash

100 years of art “as the food and meaning of life”

Despite the challenges of the coronavirus, the Salzburg Festival went ahead in August, celebrating its 100th anniversary. Shortened and with a carefully managed health and safety plan, 76,000 visitors were welcomed to 110 performances in 8 venues throughout August – an amazing achievement in current times. 

The Salzburg Festival is a leading classical music and theatre festival founded just after the First World War in a time of depression. Their founder “Max Reinhardt was convinced that only the arts could reconcile the people, even peoples, whom war had driven into battle against one another. – Art not as decoration, but as the food and meaning of life.” It looks like the current times are putting this conviction to the test. 

The Festival’s final report summarises their approach to running the festival in 2020. 

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An R factor for museums

The R factor is an often quoted measure for the way the Coronavirus is spread. Sandro Debono, a European museum thinker and culture consultant, proposes a museum R factor consisting of 3 elements: Resilience, Relevance and Revenue.

“Without the resilience to weather the storm and relevance as the reason to exist and operate within a given community, revenue streams will remain strained.”

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Covid-19 and NZ: What does it mean for us?

We know things have changed for people as a result of Covid-19. But which things? And by how much? What will it mean for the attitudes and behaviours of everyday people? Which habits have been disrupted? Which have been created? What are short-term reactions? And what may change long-term in the way we think and act? The 2020 Vision Project seeks to answer these questions by following 30 New Zealanders during and post lockdown.

The wave 2 report Finding our new sense of normal deducts 9 findings. For arts organisations, I can see an opportunity in the first three findings: “Normal but not normal”, “Focusing closer to home” and “Buying Local”. The sector talks about community a lot, now is the time to foster (or build) the connection with the local community and to help people maintain new habits that might include engaging with art in new ways. That report was before the second lockdown in Auckland. Most people I spoke to found the second one harder, here are insights in the wave 3 report Making the most of the situation.

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Design-thinking: a way forward for audience development?

In recent years, the arts have invested in audience research and in many successful projects to engage audiences. However, there is still not the consistent and long-term growth in audience breadth and diversity that is needed.

In some cases projects might have been too safe and while catering better for traditional core audiences they did not necessarily reach other groups, in other cases they might not have been maintained long-term. Or organisations got stuck between insight and action.

New approaches to audience development seem to be needed. In other industries services are increasingly designed in a user-centred way and through an approach referred to as service design, human-centred design or design thinking.

Image by UX Indonesia on Unsplash

What is design thinking? It is a human-centred approach to problem-solving and to innovation. It helps teams understand people’s needs and motivations with empathy and supports experimentation to create innovative solutions.

A design thinking process can unlock the gap from insight to action by placing people at the heart of the challenge, by working in multi-disciplinary staff teams and by imagining and testing new solutions.

Key elements of the design thinking process are:
• bringing together quantitative and qualitative data to build empathy with different audiences, seeing the experience through their eyes
• reframing the challenge to open up to a broader range of solutions
• developing ideas, and
• experimenting and prototyping to test and learn.

I believe that applying this process or elements of this approach holds a lot of potential for the cultural sector. It can help to make more of the insight generated, it is practical and cost-effective and it embeds new ways of working. I am not alone as this article from the Audience Agency in the UK shows: “Time to ditch old-school approaches to audience development“.

I have recently become a certified design thinking facilitator. Please get in touch if you are interested to explore this approach for your organisation.

Novel approach to pricing: Pay as you stay

A German Museum is experimenting with pricing.

In a blog post earlier this year I reported on a flexible pricing experiment at a German museum: Weserburg Museum für Moderne Kunst in Bremen tried a “pay-as-you-stay” model, charging 1 Euro per 10 minutes of a visit. 

Results exceeded expectations with visit numbers increasing while income remained relatively steady. Their second test round in March was interrupted by Covid-19, so to get a clearer understanding of the effects, they will implement ‘pay as you stay’ again and think it might be a good way to get visitors. “If it proves a feasible pricing model, both financially and with regard to accessibility and visitor satisfaction, we will keep it in place. If not, we’ll be comfortable with this finding, too, and try something else. But try we will.” says Tom Schloessler, managing director of the museum.

Here is a more comprehensive report of the results of the experiment.

Pricing announcement in March 2020

Visitors – what, who and how?

Zoom recording of recent Museums Aotearoa presentations

Last week I participated in Museums Aotearoa’s zui on visitors: What do today’s museum and gallery visitors expect, who are they, and how can we make their visit memorable?

We were 4 presenters, who shared different perspectives on the theme:

Angie Judge, CEO at Dexibit, discussed how and which data analytics can be particularly useful to understand the development of visitation post-lockdown. She recommended 3 metrics:
– % of normal visits on a rolling 7-day average compared to previous year,
– impact assessment of lost visitation and revenue, and
– growth week on week on a 7-day rolling average.
This recovery index could then be benchmarked locally and internationally. Interested organisations can join to get access to a free dashboard.

Gayle Beck, Head of Audiences & Insight at Te Papa shared research on how visitation has been developing at Te Papa as well as insights on audience expectations and behaviour.
Generally visitors are feeling safe and she reported that visitation is growing continuously, in particular on weekends. Te Papa benchmarks versus domestic visits in the previous year, given the borders are closed. However, Te Papa still found a sizeable amount of international visitors (on long-term travel or stranded in NZ), who are keen to see more of the country and visit its attractions.
Gayle shared research on the main reasons why people visited in recent weeks:
– it’s part of locals’ lives
– to spend time with friends & family
– to use the open spaces and cafe as safe places to relax and escape home
– it’s a must-see attraction.

Adrian Kingston, Digital Channels Manager at Te Papa shared the Audience Impact Model.
This is an impressive framework to help the organisation assess the value and impact of what it offers, going far beyond numbers through the door. It is a 5-step model (Attention – Reaction – Connection – Insight – Action) and, importantly, is based on success from a visitor rather then from an organisation point-of-view.

Sabine Doolin, Insight Unlocked. I shared my Manifesto for Audience Focus.
It is often said these days that we should not just go back to normal but to create a new normal. But what does that actually mean? I suggest that a strong audience focus across the whole organisation should be our new normal. And that this time of change is an opportunity to change some of our approaches and to implement some changes to how we work in relation to visitors. I have summarised my thoughts in the Manifesto for Audience Focus. It was great to hear that this resonated with Gayle and her colleagues at Te Papa.

Click here to access the zoom recording.

Director of Met becomes WU Manager of the Year

It’s great that a museum director has received the 2020 Manager of the Year award from my old university WU (Vienna University of Economics and Business): Max Hollein, director of The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Arts and other not-for-profit managers should be much more recognised by the business world, they are leading complex businesses. Nice to see also a fellow Austrian leading such an esteemed organisation.

The award was handed over virtually with an interesting conversation about the museum in lockdown and funding. He compared the different funding approaches in the US (private funding of the arts) and Europe (government funding of the arts) and suggested that a wide spread of funders is necessary to ensure the independence of an organisation. Here is the video (in German). 

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Case study: Developing a 5-year Visitor Experience Plan

Earlier this year I worked on a 5-year Visitor Experience Plan with a Museum in Auckland. Little did we know that its launch would be followed by a global crisis and museum closure.

It was great to hear now that it was useful for planning during Covid-19 and that it will be activated across the organisation even more over the coming months.

I have summarised our approach in a case study that you can find here.

Thank you to Steven Fox and MOTAT, and to my co-collaborator Sally Manuireva.

Steven Fox, General Manager Museum Experience, with Sally Manuireva and Sabine at the staff launch of the Visitor Experience Plan in MOTAT’s Aviation Hall

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Cultural venues open for visitors again – see how they did it in Auckland


A series of videos showing how major Auckland cultural venues are re-opening to the public with a visitor perspective as well as behind-the-scenes insights and interviews, filmed by Dexibit.

See the videos here: #ReopenRun

Image: Dexibit

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Manifesto for Audience Focus

The experience of no (physical) audience during lockdown made even more obvious how central audiences are for our cultural organisations. Now is the time to really develop our audience centricity.

I have reflected on what I learned from my different experiences as a consultant, working at Tate and, before that, working in branded consumer goods, as well as from engaging with human-centred design more recently.

The result – a Manifesto for Audience Focus. Read and/or download the Manifesto here.

Do you have any thoughts about the Manifesto? Suggestions what should be added?Any questions? I welcome your feedback, please get in touch.

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Image: Stefan Cosma on Unsplash

From audience absence to more audience focus!

What did respondents to my 2 poll questions think?

I’m happy to see that there seems to be an increased focus on audiences and an appetite for change how to understand and develop audiences after this time of absence of a (physical) audience. Not a big surprise as arts organisations have to re-build their audiences. And I should add that the sample size was fairly small. But still good to see. Thanks to those who took part in my poll.

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