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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New research: Human needs in the ‘new normal’

How do these changes impact expectations on brands?

New research shows how the pandemic impacts core human needs – and what this means for brands.

The study has been conducted by Firefish, an insight agency I know from my time at Tate in the past. The research gives some relevant and interesting insights into what people across different generations are looking for in this time and how brands can help meet some of those needs. While done in the US, I think a lot of this is relevant here and applicable to cultural organisations.

Unsurprisingly the research reflects how dramatically life has changed across most aspects and for all generations. The basic human need of safety dominates currently, followed by Wellbeing.

The re-priorisation of needs leads to expectations people have from brands and these might influence a company’s reputation in the longterm. People see through marketing and how organisations act in a crisis can reveal how much they actually live up to their values.

People have expectations of brands, the research shows that in the main, people expect brands to:

  • step up and do something – this can be either helping directly or, if that’s not possible, providing a platform for help
  • show compassion, starting with staff
  • contribute to lightening the conversation
Source: Firefish report

The report finishes with a more detailed and practical summary of ‘where brands can help to meet evolving needs’. It seems to me that most of these findings can easily be interpreted for arts organisations (and many organisations have already provided activities in some of these areas).

What do you think? Does your experience in recent weeks correspond with these findings?

Read the report here: Firefish Human Needs in the New Normal

The question to ask a first-time donor: why?

Building lasting relationships with donors through shared purpose

Many arts organisations are getting first-time donors now (for example from people who had booked for events that had to be canceled due to the virus and are not asking for their money back). With donations and philanthropy needed more than ever in the arts, how can we develop these relationships to last? 

In a highly relevant podcast with CI-to-Eye, American consultant on philanthropy James Langley emphasises the importance to understand and listen to these new donors and to carefully consider how to build a longterm relationship with them.

“The first time someone gives a gift to any organisation, the most astute thing you can do is ask that donor, ‘why?’”

James Langley

Understanding the donor’s motivation allows to discover where there is a shared purpose that can be the basis for building a longterm relationship. 
Langley emphasises the importance of human-to-human connection, generated through human stories and real conversations, to build an authentic relationship that can last.

Image by Tim Marshall on Unsplash

He sees small organisations at an advantage here and has observed that as organisations are getting bigger, they tend to move away from human connections – a trend that is counterproductive when at the same time authenticity is of increasing concern for new generations of arts attenders and donors. 

In the Covid-19 crisis we have all deleted emails from organisations we happened to interact with a long time ago and have no relationship with, or desperate messages that dramatise the situation of the organisation while ignoring what the recipients might be in a tough situation themselves. Langley calls this focus on the organisation’s needs and desperation “pleading fundraising”.

What is the alternative? He suggests “pastoral fundraising” as a more effective and authentic approach. An approach that focuses on advancing the purpose or cause and is hopeful, not desperate or demanding. It includes being open to collaborating with anyone who is also serving that cause rather than being fearful of competition.

This leads to his final piece of advice for the current time: Get back to the cause/purpose and strip away institution. I think that’s not only good advice for fundraising but for any audience development or, generally for many of the decisions we are faced with in challenging times.

There are more insights in the full podcast, which you can listen to through this link