Memberships under threat

Arts organisations in the UK see their memberships plummeting due to the pandemic. Transactional memberships worked as long as the offer/product (such as free access or members rooms) were available, but are under threat due to lockdowns. Why members might leave you – and what you can do about it suggests to adapt by understanding members’ needs, offering different membership types and expanding reach with digital means – good suggestions to tackle the threat in the short to medium term.

Longer term my experience is that memberships that take a relationship approach rather than a product-focused or transactional approach can be more resilient. Members have more of an understanding of and a stake in the organisation and not only want to use your offer, but support you. 

MHM offers a practical roadmap for membership renewal. One of its elements explores this transaction – relationship axis, asking “Are you speaking to members as clients or patrons?” 

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Image: Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash

The superpower of museums: sparking curiosity

One of museums’ superpower is the ability to spark curiosity. New research examines how museums can effectively employ this to cultivate more inclusive attitudes.

The American Alliance of Museums and Wilkening Consulting published Audiences and Inclusion: A Primer for Cultivating More Inclusive Attitudes Among the Public. It suggests that museums can play an essential role in creating safe and welcoming spaces for marginalised and at-risk communities, and in guiding museum visitors towards more inclusive attitudes and behaviours that benefit society as a whole. Using radical curiosity and courageous empathy, it offers 10 steps to crack open museum-goers’ worldviews and effect critical societal change while maintaining and broadening audiences. 

What stood out for me is that in a world where it seems to be getting harder to change minds with facts, it suggests instead to change the questions that are asked. How can we help people consider questions they might not otherwise think of? And spark their curiosity?

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Image: Marija Zaric on Unsplash

Beyond just your first answer: what creativity is/isn’t

It’s World Creativity and Innovation Week 15-21 April. You can still celebrate #IAmCreative joining or adding some of the final events.

Image: Jez Timms on Unsplash

Creativity is associated with and sits at the core of the arts, but it is a quality that goes far beyond the arts. Practicing and learning about the arts is not just for artists and should be an integral part of the education curriculum and our life in general.
The people from World Creativity & Innovation Week describe creativity aptly as: 

“…a mindset, a skill set, and a tool set. It’s a framework for approaching problems. It involves brainstorming a lot of ideas, seeking novelty, deferring judgment, and building off the ideas of others. When it comes down to it, creativity is about going beyond just your first right answer and discovering the second, third, or 124th.”

Curiosity fuels creativity 
Going beyond the first answers requires curiosity. Luckily, this is one of the superpowers of museums. More on this in a future post.

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Celebrating slow art

It’s Slow Art Day on 10 April.

In current times one might think of the Slow Art movement as answer to physical distancing and restricted numbers in museums and art galleries. But essentially it is about changing our way of experiencing art from a casual look as we wander through long rows of galleries to a deeper engagement with individual works. Which might in turn enhance our mental health and wellbeing.

Researchers found in 2017 that visitors to the Art Institute of Chicago spent an average 28.63 seconds looking at an artwork.

“If you just slow down and look at any kind of art, you discover that you can build a relationship with it” says Phil Terry, founder of Slow Art Day in this Washington Post article, and that this could also be a way to remove barriers that make people feel they need to know a lot about art to enjoy it.

How does slow art work? The Slow Art movement suggests to look at five works of art for 10 minutes each and then meet and talk about your experience. Jennifer Roberts, an art history professor at Harvard University and a proponent of slow art, has her students look at an individual artwork for three hours. That might be a bit challenging to start with, but definitely interesting what that experience leads to.

10 minutes or 3 hours – give it a try!

Seniors on the zipline

What a visitor attraction learned from its visitors

Sometimes new audience development opportunities can come from simply noticing who uses the spaces and how.

This Tourism New Zealand case study from Christchurch Adventure Park shows how insight into how visitors used their offer made a tourism business change their strategy and plans.

Our reservations team spoke with a potential customer asking about the age restrictions for the zipline… She was 92 and wanted to bring her children with her for her birthday. It took a few seconds to realise her children would be seniors too, but they came and had a fantastic time! For us, it really opened our eyes to a whole new world of customers we hadn’t previously engaged with”.

Christchurch Adventure Park
Image: Christchurch Adventure Park

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Stop asking your users what they want

People find it hard to express or even know

Many organisations are audience focused and want to offer what is relevant to audiences. A question I often get is how to ask audiences what they want.

Unfortunately it isn’t as simple as that. People find it really hard to express what they want or even know what they want. A popular quote is Steve Jobs (in turn quoting Henry Ford):

“Some people say give the customers what they want, but that’s not my approach. Our job is to figure out what they’re going to want before they do. I think Henry Ford once said, ‘If I’d ask customers what they wanted, they would have told me a faster horse.’ People don’t know what they want until you show it to them.“

Steve Jobs

This article (about digital design but generally applicable) highlights this with four common questions you should avoid in user research.

But what do they want?

So how do we figure out what people want? Well, we have to do the hard work of understanding them, their life, what is relevant to them and how we fit in their lives. Put the focus on “understanding what people want to accomplish, not necessarily how they want to accomplish it”. Often conversations can reveal more than just looking at data (Harvard Business Review). This sets the basis for developing ideas and offers, which can then be shown to audiences for their reaction. 

Image: Christina Wocin on Unsplash

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The ingredients of digital success

It’s not about technology or money

With the pandemic-induced step-changes in digital offer, this ArtsProfessional article looks into the ingredients of arts organisations’ success with digital. Concluding that going digital isn’t about technology or money, it suggests these key ingredients:

  • Being curious and unafraid of change
  • Having a deep understanding of the organisation’s purpose
  • Thinking about the audience experience first rather than assuming digital is the answer
  • Collaborative team efforts lead to the best digital activity
  • Acknowledging gaps in knowledge or capacity in the organisation and filling them with expert support
  • Leadership literacy
Image: Samantha Borges on Unsplash

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Did it take a crisis to make better content?

Insights from Tate and the V&A

The digital directors of Tate and the Victoria & Albert Museum discussed digital content in an excellent session of the MuseumNext Digital Summit 2021. They offered insights into how their organisations work on content and the challenges created by the pandemic.

I found the following considerations particularly interesting:

  • Think about why people are engaging.
    This has important implications for deciding whether and how digital can deliver this and the suitable formats for it. In public programmes people want a learning experience but also a social experience – for example, in physical life going to a talk with a friend is about the talk as well as spending time with the friend.

  • Digital audiences want content when it suits them, not when it suits you.
    While the strength of physical events or exhibitions (or a live streamed event) is the call-to-action they provide by being on a specific date/time, the benefit of digital is that you can have it on demand and thereby widen the audience. And while live event (real live or live streamed) offer the benefit of the additional social experience, even big live streaming events with high production values that large organisations such as Tate (with sponsor support) can deliver, had more visits on demand than live.

  • Digital media works best when you use it to do things that you can’t do in physical spaces.
    The V&A, for example, found that ASMR (Auto Sensory Meridian Response – when hearing a sound makes people feel a sensation) works well. They developed videos of conservation activities with high resolution sound recording, which would be hard to offer in a physical space.

  • Be very clear of your purpose and mission as your north star.
    Think about how digital can bring this mission to life in its own way – not replicating the gallery experience or competing with it, but as a different encounter or layer.

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Tāmaki Herenga Waka – Stories of Auckland

New galleries at the Auckland Museum

Tāmaki Herenga Waka – a new suite of galleries about Tāmaki Makaurau Auckland has opened at Auckland Museum. Having played a (minor) part in user testing some of the digital interactives I enjoyed experiencing the final versions.

The galleries tell stories of Auckland from early volcanic eruptions to waka arrivals, from early settlers to different cultures making Auckland their home, showing changes to nature and culture as well as highlighting key political moments. The stories are going back in history and forward with data visualisations about Auckland’s future. Objects and display cases are mixed with interactive elements, digital or physical, that interject some variety and playfulness.

The city and its people are still grappling with many of the issues and the stories will hopefully trigger some new thought and discussion among visitors.

Is digital replacing the physical?

Cinemas show that it is not a zero sum game

Is digital replacing the physical – that’s the hotly debated question. In some instances it might make sense, but the digital and physical still co-exist. Encouragingly a look at cinemas shows that it is not a zero sum game (Harvard Business Review). Digital appears to attract new audiences and, provided the physical experience is distinctive, audiences for the live experience remain. For me, this underlines how important it remains to purposefully look after and invest in the physical visitor experience (post-lockdowns). 

Image: Krists Luhaers on Unsplash

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A bold strategic move

Ben Uri Gallery and Museum transforms to “a fully virtual museum with a physical presence”

The Ben Uri Gallery and Museum is a small museum in London that “celebrates, researches and records the rich Jewish and immigrant experience in the visual arts since 1900”. It made a bold strategic move and amid financial pressures decided that transforming its operational model to a fully virtual museum with a physical presence is the way forward to being a sustainable organisation and delivering its mission. And adding another bold move, it funds the transformation by deaccessioning some of its collection. In the first 3 months after the soft-launch of engagement numbers have exceeded budgets and expectations, so they seem to be well on track despite (because of?) the difficult pandemic times in the UK. Chair David Glasser explains the move in a video and in an ArtsProfessional article

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Artists – or people who want to make art

Where Grayson Perry’s creative interest came from

Reading an interview with the artist Grayson Perry, I enjoyed his response to the question where his creative interest came from.

“It came from that old-fashioned idea of liking making things. I used to say to students. I’m not interested in people who want to be artists, I’m interested in people who want to make art. I don’t like the idea that there’s a role out there already made for you. No, the role you end up with comes from the things you want to make; that’s how you find your place in the world. There isn’t a predetermined hole in the world out there for you as ‘an artist’, you have to make the world fit around you.”

Grayson Perry

The approach resonated with me – not just in relation to art and artists, but to whatever we do in life.

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Available insight into cultural audiences and Covid-19

With lockdowns part of our life now, I thought it might be helpful to list the research that’s available about audiences and Covid. Thank you to all the organisations that are so generously making their data available for free. 

Most relevant (not just in a New Zealand context) I find: 
  • Culture Segments and Covid Audience Mindsets: Useful for organisations that are working with Culture Segments and Audience Atlas, MHM have looked into how the segments engaged during lockdowns and their attitudes to re-engaging after openings. Attitudes to re-engaging seem to be roughly in line with the segments’ general attitude to taking risk with culture.
    If you are new to Culture Segments, there is a lot of information freely available online that you can use, see more here
  • Dexibit offers Recovery Index, a free dashboard that allows you to compare your visitation to the equivalent time in previous years and rate of recovery, and to put it into context globally and locally. 
    In a live video in February 2021 Dexibit shared Secondary reopening trends for visitor attractions who are reopening after lockdown including visitation recovery, visitor behaviour like attrition and spend.
  • COVID-19 Audience Outlook Monitor Australia: This is a study by Patternmakers in partnership with international research partner WolfBrown. It tracks how audiences feel about returning to events in the context of the pandemic and was conducted several times with the latest findings from July 2021, with three more phases planned for 2021. It includes data about audience attitudes and behaviours, and how they are changing over time with indicators like attendance, ticket buying and spending, and measures things like comfort at different types of venues and confidence in different safety measures. It includes an interesting fact sheet on disability and factsheet on digital engagement.
  • New Zealanders and the Arts is the latest longitudinal study about New Zealanders’ attitudes to, attendance at and participation in the arts and, given it was conducted in 2020, touches on the impact of Covid-19.
Interesting data from other parts of the world – UK: 
  • Culture Restart is a tracker of cultural audiences and visitors during Covid-19 by the Insights Alliance (a collaboration by Indigo Ltd, Baker Richards and One Further). In their Culture Restart webinar (September 2021), they look back on 18 months of data gathered from cultural audiences, lessons learnt and how to use this insight to build resilience and innovative ways to engage with audiences.
  • The Family Arts Campaign and Indigo have worked together to look specifically at family audiences. There are a few key areas in which families differ significantly, these are price sensitivity, social distancing, digital content, outdoors and Christmas.
  • Indigo also released a special report on disabled audiences. The headline finding is that “77% of disabled audiences consider themselves to be ‘vulnerable to Coronavirus’ whilst only 28% of non-disabled audiences do”. 
  • Cultural Participation Monitor is the Audience Agency’s nationwide longitudinal and ongoing panel survey of changing views about participating in creative and cultural activities through the pandemic and beyond.
  • The Patrons’ perspective is research undertaken with 3,000 members of the TheaterMania community in the UK and US to better understand the impact of the pandemic on the performing arts industry.
Data from the US:
  • LaPlaca Cohen shares  Culture + Community in a Time of Crisis: A Special Edition of Culture Track, a national research and strategy initiative for US cultural organisations with Key Findings documents, raw data tables and an interactive tool.
  • And Colleen Dilenschneider shares data from Impact’s research with US visitor attractions in a Covid-19 section on her Know Your Own Bone blog
  • Lastly, you might want to conduct your own research. But what if there is no budget to outsource research? Well, with some careful planning it can also be done in-house. MHM helpfully shared their 5 tips to get the most from in-house evaluation
  1. Starting thinking about evaluation early
  2. Start by asking — what are you trying to achieve?
  3. Take an audience-focused approach
  4. Mix your methods to cover a range of outcomes
  5. Push for objectivity – challenge your assumptions

Have you come across other useful data? I’d love to expand the list and share what you found useful. Please get in touch.

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Entertainer, interpreter or activist – what role for arts in the pandemic?

Art is distracting us and keeping us entertained during the pandemic. This effect is much discussed and so is the increased digital offer of arts organisations to enable it. But is there a role beyond that for the arts? “Perhaps the most interesting feature of this digital transformation”, suggests this article, “is the growing role of institutions as documenters, commentators and interpreters of current events.”

Or should the role of arts organisations go further than that – should they be more activist in supporting the community? Alan Brown challenges organisations in the US not to be bystanders in the public health challenge with a passionate call to action for arts in the Covid-19 crisis.

Some organisations are already offering very practical support like English National Opera with its Breathe programme for people recovering from Covid-19.

Image by Sumanley xulx on Pixabay

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Two sides of the same coin

Talking with a client recently about how audience insight is discussed, we spoke about how to create a safe space where it is okay to talk not just about successes, but also share failures and learn from them.

I came across this interesting initiative in the UK, by the authors of the article above, who want to “instigate more honest and open conversations about failure.” The FailSpace Project wants to “encourage those working in the cultural sector to consider success and failure as two sides of the same coin”.

And as to failure – beyond just talking about it, this author shows that you can even make a book out of failure: Tinderbox.

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