Arts audiences- nurturing curiosity

I’ve been writing about the Ten Days on the Island Festival in Tasmania for a commission with ArtsHub.

This weekend just gone has seen me in the North of Tasmania. I’ve seen 8 shows now, and have another 5 to go, when the festival moves to Hobart this weekend. It’s got me thinking about audience development. The ways in which I’ve approached it across my working life and the ways in which I’d like to approach it with clients moving forward.

Anyone who has worked with me will know I have a passion for access to the arts, to growing first time audiences and for breaking down stereotypes about who does and doesn’t engage with the arts. My clients know that I apply 360 holistic thinking, translational communications and end user scenarios to everything I do ( I hope in a charmingly nerdy and endearing way) and have a deep sense of satisfaction and celebration when clients nail the quinella of nurturing curiosity and new audiences for their work.

We know that engaging in the arts- whether it be reading a book, wandering through a gallery or engaging in large public interactive celebrations and events is something that is on the rise in Australia. We know about the benefits of this engagement, the brilliant and unique way in which the arts can help us understand, navigate, digest and analyse the world and people. How it can assist our growth, increase our humanity and understanding of difference and connect isolated communities. We’ve drilled down into demographic segments, we’ve worked out what our story is, we’ve set our price points and we’ve strategised our marketing campaign accordingly.

But how much do we really know about people who sit outside of the bubble we have a tendency to create in the arts? How much do we know about the their pathways to attendance, the road blocks along the way and how our decisions effect this pathway, be it successful or aborted?

I had a non arts experience this past weekend that has got me thinking.

It was a stunning weekend, they kind of weekend where Tasmanians had thrown away ‘end of Summer’ thoughts and headed to the beach, a picnic, to the pub. It was delicious in every way.

I had heard that there was a tomato and garlic festival on ‘somewhere up north”. Anyone driving along the freeway would know (signs guiding you every step of the way), or who had joined gardening groups on Facebook (posts, invites, conversations), or who had talked to anyone who loved gardening (word of mouth). You could eat, learn, bring dogs, the kids could do activities and perhaps most importantly meet Tasmanian gardening  legend Peter Cundall. They had even thought about the myriad of Winnebago drivers that hit Tasmania over the warmer months- free self contained stays overnight and a big turning space for them. Their programming, communications and marketing was solid gold, they were right on track to gain a whole bunch of new attendees.

By the time you got there, there was a spectacular line up of cars waiting to enter into the Tasmanian Tomato and Garlic Festival like it was WoodStock (well they did have Peter Cundall and he’s kinda like the Hendrix of tomatoes). The Tasmanian Tomato and Garlic Festival in Selbourne  reported its biggest ever attendance that Sunday. Unfortunately, while they had done absolutely everything right in the realm of programming and marketing and intrigued everyone by putting tomatoes and garlic together in a celebration of gardening and cooking, they hadn’t planned for such a success. Not enough shade, long lines and frustrated attendees. The long car line was the roadblock for me, I was on my way to a theatre showing and couldn’t risk it.

I think it’s important that we think of the roadblocks, both in promotion and execution and make it easier to make art a part of everyday life. If we want to attract experience seekers then let’s make sure we design experiences that make them want to attend and come back again for more.

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