At the APACA ‘Harvest’ Conference in Hobart in July 2014 Merryn presented a workshop on Program Planning, with Julian Louis from NORPA. “What’s My Plan?” explored the issues involved in developing a program plan for arts venues, including the artistic vision (developing one if you don’t already have one), the audience you want to engage, budgeting, programming for repeat attendance, evaluation, and putting it all together in a written plan. Julian Louis, Artistic Director of NORPA, joined Merryn in contemplating the role of the artistic vision, artistic policies and the Artistic Director, in this process.
‘Artistic excellence has been conflated with creativity in programming. Too often, excellence is used as a defensive shield to dismiss creative programming ideas, as either ‘off mission’ or ‘dumbed down’, when in fact they are neither. Attaining higher levels of creativity in programming is not about dumbing anything down, but about applying ourselves to an even higher standard than excellence. Good marketing is absolutely strategic to the arts, and we can always do a better job of marketing and communications. But audience development is not a marketing problem. Drawing new people into the arts and replenishing the constituencies for the art forms is, first and foremost, a programming challenge.’
Inspired by this quote from US arts researcher Alan Brown and other creative thinkers from around the globe, Merryn has been researching, exploring and thinking about the connection between programming and audience development. “To achieve real audience growth, it now seems clear that programmers, artistic directors and marketers need to work closely together, to program and market experiences aimed at attracting particular audiences,” Merryn notes. “The audiences for some experiences will be smaller than others: that is fine, and as long as it’s factored into strategic and financial planning, should be no barrier to organisational success. But the essential message which is developing from my explorations is that if you want to attract and grow particular audiences, you need to program work that will attract them, market it well, and do it for long enough to build loyalty.”
Branding for presenter venues who host many different touring companies each year, and for the touring companies who are only in each town a short time, can be challenging. Increasingly, touring companies are striving to establish more of their own brand on tour, asking themselves how they can strengthen their relationship with the audiences they meet on tour. How can venues establish a strong brand of their own, when what they present is actually made up of lots of other people’s brands? And how can touring companies begin to establish their brand in local markets, when they might only visit a town once every couple of years, and they’re presented within a season which is strongly branded by the venue? These are issues being discussed around Australia right now – it would be great to learn about how people are dealing with them. What’s your experience? In this article from the UK, branding-touring-companies-and-venues-jam35-jon-bradfield-2009, Jon Bradfield of touring theatre company Out of Joint contemplates their situation and describes some of the ways they’re trying to address the need to establish their brand and stronger links with touring audiences.