5. Which general strategies can help to build a closer relationship with your audiences?
It is important to remove barriers to attendance through popular ways of presentation and by addressing the perceived lack of knowledge. I would suggest five main general strategies to ease access to the arts for more people:
1. Service strategy
Provide pleasant general conditions for arts attendance that cater to the different needs of people, including a café, friendly and knowledgeable staff members, and easy-to-use booking systems. All these are basic requirements in order to make potential visitors feel welcome and appreciated.
2. Event strategy
The enormous popularity of special events among all segments of the population (see Zentrum für Kulturforschung 2005) reflects the need for communicative cultural experiences. Special events encompass arts programmes set at unusual times and in unusual places which consider the need for socialising and entertainment. Unlike normal arts programmes, an event setting allows people to communicate with one another, to eat and drink, and to be actively involved with all senses. Moreover, special arts events will attract much more interest from the mass media and the general public than the „business as usual“ of arts producers. Such events also ease access. Events, professionally designed and aimed specifically at creating new attention for special groups of the population, can have a lasting effect on motivating more people to participate in the arts.
3. Outreach strategy
Visitors’ surveys show that certain groups of non-attendees can only be reached if arts institutions leave their houses and perform in the everyday surroundings of those groups. Artists should go into schools and kindergartens; artistic and cultural performances could take place at school parties and community meetings, in discotheques or even in supermarkets. It can be very exciting and fruitful for both sides to bring together avant-garde arts with amateur art and with the everyday lives of people.
Another successful way of reaching certain groups involves collaborations with mediators and multipliers or the arts ambassador model, where you work with multipliers from difficult-to-reach groups and ask them to make the first contacts on your behalf.
4. Mediation strategy
As there is such a strong correlation between arts participation and interest with the level of education, less educated segments of the population need to be addressed and mobilised very specifically – if possible at an early age, through kindergartens and schools, which are the only institutions with structures enabling equal opportunity access to the arts.
Arts and culture are not self-explanatory. The lack of education is one of the largest barriers to participation in cultural activities. Here a diverse portfolio of educational activities needs to be developed, which link to the respective target group’s background, interests and perceptions. Arts mediation should start with adequate arts PR that avoids typical arts jargon and speaks the people’s language. And it should continue with lectures, seminars, and workshops specially designed for different target groups. Another important factor in getting people involved with the arts is to get them out of the passive role of spectators and let them actively take part in the arts.
5. Relationship strategy
The feeling that an arts organisation and its programmes are relevant to one’s own life, and that one „belongs“ to it, is the basis for a lasting relationship and the conversion from occasional to regular attendance. On the one hand, people are less and less willing to be „tied“ to a certain institution, as is reflected, for example, in the declining number of theatre subscriptions in Germany; on the other hand, arts institutions’ membership programmes and friends’ associations are booming. Such membership schemes can deliver not only exclusive benefits, like much-appreciated direct contact with artists, but also further the relationship with a special group and the feeling of a shared responsibility for the success of a cultural institution.
To be successful in audience development it is necessary to involve not only the marketing and education departments, but every member of the institution. Audience development means a whole new way of thinking: it means considering the (potential) audience as an integral part of the institution and thinking about their needs and interests from the very beginning when planning new programs. It means becoming people-focused and curious about the audience.
6. Program Strategy
One of the main findings of a research project on inter-cultural audience development in public arts institutions (Mandel 2013) was that institutions can only reach a new, diverse audience, different from the typical art user milieu, if the institutions change their programming. Only if the programme, the content and the aesthetic is relevant and attractive to the groups an institution wants to reach will it be possible to attract them and, moreover, keep them as audience members. The best way of producing relevant programmes without losing one’s own artistic quality and mission is to invite members of these new audience groups to actively participate in a common cultural project and thus become co-producers.
7. Institutional change management strategy
In order to set up new strategies of communicating, presenting and producing with respect to new audiences, arts institutions need to adapt their mission and organisational structures. Teamwork and a less hierarchical leadership style are important for successful audience development that involves not only the marketing and education departments, but every member of the institution. Audience development means a whole new way of thinking, one that considers the (potential) audience as an integral part of the institution, respects their needs and interests, involves their ideas in planning new programmes and makes them an active part of the institution. For publicly financed arts institutions, the process of audience development could be a chance to develop the organisation from an elite niche into a meaningful and important space for a diverse population.