Senior Creative Producer, Jan Ford, has been taking part in the Arts Marketing Association's (AMA) Audience Diversity Academy on a joint fellowship with Ryan West, Marketing Coordinator at Wiltshire Music Centre. In this blog they reflect on how the language we use in marketing orchestral concerts can be barrier to the audiences we are trying to reach...
So far, the Audience Diversity Academy (ADA) has been an eye-opening experience for both of us. Never have we used such a variety of video conferencing apps, and never have we had the sort of in-depth discussions about audience diversity in such an open and reflective environment. The Academy is challenging our thinking not only about audiences and diversity but programming, access, staff, governance, volunteers, creative learning and much more.
One of the main things that we have been exploring through the ADA and with our mentor Mel is the idea of barriers between us and new, more diverse audiences. Geography (literally hills and rivers in our case), rurality, price, visible diversity, socio-economics, class and age are all things that affect the attendance at Wiltshire Music Centre. You only have to look at our Centre on a map to see what we’re dealing with! From Orchestras Live’s perspective, these challenges are equally real on a national scale, useful to bear in mind when thinking about the issues we face here, we are not alone!
Being open and reflective of what we already do seems to be the way forward. We wonder if there is a tendency for arts organisations to celebrate and elevate our activity beyond what it is, searching for the easiest superlative when addressing audiences. Maybe this is a symptom of the competitive funding and increasingly impact-driven industry? Perhaps we need to be more humble…
Are we too eager to jump to superlatives to promote our work when really, we should be more reflective? Similarly, are we too fixed upon creating a perfect, flawless product, something that will preserve our image or evolve it in a controlled and planned way? Is this robbing us of creativity in programming, marketing, fundraising and, through the superlatives, the language we use, alienating new audiences?
At the AMA Diversity and Inclusion conference which we both attended, we were both challenged by the provocations and inspired by the stories we heard from speakers and other ADA Fellows, all determined to make invisible audiences visible. It was also the kick up the proverbial one of us needed and have decided that it’s time to act!
Perhaps a solution lies in the idea of barriers… or at the very least, limits. Let’s recognise what we have the power to do, to challenge, to mould within our realms. There is a clear desire to reach out to new audiences but we may be scared to have the difficult discussions internally and with those providing the creative product about how we need to change, broaching ‘taboo’ topics that yes, may indeed tarnish or at least slightly dent our shiny brands or those of others but if we don’t do it, who will?
Let’s create something real and tangible, that is expressive, that is meaningful and authentic to new audiences, and accept variation and failure as part of the learning process, that creativity is in its essence in flux, in motion and in evolution, and that to stifle that is to lose its power and importance.
We’re hoping that we can hold all this to us as we plan our first ‘experiment’, taking with us the lessons we have learnt about scrappy working and from the bold provocateurs at the AMA Diversity and Inclusion conference, being brave to take a wild leap and maybe fail. We’re creatives after all, who ever got anywhere by being scared to try?
Let’s see how it goes…