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Don’t Worry, Start Growing #ADA

Photo by Ryan Maxwell.

An interactive storytelling performance during a dog & pony dc devising weekend with hearing and Deaf artists. Photo by Ryan Maxwell.

Rachel Grossman is an ADA 2.0 mentor, artist and engagement strategist and wants us to grow comfortably outwards from our points of privilege when it comes to being inclusive in the arts.

When I started working closely with artists and audiences who were Deaf, I was confronted head-on with my identity as Hearing. I also was confronted with a world that is auditory-centered.  I then realised I carried a boat-load of prejudices, misunderstandings, or simply lies about people who audiologically speaking do not hear.

Like anyone who comes face-to-face with a privilege they have, but were previously unaware of possessing, I could:

A. Retreat back slowly into the comfort of not-knowing.

B. Stammer around awkwardly—knowing but doing nothing.

C. Move forward graciously knowing I needed to do some significant growing

I chose “C.”

Three years later, I stammer awkwardly with great frequency and on a few extreme occasions I’ve longed to retreat into my hearing privilege. And yet: choosing “C” early and often is what’s helped identify me as a hearing person who acts with good intentions and acknowledges impact.

So how does this story support the work of the ADA Fellows and anyone else interested diversifying their audiences?

What I heard from ADA 1.0 and 2.0 Fellows was worry, doubt, and outright fear that when they first interacted with members of their identified “diverse” audience group—whether youth, the elderly, a specific racial or ethnic group, or people with disabilities—they would Do Something Wrong.

Super valid. Doing Something Wrong can be a paralyzing feeling. It is the feeling of discomfort, sometimes to an extreme degree. It is a feeling that’s so powerful it prevents people from even truly attempting to diversify. Because “comfort” is the place where we know and recognize everything, and “discomfort” is the place where learning occurs. Discomfort is where we change and grow.

Anyone in a position of privilege is used to feeling comfortable. Like me, being Hearing in a world that’s auditory-centered. I am super-duper comfortable in this world because it is tailor made for people who have the sense of hearing.

Get me around a person who is Deaf, and I’m out of my element. They are not of my world. I don’t know what it’s like to be like that. What will they want? How can I possibly relate to them? And now, I’m not comfortable. And now, a host of unhelpful feelings and thoughts bubble up that compels me to choose “B” or “A” as a course of direction.

I don’t know what it’s like to live in an auditory-centered world as a person who is Deaf, but you know who does? People who are Deaf! They’re experts. And they know what I don’t know already, even before I’ve realized it myself. Which means they’re aware of the high likelihood of me Doing Something Wrong. Which means I don’t need to worry about it happening, it’s going to happen. So what can we learn from those experiences that assist us in expanding our worldview and making our audience and organization a slightly more diverse and inclusive place.

In the United States and Britain, this feeling of comfort is true for a number of social identities (for instance people who are White, Male, cisgender, non-disabled, heterosexual, to name a few). That’s why it’s important to remember we all inhabit the same world. Instead of entering diversity and inclusion work with a worry about Doing Something Wrong, let’s enter with a interest in Doing Some Growing.

Learning, adapting and growing together #ADA

ADA 2.0 Fellow, Samara Jancovich from Sound and Music is making sure that her experiments have this year’s date all over it – not just for impact!

Over the past 2 months I have begun to initiate and deploy the first set of newly developed audience data capture forms to the talented artists on Sound and Music’s Composer-Curator touring programme. This experiment aims to give these grassroots artists the tools to capture insightful audience data, including around diversity, from their own events and activity in a useful and standardised format. This has already proved extremely insightful.

Sound and Music made a proactive decision in its criteria and when shortlisting both the projects and the artists for the Composer-Curator programme, which included a commitment that they would clearly speak to and support our diversity aims and goals; 50/50 gender split across all projects, to target and present new music in areas of low engagement and low access around the UK, and to represent equality and a variety of artists from diverse ethnic and cultural backgrounds.

As such, the 6 artists that were selected as our composer-Curator’s for 2017/18 are diverse; however their initial data shows that their audiences in comparison interestingly are not. By assessing the data provided from all 6 composers and analysing what they currently capture and know, some key trends and patterns are beginning to come to the forefront. Each of the composers represents a different region in the UK, different genders and stylistic output, yet organically has an audience which is predominantly male, limited geographical and with minimal age diversification. This insight came as quiet a shock for some of the artists, as this had not been their perception of their audiences, but as they had not previously looked to analyse their current data in such a way it proved extremely valuable. Following this initial evaluation I have begun to support these artists to explore this initial insight further and advising them on how they can turn this data into meaningful and actionable change.

Through this process these artists are beginning to think more deeply about their audiences, who they are, who is not represented, and why. It is clear so far that by organisations giving support artists and by placing onus on them to take personal action to review, amends and diversify their audiences; they are gaining insight, actively beginning to increase audience numbers and initiating more meaningful audience interactions and engagement. As one artists stated, “By collecting audience data, I now have both quantitative and meaningful qualitative data which have helped me to change the way in communicate with my audience and has actually allowed me to reach more diversified people leading to an online growth of 15%’’.

One of the biggest challenges for theses artists, and in turn myself, have faced during this initial period is addressing and removing the stigma around data sharing, and what this means for organisations and artists alike. There is a real sense of fear surrounding the sharing of personal data and in particular around diversity. Also in light of the new data sharing laws coming into effect next year (GDPR) there is some increased anxiety about what these changes mean and how this will affect all those collating, using, sharing and handling data.

One way in which I have begun to address this is by supporting and encouraging the artists to develop their own creative solutions to capturing diversity data at their live events, which feels authentic to them. I have encouraged the artists to think about creative ways to make data capture fun and interactive, giving the audience a voice, developing meaningful relationships and not merely a passive exchange of information. This approach is much more engaging, exciting and effective for both artists and audiences alike. Our Composer-Curator’s have embraced this challenge and explored various ways to gather data. One artist has created a live data capture through an immersive music piece; another has run a live data visualisation in partnership with a follow visual artist, allowing real time feedback from audience members at the event. These are just some examples of ways in which these artists’ are creatively gathering diversity data and importantly opening a dialogue with their audiences. It has been brilliant to see the artists speak one to one with each of the audience members about this experiment and their motivations, making this diversity commitment a shared one. This has been positively received. Audiences are more likely to share if they understand the context in which information in being captured, and most importantly by whom. This key learning is something that I will be taking forward also.

These past few months have been a significant period of change and great growth both in my own development, but also for Sound and Music as an organisation. Building on the past 6 months, Sound and Music and its dedicated team have worked tirelessly in piloting a new programme dedicated to opening up composer and talent development to artists that define as non-white British and having a disability through its Pathways Programme.

This proactive and essential change was a direct consequence of Sound and Music undertaking an audit of current and previous equal opportunities data from applicants to its artistic programmes. The review of this data showed an alarming lack of diversification in all senses of the word. In 2015/16, over 550 people applied to a Sound and Music programme. The average applicant was a London-based 25-34 year old white male with a PhD who had already applied to Sound and Music before.

Out of the 470 applicants who filled in the equal opportunities form, only 7% considered themselves to have a disability and only 26% listed their ethnicity as anything other than White British. Applications from women comprised 32% of the total. Not a single person of Indian, Pakistani or Bangladeshi heritage submitted an application.

This is a serious issue for the future of the new music sector. New music needs a broad range of creative voices and talent to thrive, and for there to be an interesting, vibrant and relevant musical landscape.

As such, this experiment has become a part of something much bigger within Sound and Music. Susanna Eastburn, Sound and Music’s chief executive sums it up stating, “Last year, when the new Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was asked why his cabinet was 50/50 men and women, he simply answered: “Because it’s 2015”. This is how we feel about the data we see regarding the diversity of the composers we are supporting – which we believe reflects a wider problem across the music sector. Why are we doing this? Because it’s 2017.”

Audience Finder, friend or foe? #ADA

Image Credit: Anthony Delanoix

How powerful is the data that we hold in our hands, once collected directly from people who visit our arts, heritage and cultural spaces?  The potential to gather audience data in the U.S.A. does not compare to the metrics that are readily available on this side of the pond.  ADA 2.0 mentor, Sara Devine tells us more.

One of my favourite things about the academy is the opportunity to exchange insights and ideas across the pond. One difference I’ve noticed between the US and the UK when it comes to metrics is Audience Finder. In the US, it’s left completely up to each organisation if they gather audience metrics at all, let alone using the same tool across the sector.  I’m therefore quite intrigued by the possibilities of a shared tool like Audience Finder. I realise, as I write this, that it sounds like a paid advertisement, but looking in from the outside, it seems like a real opportunity.

Now, I’m aware that there are limitations to the data points collected, and even perhaps some over simplification on the part of Arts Council England in terms of what audience metrics they want in the first place (particularly the age groups: how is 16-30 an age group? Too big a gap in lifestyle and approach there, yikes) and it all might feel too prescribed, but I encourage you to find the usefulness of this shared tool.

Being able to compare metrics across similar (and even different) arts and cultural organisations is a real opportunity. In order for me to find out more about the museum-going audiences of New York, I’d have to reach out to each museum individually to see if: 1.) they gather metrics, and 2.) they are willing to share them. Some institutions are more forth-coming than others, so the idea that I could go to a (free!) dashboard and see metrics from my colleagues and competitors is pretty compelling. Think of all the questions that spill forth with access to that data! Do we share audiences? Who is going there that isn’t coming here? Who comes here that doesn’t go there? With answers to these kinds of questions, you can start to ask yourself the reasons for this behaviour and really get to know your audiences. Perhaps there is room for a mutually beneficial partnership or cross-promotion with other institutions. Perhaps you find a segment that is more dedicated to your organisation, with whom you can really focus on deepening engagement.

This shared data absolutely does not and should not preclude you from gathering your own, more specific data that will help you understand what makes your audience unique. However, it’s a great place to start and by having the opportunity to compare audiences, who knows what insights you might glean? I encourage you to think of these data sets as the beginnings of something useful. There may be more work to do to improve the tool, but from my point of view at least, Audience Finder feels like a friend (or maybe fremeny?), and not a foe.

Where music meets #DMA

Angharad Cooper from Sound and Music shares her experience on the Digital Marketing Academy

With the British Music Collection fast approaching the big 50, I think it’s fair to say that we are feeling particularly kindly towards it, proud of how far it has come over a life with as many up and downs as anybody else (including a few years ensconced in a storage facility somewhere near Southend…).

The British Music Collection consists ‘IRL’of over 60,000 scores and recordings, based in state-of-the-art archive centre Heritage Quay at the University of Huddersfield – Huddersfield having a rich history of new and experimental music, thanks in part to its annual festival. In 2014 the archive opened its doors once more to the public and for the first time in its history finds itself completely cleaned and catalogued thanks to a generous HLF grant and brilliant, dedicated archivists. No mean feat!

Online, it exists as a discovery platform for UK art-music (that is to say, music without a commercial focus – many composers will quite rightly make a living from the works within, but you probably won’t find Ed Sheeran…) with a focus on drawing out the contents of the collection to as wide a global audience of composers and curious listeners as possible. We are doing lots more work on how to better articulate, or even illustrate, the relationship between the digital and physical – something the forthcoming Digital Marketing Academy experiments have been designed to help with.

It is a fascinating time for the collection. The online content grows and grows, becoming more and more varied in subject and form, which in turn spurs us on to become more adventurous curatorially. Our focus for the future is firmly on diversity (if the collection was a person, it would no doubt be a 50 year old white male). This is an opportunity to expose the lack of diversity, to prise apart and shine a light into the cracks, using them as a space for play, provocation and experimentation. In doing so we can communicate what needs to change, at the same time as taking the first few decisive steps along that path.

For International Women’s Day 2017, we created an online campaign asking women composers to add their work to the British Music Collection, actively redressing the gender balance. A key part of the campaign was an online intervention whereby we ‘hacked’ (okay, with full permission and a professional web developer) the site so to turn the names of male composers white on a white background – rendering them temporarily invisible. This is exactly the kind of thing we can do at this point in time (in advance of a planned, large scale redevelopment). Perhaps it is in some ways akin to an online form of direct action – a slicker, more commercialised platform may be less able to pull this off.

I am incredibly lucky to have the inspiring Owen Valentine Pringle as my mentor. Our two sessions so far have really helped to further my thinking (as well as imparting heaps of knowledge!) in terms of strategic planning for the project – supporting me to think at a more zoomed out level, which feels like a perfect and timely approach in terms of suitably celebrating this big, brilliant whole.


Image courtesy of Sadler’s Wells © Hugo Glendinning Gravity Fatigue by Hussein Chalayan

Be Foolish #ADA

Livia Filotico is Arvon’s Communications Officer and ADA 2.0 Fellow.  Livia shares her wisdom gained to date on the Audience Diversity Academy.

As part of my ADA’s training, I had a plan for a quick and easy digital campaign aimed at making Arvon more receptive to and engaged with diverse online communities. The plan was to engage the Twitter writing world through a conversation on biases in the craft of writing. Now, I like a good success story much more than a long list of reasons (feel like justifications) why things have failed. Especially when the subject of the failure is me. But fail I did and it was bloody useful. So here’s what you can learn from my failure.

– Time spent researching the right platform for your experiment is never time wasted. I made a decision out of the lethal mix of assumptions and habit. And it backfired.

– When it comes to radical change, a shift in consciousness needs to happen before actions can be implemented. Don’t try to run before you can walk, a wise woman once said. Don’t focus on external experiments if your organisation isn’t exactly on the same page as you.

– A shift in consciousness inevitably involves losing control and embracing vulnerability. You cannot change and stay in control at the same time. So take your pick and don’t try to do both.

– Experimenting requires both confidence and resilience. Use confidence to take ownership of your ideas and resilience to shrug these same ideas off your back when they prove not to be useful. To some degree, both confidence and resilience depend on your willingness to take risks, but don’t underestimate the crucial role a supportive environment plays.

– An agile approach to work will make your fall less painful when that fall inevitably happens. It’s like being a child again. You’re constantly stumbling on your feet but you’re not far away from the ground so falling is never too painful.

– Bear in mind you cannot be agile if you’re carrying around with you a heavy weight and that could easily mean facing your own fears and anxieties. To be agile, you have to allow yourself the privilege to be foolish.

– Mentors are the bread and butter of life. Seriously, if you don’t have one head over here right now and get yourself one. They will give you clarity, confidence and remind you why you’re dong stuff.

– If you don’t put yourself on the line, you won’t fail but you won’t succeed either. What is likely to happen however, is you will turn into a frustrated human, which isn’t good for the soul.

A warm welcome #DMA

Freya Jewitt from South London Gallery shares her experience on the Digital Marketing Academy

We recently received this post on the South London Gallery’s (SLG) Facebook page:

‘Just home from my first ever visit to the gallery even though I live across the road from it. I went for a specific reason, to meet artist Jessie Brennan about a project she is doing. I was given a short tour as mobility is a problem for me. It made me look at art galleries differently…The welcome was so warm from everyone present. People were eager to talk to me about art and what it means to them… I will definitely return at another time…’

Reading this comment made me feel very happy to be part of the SLG. It reflects the organisations’ welcoming attitude and long term commitment to artist led programmes with our neighbours. I love arts marketing because I believe that arts and culture have something to offer everyone. When audiences have experiences like this it motivates me to reach out to more people and find ways to break down the barriers to entry.

Receiving this feedback at the start of the Digital Marketing Academy (DMA) inspired one of my project goals. I want to make the digital experience before you visit as welcoming, personal and positive as when you walk through the door. I’m planning to do this by improving the access content on our website in time for Making Routes, an inclusive youth arts festival we are hosting in October.

At the SLG we have an access and diversity staff forum where we meet every two months to discuss ideas for improvements we can make across the organisation. These can be great for identifying issues and making changes but often there isn’t time to progress ideas into projects. I’m really pleased to be taking part in the DMA as it gives me the opportunity to realise some of these ideas, but also to test and improve them in a structured way.

By the end of the Academy I hope to have created an informative and clear access page that includes a visual story and a short video on how to find us. The aim of this content is to be a helpful resource for families of disabled children and young people who are planning to visit the Making Routes festival.

So far I’ve been doing a lot of interesting research into the accessibility of website design and creating digital content and having helpful conversations with my colleagues, the action learning set and mentor. We’ve identified that the biggest challenge now is deciding how to evaluate this project. I’ll be able to look at analytics to see whether content is engaging users but I know that consulting disabled people for feedback will be the most valuable way to improve it. Now I need to work out how and when to do this and what will be our measure of success.

Planning and preparing… #DMA

Jenny Babenko from Adverse Camber shares her experience on the Digital Marketing Academy.

I work for a small scale touring company with a small staff base, located in a rural area, therefore the opportunity to take part in the 2017 Digital Marketing Academy is something quite exciting!  My opportunities to benefit from peer support and networking are limited and so the DMA seems like it can provide great opportunities to learn from experts and to be part of a conversation with colleagues who have varying levels of knowledge with whom I can share experiences and ideas with.

With the DMA I hope to learn more about and experiment with different ways of engaging with our audiences in-between our live performances in more meaningful, regular, consistent and interesting ways. We would like to develop and build customer loyalty, generating confidence in our audiences that we have something unique and interesting to say. I would like to experiment with using film to do this.

One month in, the DMA has made an impression on me, after one online seminar, one Action Learning Set and one meeting with my mentor, how amazing to be able to meet with such a variety of people from the UK, the United States and Australia all from my office!

Through the Action Learning Set we got to know the other fellows in our set and it became clear that learning from each other would be fairly easy just by listening to each other’s experiences and asking pertinent questions. So, not only will we learn from our own experiments and experiences, but from each others’ experiences, too.

My first meeting with my mentor Seb Chan was really interesting, he has so much knowledge and experience, a short conversation opened my eyes to many different ideas that I’m not sure I’ll be able to keep up! Seb has already made a couple of simple and practical suggestions, for example some easy ways of making better use of Facebook, along with sending me links to some really engaging and quirky digital content!

Next I have to make some solid plans…


Header Image courtesy of Courtyard Centre for the Arts © Russell Lewis – Theatre of Doom

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