Tim Wood is our second guest poster on the AMA blog, providing a few thoughts and reactions to the AMA Conference. He is Director of Communications at The Place, a board member of the AMA and has worked in arts marketing for 16 years.
The death of the arts marketer?
The first day of the AMA conference in Brighton and some themes resonated across a set of rallying keynote speeches: that organisations can and should change; that the job of developing public engagement requires much more than traditional promotion of product through publicity materials and activity; that some of that material and activity may be redundant.
This last point was to the fore in Erica Whyman’s playfully provocative challenge for us to question whether the way that we (traditionally) communicate our cultural offerings may do more harm than good. She singled out the venue brochure as something which can pander to a narrow community, who we hound in the hope that they may increase their already frequent attendance, and is inaccessible or irrelevant to everyone else.
For the day’s two speakers from North America, the path to deeper engagement with their communities has begun with reorganising their staff. Ryan French from Walker Arts Center in Minneapolis talked about how they looked for ‘open minded and broad-skilled staff’ who develop the programme, facilities and audiences of the venue as one process. Everyone who works with Andy McKim at Theatre Passe Muraillle in Toronto has the job title Associate Producer, and a producer’s responsibilities for one of their productions.
The last session of the day for me was a panel discussion with Claire Doherty from Situations, Alex Fleetwood from Hide and Seek, and Kate McGrath from Fuel – three buoyant organisations producing a range of arts projects that have succeeded in engaging all sorts of publics in profound and transformative ways. Scanning their websites, I saw no staff members listed with Marketing in their job titles. (Situations, echoing TPM’s approach, have an Assistant Curator: Engagement).
I heard from Chief Executives and Artistic Directors today claiming responsibility for audiences in ways I may not have a few years ago. The idea that public engagement cannot be silo-ed in a marketing department but needs to be spread across everyone who works in the organisation is, it seems to me, becoming more and more established.
What then, I wonder, will become of our marketing departments as organisations free themselves from the bind of producing inaccessible, irrelevant brochures? And what, in turn, will become of the Arts Marketing Association, and its conference?
(Note: the idea for this blog, like so many of my better ideas, was actually the original idea of Sam Scott Wood)