So the second Audience Diversity Academy (ADA) is now well underway and I am keen to see what gets created by the fellows on this programme. The programme encourages arts organisations to trial new ‘quick and dirty’ approaches to further diversify their audiences. These can then be developed into longer-term strategies. My mentees ‘experiments’ include:
• a social media campaign to start a conversation with young people about art
• creating an inter-departmental team to work on developing access for audiences with disabilities
• a film festival encouraging members to screen a diverse programme
I’ve been involved in a lot of Diversity focused conversations with the AMA lately from chairing the CultureHive Sharing Day livestreamed to 10 UK cities,which included speakers Janine Irons MBE on her experience of the last ADA and the talented Grime Poet Debris Stevenson sharing tips on ‘being a Ninja’. Plus Diversity was a key topic at the recent AMA annual conference which was fantastic, if you missed it, you SO missed out – get your Early-Bird tickets for next year now!).
One comment has really stuck in my mind lately. Paul Fordham of Way Art West who spoke at the conference, has been successful in attracting large Somali audiences and is frequently mystified as to why venues are not keen to work with this under-served market. He says that, “the trouble with a lot of diversity work is that it is approached as though it is missionary work”. I tend to agree. This is not ‘conversion’, largesse or sharing an assumed cultural superiority. For me diversifying audiences is about fully serving the cultural market.
Diversifying audiences is a great opportunity for the arts, but why are we still banging on about it after decades of research and initiatives? A common theme crops up with work on diversifying audiences: people get very worried about making mistakes and causing offence. This concern should not stop important progress: the truth is we’ve all got a lot to learn about true diversity, inclusion and equality. You only have to glance at the news and social media threads to know that.
Few people are experts in attracting and sustaining audiences from right across the 9 ‘protected characteristics’ – age, disability, gender reassignment, race, religion or belief, sex, sexual orientation, marriage and civil partnership, and pregnancy and maternity – and lets add socio-economic status to that list, I’m not suggesting that people within these audience ‘segments’ are all the same of course: deeper psychographics are far more useful in the long term but these characteristics are useful in terms of measuring the kind of diversity that can too often slip off the agenda.
What the Audience Diversity Academy demonstrates is that you don’t need to be an expert to get started, you just need to care enough to make a difference and then be willing to learn and grow as you go along (…and having a CEO that is committed to Diversity is critical for real and lasting change of course).
You may not be part of the ADA but no-one can say they can’t access any support or guidance. There is a TON of good guidance and resources available, not least from the AMA’s very own CultureHive. If you want to target BAME audiences, young people, and audiences with disability and many more, it really is a treasure trove of case studies and it’s all FREE. If you haven’t yet tried it, what are you waiting for? Get started!
Mel Larsen is a Marketing Consultant, Small Business Coach and AMA Board Member.