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26th July 2011 Sara Lock

Fringe benefits (BNW12)

What makes a good conference? Inspiring keynotes, useful breakouts, enjoyable social events? If you are lucky enough to go to more than just one conference, it’s clear that as well as the above points they are also crucial for developing, maintaining and renewing relationships.

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It is especially important for consultants, freelancers, funders, agencies, suppliers etc that rely on meeting a number of people for their work. It is partly for this reason that the AMA has made its breaks longer than at many comparable events (which, like intervals in theatres and concert halls, are usually far too short).

This year, a number of people were encouraged to come together in the Island Bar around certain networking themes. I was only able to make the Tweet Up so can’t vouch for their success personally, but it seems like a great idea and the feedback on these has been good.

Increasingly, a few well-organised individuals and organisations have their own special occasions or fringe events taking place around the conference. which range from drinks receptions to seminars to bus trips. This seems to me to be a good idea, though I personally struggle to get to most of them due to a mixture of duties, exhaustion and catching up with other work.

One of the biggest ‘fringe events’ this year was The Ticketing Insitute’s ‘Re-inventing the Box Office’ which took place in The Arches on the Tuesday afternoon before the conference started. Chaired, of course, by Roger Tomlinson, it seemed to include most of the major ticketing suppliers, but perhaps even more significant were the presentations and case studies from the sector. Helen Dunnett (consultant), Jane Donald and Catriona MacKay (RSNO), Carol Jones (Chapter, Cardiff), Helen Black (Citizens Theatre, Glasgow) and Diane Gregg (Culture Sparks) all showed how far the Box Office has come from being the hideaway under the stairs …

The presentations and notes from Roger Tomlinson, Helen Black and Catriona MacCay are available in the resources section of The Ticketing Institute website (you have to be a member of the TI to view them, but registration is free). Helen Black (who is one of the official AMA bloggers) also presented her ideas around ‘personas’ in more depth with Alison Martin at one of the most popular breakout sessions during the conference.

Having seen some of the poor decisions arts organisations make in choosing their box office/crm systems, it seems crucial that purchases are based on sound research and keen attention to organisational needs. These sort of events are therefore crucial to the informing of these decisions, as is the opportunity to talk in depth to the exhibitors at the conference , many of whom provided the opportunity for people to try before they buy.

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Meanwhile, back on the ‘Fringe’, I heard that the Culture Sparks bus ride on Wednesday evening was fun – and there are some pictures which seem to prove it (left, courtesy of Craft Scotland).

And later on there was even more fun to be had at The Corinthian Club (AMA social event not fringe), one of the best AMA conference social venues ever and a great place for the developing, maintaining and renewing of relationships.

Fringes aren’t always welcomed by the organisers (as many Festival Directors will testify); you don’t have control over them and they can distract from your ‘official’ business, but they do seem to give the event a greater and more varied life and in this case it seems to demonstrate the organic growth of an ever maturing phenomenon.

Let’s see what happens in Brighton! (10-12 July, 2012 – Brighton Dome)

Jonathan Goodacre

Coffee break: AMA conference 2011 images: Leo Cinicolo

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