Every year I go through a range of feelings and emotions at the conference including excitement, inspiration, fear and exhaustion. Then I feel overwhelmed and then follows more excitement and inspiration.
First stop is the Citizen M hotel. I wouldn’t usually mention the sleeping establishments in a blog about a conference, but wow-wee. This place needs a mention because it was so super duper it became a hot topic of conversation. Those who were staying there spoke of the now mythical giant square beds that filled half of the room and gave you a giant cwtch [Welsh word for an ‘affectionate hug’, Ed] all night long until the mood lighting woke you gently in the morning.Those who didn’t stay there looked on in envy and listened to the joyous tales of four types of croissant for breakfast and the like.
The main reason I felt the hotel deserved a mention though, is the quirkiness and the way they engaged their audience. The marketing and customer service was pretty ace and there was an incredible attention to detail that I’ve not experienced in these sorts of commuter hotels before. In the context of the conference, it was a lovely reminder of the importance of attention to detail and customer service.
Glasgow Royal Concert Hall was next on the list for my member rep meeting which was extra positive this year. We all shared good news stories and ‘fails forward’ from our networking events and threw some ideas around about a UK-wide Tweet Meet in cyberspace, hosted by all 17 member reps. This is planned for November, so watch this space. It sounds almost impossible, but incredible, so already I’m excited.
Reps have been facilitating everything from speed-networking sessions through to industry-led networking and guest speakers and talk-time over cake and wine.
Fair play, the AMA find the most exquisite venues for the evening socials and this year’s venue was the nuts. The Old Fruitmarket was a gorgeous, retro venue reminiscent of a Hollywood film set and wouldn’t have looked out of place in the film, Gangs of New York. Plenty of opportunity abounded for networking and chatting to folk and as always, I met some lovely, interesting people from many different kinds of arts organisations. I’m a very visual person, so I often find places like this inspiring – nuff respect to the AMA for finding inspiring venues to house us.
On with the show – after waking up feeling refreshed in the comfiest, biggest, squarest bed ever known, I felt ready to be inspired by all that the conference has to offer.
Rather than talk through the entire conference, I’m going to share my highlights – for me and my organisation. I’d say as a general observation this year that I enjoyed the seminars more than usual and the keynote speakers less, purely out of what I got out of them.
‘People should come back to a concert hall even when there is no music’ is something that Matthew Cain from Channel 4 mentioned and I think this statement resonates with my venue at the moment as we’ve just taken over the cafe and bar in-house which is a huge learning curve and a very exciting time. I know many venues struggle with the relationship between the art and the heart of the venue, which I think should be the cafe and bar and the social space we create if we’re trying to engage with people and become somewhere they want to hang out.
I suppose it depends on what Culture Segment you fall into, which is where I move on to my first wonderful session, which was Introduction to Culture Segments by Andrew McIntyre. I’m definitely someone who likes to enjoy the arts, food and socialising together. I know I’m a risk-taker and I like things that sound a bit bonkers. I like unusual venues. If it’s most people’s worst nightmare, I’m usually at the front of the queue!
Culture Segments is a wondrous reminder about how important it is to understand your audiences. As a mid-scale venue, with a pretty small team, on limited budgets (sound familiar?), I am still trying to get my head around how we could make this work for us, but I’ll get there. I think we do pretty well with our audiences, but I’d like to do better.
Next up is Mark Wright’s seminar on Developing a culture of creativity and innovation which was pretty darn ace and definitely made me feel creative and innovative. I’ve been learning a lot recently about the science of optimism and blue sky thinking and all that jazz and I am an advocate of people following behaviour rather than just strategies. I think the strategies need to be there to guide us and keep our focus, but nothing inspires me more than someone who is passionate about what they’re talking about, and my experience of managing people, and being managed, has also reflected this.
Conference favourite, Shelley Bernstein shared, Learning from mistakes as part of being an early adopter and shared the failing forward philosophy at Brooklyn Museum. The ethos is that failing isn’t failing as long we, as organisations, learn from it. A friend on the conference told me that he likes to fail sometimes due to the element of risk. Taking risks usually mean that you’re doing something mega exciting, rather than playing it safe, which is very appealing and often necessary if you want to evolve as an organisation and as a human being; sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t.
The conference ended on a complete high for me with Russell Willis Taylor, who was a joy to listen to in the sometimes awful final slot of the conference, when people are whacked. I can’t put my finger on any palpable tips I got from this keynote speech, I just found her a very inspirational speaker and the whole thing was very positive and encouraging. It was also a great reminder that just because we believe in the arts and culture, it doesn’t mean to say that everyone does and we don’t need to beat ourselves up when everyone doesn’t come to everything.
The highlight of every conference for me is to get out of the office to think about work and get new and re-ignite old inspiration. I also thrive on chatting to other people in the arts, in the flesh. In a regional venue, you can sometimes feel you are out there, swimming against the tide, all by yourself, which of course is highly dramatic and not at all the case.
I’ve got some great ideas of areas that we need to focus on for the future and I plan to get other peoples’ opinions. I am definitely an ideas person, but it would be impossible and futile to implement all of my ideas. Through having a brainstorming sesh with my colleagues, I plan to get feedback and highlight a few of the things we can tighten up on as well as cherry-picking some areas of improvement, as well as one or two big projects for the coming year. I think the important thing about the conference is giving yourself time and space to think when you get back to the office, and sharing this with your team to come up with realistic action plans for the future, as well as keeping that inspiration alive.
So, as I sit at my desk signing off this blog, I’ve just had an email from Citizen M asking me to fill in a quick questionnaire about my stay. What a great idea eh?! Anything described as ‘trendy’ by Late Rooms will now get my booking in the future.
Roll on Brighton. (10 – 12 July 2012, Brighton Dome)