During her session on financial sustainability at the conference [AMA members can read the conference report here], Clare Cooper from Mission Models Money talked about their research on new revenue streams for arts organisations. She argued that organisations could do this while staying consistent with their missions, using Live Theatre’s online script writing course as an example.
Similarly, Jonathan Harper spoke of his experiences at the Wales Millennium Centre and The Lowry. At The Lowry, for example, a box office staff member’s initiative to raise money as a ticket agency for other arts organisations in town had reaped dividends.
It reminded me of the early 1990s, during another recession and time of low public sector support for the arts when I was working at a venue in Cambridge called The Junction – a place that aimed to combine ‘high’ and ‘low’ art.
They were hard times. We needed cash, and we had to earn it.
A few brainstorming sessions and failures later and we had a club night that kept us going for several years. It was simple; a 1970s disco named Boogie Wonderland*. The jackpot was hit and our jobs were saved by a low cost, party heaving, heavy drinking, Friday night disco that sold 900 tickets every week for eight years.
We saw its value but felt its artistic merit was not high. This wasn’t helped by its contribution to the Monday morning smell of beer, sick and bleach.
At that time though, our most important piece of new technology, the computerised box office system, brought us many interesting surprises. Not least was our ‘discovery’ that 20% of our theatre/dance audience had been to Boogie Wonderland. It shouldn’t have been a shock, as half the population of mid-Anglia had been to the club. It’s just that we hadn’t seen our theatre / dance attenders as being the jive-dancing lager-guzzling types.
Not long afterwards, a collaboration of Cambridge venues put together an initiative called Fast Forward. As part of this programme, Margaret Levin at the Cambridge Corn Exchange with Heather Maitland (then at Eastern Touring Agency) found a higher crossover between their contemporary classical music attenders and contemporary rock and jazz attenders than they had with traditional classical music attenders. It had important consequences, not just for their marketing but also their programming (including such delicacies as Britten Sinfonia’s concert of Frank Zappa music).
In some ways we’ve come a long way since then. Andrew McIntyre’s Audience Builder categorised audiences around attitude to risk and most of us are now familiar with attitudinal aspects being part of segmentation systems. Yet, even at the AMA conference this year, I heard someone referring to a ‘dance audience’ as if they were an alien body separated from the rest of humanity. Many of them can drink beer and listen to pop music too – it’s a fact – and facts are what we deal with in marketing.
The evidence can force us to think beyond our presumptions. While we're at it, it's worth pointing out the value of being able to work across artforms. Are we still overly obsessed with dividing things into artform categories in the UK? Is this not something which is built on the interests of the producers of culture rather than the needs of the audience?
We will be addressing some of these themes in the next few months on the AMA blog; AMA COMMONS. In the lead up to the AMA Digital Marketing Day on 10 November we’ll be tackling what many of us still love to call ‘new technology’, which includes of course, the issue of audience data. One of these posts will be from The Lowry about how they have developed their Facebook online ticketing.
Then in the new year we will be looking at some arts marketing ideas we thought we knew and had incorporated into our work and maybe have forgotten.
… meanwhile I’m off to take some risks on the dance floor.
*Original Boogie Wonderland flyer designed by Linda Hadaway
Jonathan Goodacre / Editor