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29th July 2016 Verity Sanderson

Keys, doors, questions #AMAconf

Ailie Crerar, from the Centre for Contemporary Arts, writes about her experience at this year’s AMA conference. She was able to attend thanks to a bursary from Creative Scotland.

I had not long started at Glasgow’s Centre for Contemporary Arts when I applied for one of Creative Scotland’s bursaries to attend the 2016 AMA conference – and it was an absolute delight to be successful, and my sincerest thanks go to Creative Scotland for their support. I had missed out on the conference the previous year, so this year I was absolutely raring to go and bring back what I’d learnt to my new position.

Taking place over two and a half days, the conference was absolutely jam-packed with thought-provoking speakers, invigorating workshops, and networking opportunities – here are just a few of my highlights:

When was the last time someone told you that you don’t matter?

Absolute top was Nina Simon’s keynote, during which she asked the delegation the question above, which stuck with me throughout the rest of the conference and all the way back to Glasgow. How can we demonstrate to audiences that they matter to us, through making our activities more accessible? If we’re truly on a mission to matter, this attitude should be central to our thinking, an idea that was repeated in a later keynote by Donna Walker-Kuhne. Nina used ideas of doors and keys to illustrate her point: as arts organisations, we need to be creating doors into our organisations, and we need to be giving audiences the keys to open them. Relevance is that key. And when we market our activities, we must make sure that we’re not simply “painting a door on what is, in fact, a hard solid wall” but that the activities we’re marketing are truly relevant to the people we’re trying to reach.

I Hear You

One of my other highlights was Cara Sutherland’s session on her work at the Mental Health Museum. The museum is based on the site of a large mental health hospital in Yorkshire. As a result, a lot of the visitors are service users and health care professionals. When Cara started, the future of the museum was not clear but under her leadership, in actively engaging people in building the museum’s exhibitions, encouraging them to tell their stories, and listening at all times, the museum has become an integral part of the care offered at the site. It was an incredibly eye-opening session.

Accessibility – Making Your Communications Matter

This session with Jo Verrent from Unlimited and Jen Tomkins from Artsadmin was fantastic for the practical tips it gave, starting with – we all know what really inaccessible marketing looks like, so don’t do that! The session took as its overall message the idea of making the majority of your marketing as accessible as possible, and work from there. Budgets and time constraints often mean we won’t be able to do everything; but there are a few small practical things to do on top of what you might be doing already to make your services even better – for me, this was things like alt-tagging images (so they’re described by screen readers), and looking into video captioning. You can download the Guide to Accessible Marketing on CultureHive.

A Vision of Inclusivity

Donna Walker-Kuhne’s keynote was another inspiring session about the importance of your entire organisation engaging with diversity, and making sure commitment to diversity is integrated into our everyday working lives. She challenged us to think about questions such as, ‘Who are we leaving out?’, not just in our marketing activities but across our organisations, and to be open in our discussions about cultural diversity.

It was with all these questions, provocations, and ideas that I came buzzing back to Glasgow. And the experience of the conference didn’t just end on Thursday 14 July; I met many other arts marketers in Edinburgh who are working across the UK – with some even based in the Centre for Contemporary Arts – and I’m looking forward to continuing to share ideas and knowledge as we all go on in our careers.

Image: Ailie Crerar, photo credit: Andy Catlin