Image credit: Sculpting Fear By Matrin Wickenhaeuser
I would like to mention an error I made.
As part of the Audience Diversity Academy, I undertook three new ‘quick and dirty’ experiments for South East Dance: two artist development opportunities and a public project. My aim was to significantly raise the number of applications of those from a diverse background within 6-weeks. The challenge felt huge.
Unexpectedly I succeeded with them all! Not only reaching organisation targets – but exceeding them: diverse applications raised to 24%, then 32% and finally 35% respectively. What’s more it was a thoroughly enjoyable, fascinating process.
My error was this. Mindset. I imagined there being many obstacles between myself and reaching diverse communities. I thought it would be impossibly difficult, that defeat would set in before I had begun. I thought I would be hung-up on. I thought people wouldn’t be responsive and that it would be an up-hill struggle. Surely I, just me, couldn’t make any real impact?
I was wrong.
In fact, it was alarmingly easy. Not in terms of time: which there was never enough of, or rivalling workloads: which were many. But, I was amazed how much you could do with a phone, pen, paper and a dash of optimism. No large-scale strategy just simplicity. There were so many people willing to help connect me to other communities – if I only took the time to explain and ask.
The public project is one close to my heart – titled ‘Audience Ambassadors’ we offer a free dinner, show, artist meet and behind-the-scenes rehearsal to those who wouldn’t normally have the opportunity. This scheme is aimed at audiences with no previous experience of seeing dance. I rang 35 local charities of which two thirds were able to help me spread the word and suddenly I was inundated with applications. I asked everyone who responded, for recommendations of other people I could contact and gradually built up a database of interested parties. And to attract a broader range of artists applying to our development opportunities, I visited the Hip Hop conference in South Woodford, discovering gatekeepers to more diverse groups.
My brilliant mentor, Mel Larsen, taught me to get on with it, listen carefully and to re-assess all communication – was it inviting to the audiences I wanted to reach? Actually no. It was erring on academic rather than clear. 4 versions later we had an exciting, punchy public project e-flyer opened by 1327 people! Our live event attracted 33% new-to-dance audience members and the project had an overall known diversity reach of 37%. Our artist development e-flyer travelled so far that we had our first application from the Ivory coast… which has opened up further conversations about how we work with international artists/audiences! I acknowledge this is the tip of the iceberg, but I wonder if more of us realised how easy it really was to begin connecting with new audiences whether organisations/venues would be better at it.
Note to self: no more excuses.