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12th August 2016 Verity Sanderson

Mission accomplished #AMAconf

Carl Russell Owen is Communications Officer at Frân Wen and received a bursary from Arts Council Wales to attend this year’s AMA conference – On a Mission to Matter.

Platform 1 at Bangor train station in North Wales. Me. Suitcase. Heading up north to Edinburgh to what I hoped wasn’t going to be another irrelevant, long-drawn conference (believe me I’ve been to many over the years).

As a newbie to the arts marketing game, it was Frân Wen’s Ops Manager who suggested I should attend the AMA Conference in Edinburgh and I was fortunate to receive a bursary from Arts Council Wales.

The theme of this year’s conference was On a Mission to Matter and I was determined that I would make it matter to me.

Arriving at Scotland’s glorious capital city I immediately made my way to the opening night reception at the fabulous Earth’s Core building in the shadow of Arthur’s Seat.

Being on my own, this is where I had to click into networking mode (which is difficult after a 6-hour train journey) and the event was perfectly organised and registration was slick. I spoke (and shared the odd business card) with arts production companies and venues from all over the UK.

I know there’s a lot of skepticism about networking but I’m a firm believer in it – I’ve made so many contacts over the years that have evolved into working relationships.

The first port of call was the Edinburgh Festival Theatre, the AMA Conference hub.

Image of Festival Theatre, Edinburgh

Following the introduction we were thrown straight into our first speaker of the day, Nina Simon from Santa Cruz Museum of Art & History. She discussed how making their venue a social gathering place which would help spark and ignite ideas and grow a strong and more connected community. It was a really insightful delivery and made me think hard about whether we matter.

My first break-out session was Re-imagining Fundraising from Indigo Ltd’s Sarah Gee. She talked about fundraising (the industry’s holy grail) and how we need to look at it in a different way. Her belief is that money will follow vision, not the other way around.

Next up was Bush Theatre’s Madani Younis who talked about their capital investment project to upgrade the venue. Frân Wen is currently undergoing a feasibility study into a new home so this session was really relevant to me. I had the opportunity to talk to Madani afterwards and he invited us down to the Bush Theatre in September for a tour of the venue. “New building won’t necessarily mean that people give a shit!” is one quote that’ll stick with me.

Delivery of the afternoon keynote was perfectly relevant – Meabh Quoirin from Future Foundation identified future trends in the arts marketing industry that will prove valuable. She talked about how the ego of the consumer is becoming more important and how short-form content is king. I never knew that 52% of brand followers expect brands to follow back and that Emoji is the fastest growing language!

Image of Meabh Quoirin delivering a keynote at AMA Conference 2016

It was interesting how she touched on the cult of creativity – how barriers have lowered and tools like Instagram, Tumblr, Pinterest are making creating easier.

My final session for the Wednesday was the Using Digital to Engage Younger Audiences session which again I found really relevant to my work – one thing that stood out was the need to design and create content that are more sophisticated to attract young audiences.

Wednesday evening’s social event was held at the stunning underground The Caves in the heart of the old city – again plenty of networking (and dancing).

Thursday morning kicked off with A Vision of Inclusivity presentation from Donna Walker-Kuhne from the New Jersey Performing Arts Centre.

Again, a keynote beautifully delivered and her messages really did hit home. She helped us understand how we need to embed diversity into the culture of our organisations – and the need for us to make an investment.

Next up was the #ThisGirlCan breakout session from Kate Dale. She shared the strategy behind the Sport England successful marketing campaign to encourage more women to tackle physical activity. What was refreshing about her delivery was that she was happy to share her secrets into the actual tools and mechanism of the campaign – so often I sit through presentations where the speaker goes on and on about how amazing their product was but they would never actually tell us the whys and hows.

My last seminar was the energetic Eff-Up the Pop-Up from Rachel Grossman, Ensemble Director at Washington’s dog & pony dc. As the name suggest, it involved us thinking about how we need to think outside of the box and maybe turn things on their heads every now and again.

The final conference keynote summed up the whole event and left us with this one thought – how can we make sure we are relevant going into the future?

The AMA Conference was one of the best conferences I have attended – so well organised and the quality and relevance of the speakers were second to none.

So off I went on another 6-hour train journey back south. New information absorbed. Contacts made. Mission most definitely accomplished.