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Welcoming Visitors Who Self-Identify #ADA

Sara Devine is a Mentor on ADA 2.0.  Here she shares her thoughts on her latest agile experiment at Brooklyn Museum where she is Director of Digital Engagement.

As you might expect as part of an academy focused on diversifying audience, visitor studies arises in conversation occasionally. After all, in order to make any changes to the makeup of your audience, you need to first know something about them. This is where audience research and evaluation come into play.

It so happens that I just finished teaching a course in audience research and evaluation for Pratt Institute, and for this course the students ran the Brooklyn Museum’s triennial visitor survey. One of the things we spent a good amount of time discussing in class was the demographic data so often included in such surveys. While this information can be necessary (often required) for institutions to gather and report back to funders, it is deeply personal information with a fraught history, particularly if you think about the legacy of such population surveys such as the U.S. Census and government categories of race specifically*.

We decided to do two things a little differently when gathering demographic data for this survey. The first was to separate the demographic data questions from the rest of the survey and to offer an explanation as to why they were included:

The demographic questions below help us get a clearer picture of our visitors, so that we may better plan for the future and report to our funders as required. These questions are optional and all responses are anonymous. Thank you.

The second thing was to offer respondents complete control over how, or if, they answered certain demographic questions by providing more type-in responses options for demographic information. This allowed respondents to better self-identify or bypass the questions altogether. We did this for two reasons, the most important of which was to be inclusive, thoughtful, and make people feel comfortable. The secondary reason was to hopefully solicit more responses based on this (assumed) higher comfort level. Not all demographic data was collected this way; total household income, for example, was a check-box option. Below are three questions for which we provided a type-in response option:

  • How would you identify your ethnicity and/or cultural heritage?
  • How would you identify your race?
  • Please fill in your gender.


For each of these, we instructed survey takers to leave the question blank if they preferred not to answer, and none of these questions were required. The response by survey takers offers some interesting insight, I think, into people’s feelings about such questions.

Surprisingly (to me anyway), more people answered the race question than the ethnicity/cultural heritage question. Most (53%) of those who chose to answer the race question, answered with what could be considered a “standard” response, mostly following current U.S. Census categories such as “White/Caucasian,” “Black/African American,” or “Asian.” Some respondents chose to offer a bit of push back about the question, typing in things like: “White—race is a construct,” “Human race,” and even “Never answer that.” For the ethnicity/cultural identity question only about a third of respondents (36%) typed in a “standard” response. Many saw this an opportunity to be more specific and descriptive such as “Russian gal/NYC born,” “Macedonian/Swedish/Russian Jewish,” and “American Muslim Pakistani.” We even had one respondent share “privileged white man” while another described themself as “black as hell.”

It was important to include both questions since ethnicity and race often represent different things to different people and we didn’t want to limit people’s responses. Our hypothesis was that the ethnicity/cultural identity question might be less threatening and perhaps less loaded and therefore more people would answer it—particularly as opposed to the race question. We were wrong. Most respondents (85%) skipped the ethnicity/cultural heritage question compared to a little more than half (54%) skipping the race question. It’s possible that question order had something to do with this. The ethnicity/cultural identity question was first and perhaps people skipped it thinking it was the only such question, but one could see all of the demographic questions on the screen at once, so this may not be a factor.

Slightly more than a quarter (71%) answered the gender question, and most people typed in either “male” or “female.” We did have few people key in different responses, including “n/a,” “mixed,” “non-binary,” and “person.”** Really, it was for the comfort level of those people that opted to provide a non-binary response that we made this fill-in.

Turns out that opportunity to self-identify does not encourage responses. Compared to the 2014 survey (which has a much larger data set), far fewer people answered the ethnicity question in this recent survey. In the 2014 survey, we only asked about ethnicity/cultural identity and provided check boxes with “check all that apply” instructions and offered a “prefer not to answer” option. Only 6% preferred not to answer and only 3% skipped the question. For gender, in 2014 we only offered male/female/prefer not to answer as options. Similarly, a small percentage preferred not to answer (2%) or skipped the question (0.2%).

So if the goal of offering type-in responses was to garner more results, it did not work. However, if the goal was to offer a thoughtful approach to survey takers that reflects the way we as an institution strive to be—inclusive and welcoming—I hope we were successful.


For more on this history, see: and

** Huge shout out to my students for crunching all this data, in particular Tyler Dennis who evaluated the demographic data I share here.

Why diversity? A simple question. #ADA

CLoSer: The Devil’s Violin and Burns Night Ceilidh. Wilton’s Music Hall. Wednesday 25 January 2017.
Image courtesy of © James Berry

Amy Wilke’s first blog as an ADA 2.0 Fellow, from Wilton’s Music Hall, spells out how she sees the value of all of the arts is the answer to a very simple question about diversity.


The simple answer is that art should be for everyone. Art enriches life. Personally, I’m kept going throughout the week with gigs and films and the weekend with galleries and more gigs – my life would simply be flat without it. If art should be a reflection of life, and give us new perspectives on life, we’re failing if we aren’t including everyone’s lived experiences in this.

Countless studies have shown the benefits of engagement in the arts: children who learn a musical instrument do better academically; those who act have better confidence; sculpture can help improve dyslexia; and exploring visual art helps people with autism to communicate.

Further to this, seeing people we can identify with portrayed in positive ways is crucial to our identity, self-belief and to position ourselves within society.

As noted by a participant in the Equality, Diversity and The Creative Case report, ‘We studied Carol Ann Duffy but we were never told she was gay. And the same with Oscar Wilde. If all students knew that sort of information they might think twice about what they are saying because they would realise that gay people did some really good stuff and it would portray them in a more positive light.’

As arts programmers and marketers etc., we need to be giving platforms to these positive role models and being vocal about their identities.

Currently, it seems the arts sector is failing to reach diverse audiences, with a notable difference in engagement between white audiences and BAME, as demonstrated in this graph from the Taking Part report:

Reasons for these differences vary, with parental attitudes, schools and economic deprivation all being key factors, we also can’t deny that the lack of diversity existing in the arts – both on stage and behind the scenes – is an influence. For audiences to engage with us, we need to engage with them and invite them to feed into our programming and communications.

Wilton’s Music Hall is nestled away in Tower Hamlets, one of the most diverse boroughs in London (more than two thirds of the population belong to minority ethnic groups), and one which is unusual in having a very large Bangladeshi community. The 2011 census showed that it makes up almost one third of the borough’s population – considerably larger than the proportion across London (3 per cent), and the largest in England.

One potential obstacle to reaching this audience, which I will explore, is religious factors. As noted in the Every Child report ‘The role of music in religion can create challenges in engaging parents as it is not part of the cultural life of certain stricter Muslims.’

In the Every Child report, ‘Interviewees commonly felt that understanding the social and cultural context for different ethnic groups was key to delivering inclusive artistic activity and programming’

Tower Hamlets is also the second most deprived London Borough, and this is known to be a big hindering factor in arts engagement, starting at childhood: ‘Children and young people from lower socio-economic groups are less likely to engage in formal activities or visit historic places. They are also less likely to use words like “drama” or “concerts”, or define “arts” and “culture” without direction or suggestion (A New Direction 2014).’

One of my aims throughout this project is to explore how we can better reach the local community and see our audiences reflect the demographic more through understanding and engaging with them.



The Heart of the Matter #ADA


The Audience Diversity Academy has come at a critical time of change for Sarah Robertson, ADA 2.0 Fellow at Colston Hall, Bristol and issues around diversity and inclusion are at the heart of this shift.

I’ve come to realise that my organisation could be doing more to address the needs and wants of Bristol’s diverse communities. We’re not slacking by any means, and our education output and engagement work, especially around performers with special education needs and disabilities, is a national exemplar at our level. But at some level our response to diversity is centred around what works for us on an organisational level, rather than what the people of Bristol want us to do for them.

This thinking is encompassed by a huge issue on which the Hall and our team has taken courageous, and to some, controversial, action.

In April 2017, Bristol Music Trust announced that the venue which we run, Colston Hall, will reopen under a new name when our transformed building reopens in spring 2020 after an ambitious capital project.

Edward Colston was a renowned 17th century slave trader who is seen as a figurehead of Bristol’s merchant past. He was a huge philanthropist in the city, founding schools and alms-houses. His name appears on streets and statues.

Our concert hall opened in 1867, 146 years after Edward Colston died. None of his money was used to fund the build. Yet we were named after him and as an arts venue, with a remit to be open and welcoming to all, this is a problem.

Many in BAME communities will not attend and engage with our artistic programme because of the name Colston. This is clearly a barrier to participation and engagement – our BAME attendances are below the Bristol population and many high profile BAME artists and civic leaders refuse to be associated with us because of the name. Some of our staff members even have family members who won’t attend the venue.

So, in April, Bristol Music Trust and its Trustees acted upon its longstanding desire to make a change and announced that we will not be called Colston Hall in 2020. There has been a huge amount of comment on the issue from stakeholders and the public, not all supportive of our change. It is the implications of this move that I want to explore within the Audience Diversity Academy.

How can we address this issue with our audiences in a creative and artistic way that gives communities a sense of belonging? How can we recognise the issue of Colston in a way that isn’t erasing our past? What do audiences want from us and how can we serve them better with our music and outreach programmes?

These implications are not just felt by our audiences, it has affected the organisation internally too. How can we support our staff through what has been a destabilising time? Who are our allies? How can we use this experience to grow stronger and more resilient as an organisation?

These are huge issues that, with the help of my mentor, I will be working to break down into smaller, more manageable, less daunting chunks. I also hope this process will be able to help me reflect on what has been a challenging process!

Goals: Professional and Personal #ADA

Samara Jancovich, Creative Project Lead (Audiences) at the Sound and Music organisation, shares her thoughts on setting her priorities as she uses data to form experiments for diversifying her audiences.


“Diversity: the art of thinking independently together.”

— Malcolm Forbes

In applying for the AMA Audience Diversity Academy (ADA 2.0), I set myself a series of professional and personal goals, namely to analyse and test ways in which I can contribute to Sound and Music’s ongoing aim to address the issue and continued lack of diversification in the new music sector. A key concern is ensuring that new music, no matter what form, genre, context, is accessible and open to ALL. How, you might ask, does one go about this? This is the very question led me to the AD Academy. My aim for participating in the programme is to begin the first stage of this process, to beginning to understand the audiences who engage with new music and my organisation in particular and what the current challenges may be.

New Music as a term can be difficult to define. At Sound and Music we define new music as music which reflects society today, often boundary pushing, sometimes challenging, always eclectic, inherently innovative and at its heart experimental. New music is diverse, it is as diverse as the composers, artists and audiences experiencing and creating across the UK today.

As the Creative Project Leader for audiences in our organisation , I face a particularly unique challenge is addressing the diversification of 2 sets of audiences, the composers and artists in which we work with and support, and in turn the audiences who engage with their music.

My commitment for diversification and accessibility to new music was born out of a personal endeavour. Studying and working as an opera singer in my early career, I have first-hand experience in the exclusive and often icy world of contemporary classical music. I have personally felt the barriers and obstacles as a musician, and equally for audience attempting to enter into and find and feel belonging in this world. In order to keep this art form alive, rich, and relevant and full of new ideas and artists, I believe we need to change the way in which we think, present, talk about and work in this sector. I believe that this is essential to allow audiences to feel comfortable to openly and freely explore and experiment with new music, to discover, to listen and to challenge and to not be deterred by the barriers of class, genre, economics or location.

Driven by our data Sound and Music have already taken brave and momentous steps to address these issues, both individually and collectively, within the new music sector. We are diversifying the artists and composers we work with, moving away from the London centric, intellectual elite and broadening our scope, and offer to give the right support to artists and in turn a more relevant offer to their audiences; developing an equal and authentic opportunity to create and experience diverse and innovative new music.

My hopes are that by taking part in ADA 2.0 that I and Sound and Music may continue to grow, share and experiment with new ideas, which will further enhance our commitment and practice of diversifying our audiences for now and for the future.

Reaching and Including Audiences #ADA

ADA 2.0 Fellow Jennifer Rowland from Epping Forest District, Lowewood and Chelmsford Museums delves deep into her area to connect with the communities.

I joined the ADA to bring new ideas and perspectives to the public engagement work of the ‘No Borders’ project. This project, supported by Arts Council England Resilience Funding, brings together three local museums in Essex and Hertfordshire. We are working to develop and diversify our audiences, as well as develop our fundraising and commercial work. We are sharing resources, skills and knowledge across the three museums.

An important part of my work is engaging with currently under-represented audiences. We want those audiences to feel represented in our collections and programming. We want them to feel positive about visiting the museum and inspired to do so.

Our categorisation of these audiences comes from demographic data collected from previous current-audience surveys which we have compared to local census information. We have chosen to focus on two under-represented audience groups in the coming months – visitors with additional access requirements and BAME residents.

We are hoping to run two focus groups at each of the museums this summer, one looking at access issues and the second at how to diversify our work in relation to BAME audiences. The process of recruiting people to take part in these focus groups has highlighted some of the methods and also challenges of reaching these audience groups. It has also got us thinking about how to embed community involvement and evaluation as a regular part of our work.

It was very useful to discuss these challenges with my mentor Monica Montgomery. One of the points that came out strongly was the need to get out there in the community and really connect with people. Find out where those audiences are, where they meet, how to reach them. Research has been very helpful here, really drilling down in the local data to find where these audiences live, and where they meet. But there are also other sources of help. Finding community leaders, those people who run local groups or sit on local councils can be a key way of reaching audiences.

Monica also suggested creating a permanent Community Advisory Panel. We could ask people to apply by CV and cover letter to join this panel. This gets round one potential weakness of focus groups – that the participants may not necessarily be representing the views of a range of local residents who are part of the target audience.

There is lots more work to be done and it will be interesting to see how the project develops over the year.

Creating progression opportunities at The Fitzwilliam Museum #ADA

ADA Fellows Miranda Stearn and Kate Carreno share how they are are working towards audience diversity at the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge. 


Being selected to participate in the Arts Marketing Association’s Audience Diversity Fellowship programme has been a timely and thought-provoking opportunity for us at The Fitzwilliam Museum. The Fitzwilliam is the lead partner of the University of Cambridge Museums consortium (UCM), part of Arts Council England’s (ACE) Major Partner Museum portfolio, and we are committed to making Cambridge’s exceptional collections accessible to the widest possible range of audiences.  But we also recognise that realising this vision can be easier said than done.


We follow ACE’s definition of diversity to include both protected characteristics and lower socio-economic groups. This is particularly pertinent in Cambridge, which ranked 5th worst in the country in the 2016 Social Mobility Index. Across UCM, we also work with the Audience Agency to understand our visitor profile through segmentation. When we look at which segments are most under-represented among our current visitors, Dormitory Dependables, Trips & Treats, Home & Heritage and Facebook Families are the least represented, accounting for 62% of the East population but only 40% of UCM visits. This means two out of four key under-represented segments (Trips & Treats and Facebook Families) are family audiences.


With this in mind, our aspiration for the Audience Diversity Academy was to test approaches to supporting progression from our targeted programmes to our universal provision, with the aim of diversifying the range of families who would feel confident engaging with our free family learning offer or visiting the museum independently.


This is important to the museum for a number of reasons. We are active members of our Local Cultural Education Partnership, My Cambridge, and subscribe to its aspiration that ‘every young person is able to confidently construct their own cultural life, drawing on and connected to the whole of their environment’ as part of our response to ACE’s Cultural Education Challenge. We believe engaging with culture is a young person’s right, and can make a significant difference to their lives in many ways from raising aspirations to developing empathy. But we know that for ALL children and young people to engage with our museums in this way, we need to be proactive. We have strategic partnerships with schools in areas of relative deprivation and low participation; we also have delivery partnerships with organisations working with young people with disabilities. These programmes are successful in supporting young people to build connections with the Fitzwilliam and our UCM partners.


Our Audience Diversity Academy experiments aim to extend our engagement with these children and young people, and crucially their families and wider communities, beyond the lifespan of particular projects. We are planning a variety of experiments, including:

  • Making opportunities to celebrate young people’s creative achievements at the museum, and inviting their families to attend;
  • Making the most of these occasions to offer a proactive welcome and invite further engagement, including signing up families to be part of future focus groups;
  • Putting young people in control to plan events at the museum for their peers and families;
  • Developing targeted marketing approaches with strategic partner schools so that information about our family learning offer is embedded in school communication with parents;
  • Piloting facilitated visits for families from partner schools during holidays;
  • Displaying young people’s creative work to encourage family visits;
  • Experimenting with incentives and feedback mechanisms that would both encourage and help track independent visits from families from target schools.


Currently, across UCM, we have been revising and refining our audience development plan, and it has been great to be able to feed our ideas form the audience diversity fellowship into this work. We look forward to carrying out our experiments and sharing them with our peers across the sector, as well as learning from the to shape our own future practice.


Work, work, work, work, work, work! #ADA

Cat JohnMarketing and Communications Manager at Watershed in Bristol has been finding that in order to make a difference, you have to work!

Here at Watershed we’ve been working hard to get to know our audiences better – and taking part in the Audience Diversity Academy has shown me just how much more work there is to do. Increasing diversity in both our audiences and workforce involves consistent on-going work – and is not something that can be fixed magically overnight.

Our first ADA experiment in October centred on an opportunity we run for young people – the British Film Institute’s Film Academy, which is part of a national scheme to encourage 16-19 year olds to get a foothold in the film industry.

Our aim with this experiment was to encourage applications from two different under represented groups – young people from BAME backgrounds and young people from low income backgrounds. We recognise that these are two distinct groups with different needs.

To reach our goal we did two central things – we reviewed and updated our marketing materials and online content, and we also simplified the application process. We worked as a cross-departmental in-house team on this experiment – with input from comms, web development, content creators and engagement teams.

Firstly, our Film Academy website was refreshed to include fresh video content – which is an obvious step for a project about film and the ‘moving image’! We feel this helped to make the site much more dynamic and compelling to a younger demographic.

Another aspect of the refresh was for us to review the language used on the website – we asked some young people what they thought, and they felt the tone was a bit too ‘academic’ – so we updated it to make it feel more ‘fun’ and less like school. We changed the visuals too – we searched for more diverse images of past Film Academy participants and used these instead – both online and in the print flyer.

My mentor Sara Devine was very insightful with her advice and it was great to subsequently meet her in person at the Digital Marketing day in London in December. I talked to her about our initial ideas and she helpfully suggested undertaking longer term work in different communities which we are also doing, although there wasn’t enough time to make significant progress for this round.

We’ve just done the number crunching on the stats for our BFI Film Academy – we saw applications from non-white British applicants increase from 14.1% to 26% and applications from people who have received free school meals increase from 11.7% to 18%.

In total, we received a massive 135 applications this year, with 128 equal ops responses collected. Last year (2015) we had 47 applications, so the increase is very encouraging. Comparing this to the general Bristol population, the percentage of non-white people in Bristol is 22% and 23% of young people receive free school meals.

Looking back, we think that perhaps this time we inadvertently made the application form a bit too simple, meaning that the interview panel had a tougher task to select applicants, based on far less information. So this needs some fine-tuning – we need to keep the process accessible yet also ask for all the information we need.

Also running concurrently through the Autumn was the BFI Black Star blockbuster season with plenty of scope for attracting more diverse audiences.

I found it so helpful to be already working within an organisation that is signed up to the case for diversity – for the past two years we have hosted the ACE No Boundaries conference, which has already helped focused our minds. So I didn’t have to fight any internal battles, which was heartening – but we all know there’s more work to do.


Putting Audience First #ADA

Taking a closer look at yourself, your organisation, your audience is just the first layer explains Sara Devine from Brooklyn Museum.  

In my last post, I ended with a call to action: put your audience first. This is not a simple task, and I realize that. To be truly successful for the long term, an audience-first mentality should be embedded in the DNA of your organization. But don’t let that intimidate you. The good news is that this journey can start from anywhere in the organization, and it can (and should) unfold incrementally.
I’ve spent my career thinking about audiences, from my first job as a curatorial assistant working on special exhibitions to my current role in digital engagement. In my various capacities, I’ve used the same basic framework to help shape my thinking, which I share below with some tweaks related specifically to audience-building.
1. Who is it for? It bears repeating from my last post: be specific. Think critically and honestly. Note: “general audience” does not exist. The “general audience” for the Brooklyn Museum is not the same “general audience” for The Met. The bulk of our “general audience” are Brooklynites, where as the bulk of The Met’s are tourists. Huge difference. Get to know your specific “general audience” make-up and then for each project, be specific about which subset you hope to reach.
2. What are their unique needs? The more specific you are in answering the first question, the better you’ll be able to answer this one. If you answered “families with small children” for the first question, then unique needs would include everything from family-friendly content to easy access to bathrooms with changing tables and nursing areas. If you’re not sure of the answer, ask those folks directly.
3. Will they feel welcome? Meeting those unique needs will go a long way toward making your audience feel welcome. There is much to learn from the hospitality industry here about anticipating needs and providing for them in a seamless way. Disney, of course, is the master at this. If you’re unsure how welcome someone might feel, take a journey through your experience (if possible, invite an audience representative to join you) from beginning to end with that audience in mind with the list of needs in-hand. Are those needs met? Where and how? And how will the audience know?
4. Will they see themselves in your organization? This is a vital question and one that takes longer to execute. Really what you have to ask yourself is: does the diversity of your staff and your offerings reflect your audience? At the Brooklyn Museum, this means we have a diverse staff in all levels of employment and a collection that reflects the diversity of Brooklyn both in artists and subject matter.
5. Will they find relevance? AKA So, what? This is the most important question of all because you can do everything else right, but if no one wants what you’re offering, it’s moot. The key here is finding the overlap between who you are and what your audience wants/needs. In order to do this, you have to have a strong institutional mission and vision (i.e identity) and spend the time and effort to get to know your audience (current and aspirational). There is a school of thought that put emphasis on learning about your competitor’s offerings as well.
I encourage you to answer these questions for yourself, in your own capacity within your organization and for your own projects. Since change can come from anywhere, start where you have guaranteed impact: yourself!

‘Great Art and Culture for Everyone’ #ADA

Thanh Sinden, Strategic Audience Development Manager at Culture Coventry, explores why art is the greatest gift for all.

‘What we call civilization – the accumulation of knowledge which has come down to us from our forefathers – is the fruit of thousands of years of human thought and toil. It is not the result of the labour of the ancestors of any separate class of people who exist today, and therefore it is by right the common heritage of all.’ (The Ragged-Trousered Philanthropists, Robert Tressell). When reflecting on this point in ‘The Ragged-Trousered Philanthropists,’ in the cultural context, I thought back to my purpose in my job and in my belief in equality of opportunities and of increasing access to great arts and culture for all. The sector’s calls for activism, diversity and inclusion are clearer, louder with Arts Council’s ‘Creative Case for Diversity’ and strategic plans set out to guide organisations and to demand accountability on the purpose of democratisation of arts and heritage.

Reflecting more on the work I have been doing at Culture Coventry and through the mentoring and peer support of the AMA’s Audience Diversity Academy I know my experiments need to go a bit deeper, I need to, we need to, do more than invite people in – we need to go beyond the welcome to truly being inclusive spaces. I have been working in a strategic way focusing on audience engagement, diversification and increase access. Focusing on our audiences that we want to invite in and build relationships with is a starting point. The deeper level of work that must happen is organisational development. I am working to embed inclusive practice and ensuring equality and diversity are at our core of everything we do. We are committed to promoting the values of diversity and inclusion in our organisation workforce in doing so we enable a more authentic relationship and find relevance with our wider audience. We will create a strategic plan to progress our organisation in values that demonstrate and maximise our social impact and how we change lives for the better through creating inclusive spaces.

I believe what matters to our local networks of communities, audience, customers and to our funders is the added value we bring as a public organisation in the city. When we matter more to people we move from existing in the city to being relevant to people’s lives. I therefore, challenge myself, my organisation, the wider sector in creating processes that raises our organisational consciousness so that we contribute to an equal, diverse and inclusive society where all have the chance to thrive.


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