AMA: Review of 2018

Arts, heritage, museums – we are a resilient sector and surviving this year with passion still in place demonstrates this.

Whilst we might be debating exactly what resilience means we are continuing to have a positive impact on the UK’s health, well-being, communities and GDP we have been celebrating success against a back drop of uncertainty. We’ve been talking about how we live in uncertain times for too long, perhaps this is the new normal. Or perhaps one day we will be talking about living in solid, sure times – I don’t think so.

To deal with uncertainty we need to be comfortable with risk and to be ready and willing to change. We need to be focusing on what matters – how we can be relevant to our audiences. We’ve been helping our 2000+ members (more than ever) build their ability to have successful relationships with their communities, visitors, audiences, supporters. We’ve had record numbers of small organisations and freelance workers join the AMA and we are working hard to have an impact for every member.

As the country was battered by the Beast from the East in the early stages of the year Creative Scotland has engaged in its own battle internally, with stakeholders and with the Scottish government. Despite a better than anticipated deal from the government Creative Scotland felt the ire of the sector with its portfolio decisions. Most keenly felt by our members has been the sad demise of Culture Republic. Creative Scotland is no longer supporting an audience-focused organisation and without this organisations’ have lost visitor insight, a place to network and share ideas and development opportunities. It’s unclear how Creative Scotland plans to address this but I hope we will be seeing some movement soon. The AMA has continued to support our growing Scottish membership throughout the year culminating in our successful first ever bi-city Digital Marketing Day.

Throughout the year we heard the metal chink as cuts cuts cuts kept coming. In Northern Ireland the Arts Council had to pass on cuts to its portfolio and in local authorities budgets were squeezed to the point of expiration. Although a small number of pioneering, possibly enlightened councils fought back recognising the benefit of placing culture at the heart of their plans. Coventry, Leeds, Renfrewshire and Dundee we salute you – and all those I’ve missed.

GDPR threatened to swallow us whole but we came out fighting and as we poured our energy into respecting others’ data, Facebook was getting away with compromising 50 million people’s personal information. Power, structures, greed, data….

The mythical barbecue summer became a reality and as the epic heatwave thawed us all we were saddened and disappointed to hear that too many of our leaders had let us down and were finally being taken to task for abusive behaviour. As we sought to ensure this never happens again (we’ve got a long way to go) we were able to have long overdue conversations about our sector’s culture.
We are nearly at the end of our first 12 months as an Arts Council England Sector Support Organisation (SSO) and we’ve impacted nearly 70,000 people via, over 50 small organisations through the Small Scale Development Programme and 40+ organisations through the Audience Diversity Academy.

I’ve nearly made it through without mentioning Brexit, but we have to mention it because it’s important. We don’t know what’s happening, we don’t know what the impact is going to be for us as individuals, organisations, a sector and a country. I’m trying to take a positive stance that our hard won resilience will see us through the next period of turbulence.

Wellness is one of this year’s buzzwords that actually matter. In a sector where we work hard for little financial reward with increasing pressure we need to take the health of our sector seriously. We’ve been helping our members with this and we will be exploring this more at 2019’s conference in NewcastleGateshead. Themed ‘Rewire: Culture, Audiences, You’, we will be giving you the personal support you need to succeed. We’ll also be giving you the power of knowledge to head back to your organisation to make the change you need to make to reach more and more diverse audiences. We are asking big questions – what are the changes we need to make as a sector to be inclusive and relevant? How can we make our organisations audience-focused to give us the best chance to reach more people? How can we change our day to day practice to be up to date and effective in our communication with our communities? How are our audiences changing and what do we need to do keep up with them?

2019 is the AMA’s 25th birthday year. We are looking forward to celebrating this a year full of challenging, essential, impactful development opportunities. And a few surprises too.

Cath Hume Headshot

Cath Hume, CEO, AMA