• Sally Manuireva

#TearUp4Audiences: The cultural sector says “yes” to relevance, equity, partnerships and change

There was a sense of urgency in the big conversation last week at Nui Te Kōrero, Creative New Zealand’s annual capability building event. The call to action was strong; respond to the challenges of these complex times, especially around access and representation, in order to thrive as organisations and to contribute to the well-being of New Zealanders.

We heard that transformational approaches that “change our default settings” are required more than ever. It was a resounding “yes” from those present to relevance, equity, partnerships and change in the cultural sector.

These themes were echoed in our session on “Tear up the audience rule book”, which started with the burning platform of change. In this VUCA world (volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous), our proposition is that the tried and tested methods aren’t enough when it comes to audiences (in the widest sense) in the cultural sector.

With their ‘future goggles’ on, the participants uncovered their challenges to placing audiences at the centre by discussing statements offered through our Challenges Card deck. They also considered the mindset required to get ahead of the audience curve. The invitation to call out the default settings that need change was embraced. In the spirit of #TearUp4Audiences, we gamely ripped up “dress codes”, “red carpets only for patrons”, “our audience is everyone” and “departmental silo working”.

Across other conference sessions, rules were ripped apart also. Our favourites were “involve young people as advisors“, replacing it with “young people as partners”, and “older people deciding what young people want” resoundingly replaced with “allow young people to decide”.

Our workshop participants identified challenges across all dimensions of our proposed framework but especially around resources and priorities. We were asked, how do we address the conundrum of insufficient resource and too many commitments that detract from audience focus? Our response was two-fold:

· Be clear on intention (a dimension of the framework) and make strategic choices about what you do and don’t do. Saying ‘no’ is often the hardest aspect and yet it is such an essential capability for an organisation.

· Work with organisations in and beyond the cultural sector who share your vision and who seek similar outcomes. Through innovative, collaborative approaches, we can access and share resources for greater impact.

We’d like to thank Johnny Hui, Public Programme Manager from Auckland Art Gallery, who spoke as our guest on the topic of collaboration. Johnny shared examples from his own practice of relationship building with audiences over the long term. He brought ‘collaboration’ alive, one of the seven dimensions of the transformative audience framework that we presented in the session. It is a powerful driver of new ways of engaging audiences.

By adopting a holistic, transformative approach to audiences, the cultural sector can embrace the opportunities of these rapidly changing times to get (and stay) ahead of the audience curve. We are looking forward to more conversations about Tearing Up the Audience Rule Book. In the meantime, here is the framework and we’d love to hear from you if this triggers ideas or suggestions of rules to rip up!

An information leaflet is available here to download.

Designed and delivered as partnership between Sabine Doolin and Sally Manuireva, drawing on our experience of working with museums, galleries and performing arts organisations in New Zealand and internationally.



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