The Jazz Papers

The Long Read

I’ve just started to develop a new project for Jazz North tentatively called northern originals Phase 3, a follow-up to the consultation and pilot project I ran from 2013 to 2015, and right now I’m trawling the Internet archives to unearth policy and research documents about strategic planning and audience development for jazz and contemporary music. As this is something that could be useful to anyone interested in the future of jazz in the UK, I’ve listed what I’ve found so far below in chronological order from older to newer, and will add more as they emerge.

 

Jazz – the Case for a Better Investment

(Jazz Services, 1993)
pdf online

A Policy for the Support of Jazz in England

(Arts Council England, 1996)
pdf online

How to Develop Audiences for Jazz

(Morris Hargreaves McIntyre, 2001)
pdf online
market research and industry conference

Contemporary Music Enthusiasts: How can we persuade people to try something different?

(Heather Maitland, Journal of Arts Marketing, 2002)
pdf online

Guide to Getting Bigger Jazz Audiences

(Heather Maitland, Jazz Services / EMJAZZ, 2011?)
pdf online

Rhythm Changes: Historical Overviews of Five Partner Countries

(Bruckner-Haring, C. & Whyton, T. (eds.), Graz, 2013)
pdf online

New Music : New Audiences final evaluation report

(New:Aud European project, 2014)
pdf online

The Art of Evaluation

Tools of the Trade

On my third day in London, I got lucky and was offered a place on a sold-out workshop hosted by the Live Art Development Agency that just sounded too intriguing to be missed. Here’s the description that caught my attention:

Fed up with the standard evaluation surveys? Situations and the University of Central Lancashire have been developing an innovative new group based evaluation method to move beyond overt measures of impact and unlock the deeper story of an artwork’s effects on the imagination.

Titled Thinking Beyond Measure, the day-long event, part of the Public Art Now national programme of events, promised a mixture of practice and theory to explore the scope of results and potential applications of what the research team calls the Visual Matrix: an interpretation process based on a series of images that act as prompts to elicit associative thinking and make it easier for people to think and talk about their experience.

The case studies we discussed were Nowhereisland, an itinerant, durational and participatory project by artist Alex Hartley produced by Situations in 2012 as part of Artists Taking the Lead, the Cultural Olympiad series of major commissions –  and Verity, the Damien Hirst’s half-sliced pregnant bronze warrior loaned for 20 years to the Devon resort of Ilfracombe, one of Nowhereisland’s port of call.

The research team, led by Professor Lynn Froggett and Dr. Ali Roy from UCLAN in association with Situations, conducted an evaluation in Ilfracombe on both works in 2013, one year on. They used the Visual Matrix alongside other forms of evaluation to explore Nowhereisland and Verity’s respective role in reflecting local engagement and citizenship, as well as their legacy in terms of change and transformation.

I’ve summarised a few key points from the day but there would be much more to say – not least about the contrasts in findings between the two selected works and between different methods.

Process

First, some disclaimers: the workshops featured two sample 20-minute Visual Matrix and participant feedback sessions, one on each work, so a short version of the 2 first steps of the full process. Besides, workshop participants had, for the vast majority, no direct experience of the artworks – this was meant to be an exercise. By contrast, the case studies that we were somehow reproducing had gathered people with a varied range of exposure to both artworks, from passer-bys to contributors, all living in Ilfracombe and therefore able to reflect on a personal and community level on the effect of these two artworks on citizenship and their legacy of change.

1. The Visual Matrix

Ideal group size should be between 6 and 20, with at least 2 facilitators.

– Chairs are arranged in a snowflake formation – concentric circles that are slightly out of alignment to avoid direct eye contact.

No introductions are made: this is to avoid the bias of expertise and authority that can sometimes be overwhelming in a traditional focus group.

– Participants are explained that they will be shown a slideshow of 20 to 30 images, each lasting for 10 seconds, about which they can then express what they feel – what it reminds them of, in which state of mind they find themselves. They are expressedly ask to suspend judgement and refrain from interpreting or analysing what they see, and instead to feel what the images do to them.

– In the ensuing 1-hour session, which can occasionally be stirred – but not chaired – by the facilitators, participants should be reaching a state of “rêverie”, gliding from one idea to the other. They are not quite holding a group conversation, but rather letting their mind go back to the images and the experience itself  and absorb the new thoughts and images produced by the group.

– A form of documentation, such as note-taking, audio and/or video recording – whichever is most practical and less intrusive – is essential to this stage of the process.

2. Feedback with participants

After a short break, the participants, guided by the facilitators, start pulling together the themes that emerge from the Visual Matrix. This was an interesting process of convergence, pulling together the threads of information produced in the first part of the session, and we worked as a group to make sense of what had been expressed. One of the facilitator organised the ideas in a visual form.

3. Feedback with research group

Reconvening after another break, the research group – now on their own – starts to analyse the participants’ responses, working on their memories and notes of the Visual Matrix session as well as the synthesis co-produced by the participants. The nature and quality of the metaphors and the vitality – or lack of – with which they were produced are equally taken into consideration.

4. Wider discussion

The last phase of the process looks once again at the Matrix results and the layers of interpretation created by the participants and the research group, and can involve external advisors if appropriate: the aim here is to expand and generalise the results, for example to the realm of policy-making.

Benefits of the Visual Matrix

The Visual Matrix is inspired by Social Dreaming and aims at unlocking the deeper effects of an artwork on the imagination. Because it is based on imagery and metaphors, and not on expertise or status, such process makes it easier for anyone to participate. All thoughts are valid and they feed into one another to express a rich and nuanced response to an artwork or situation.

It is essentially a collective, participatory process, which seems appropriate to explore the collective resonance of complex works of public art (or other situations in the public realm).

It is also an open-ended creative process, and as such closer to the artistic process itself than sliding scales of enjoyment or debates about taxpayers’ ROI.

Considerations

The workshop allowed plenty of time for a group exchange about theoretical and practical considerations, and here are the ones that stuck out for me.

A. Training

The Visual Matrix method has been used for a while in different settings, but introducing it as part of a new evaluation framework for the arts would take some dissemination and training. It would be interesting to get to practice the interpretation steps and to be guided by an experienced mentor, to be able to reap the full benefits in a set amount of time.

B. Participants

Results are highly influenced by the group composition, and the dynamics between the participants will have a bearing not just on what they produce, but also on the ‘quality’ of the matrix – whether it is solid and keeps going in a steady state of “rêverie”, or breaks down into analysis and critical judgement.

Participants for the two case studies presented mostly responded to invitations from mailing lists and in the local media; they were self-selected and not screened against specific criteria.

My concerns here are as much about outreach – to attract a varied group of participants – and effective facilitation, to create the right setting and understand barriers and biases.

C. Image selection

The matrix is supported by visual materials – although other types of sensory prompts could be used, such as sound or movement – so it seems rather important to choose them well. It is probably also worth stating to the participants that the sequence of images is not meant to form a narrative sequence.

Practical Applications

This is an interesting method not just for evaluating the effects and legacy of public art, but also any collective experience: for example, applied to a volunteer programme, this method would allow to go much deeper than focus groups to uncover the intrinsic motivations of arts volunteers and the benefits of volunteering. It enables to measure success in terms of effect, not just figures.

Just like any other evaluation method, the trick is in the interpretation of the findings – and as it’s the part of the Matrix that we didn’t get to do by ourselves, I look forward to more workshops and guided applications to learn more about the process.

 

www.situations.org.uk
www.uclan.ac.uk
www.publicartnow.com

Makes life worth living

The Long Read

Arts Council England have updated their 10-year strategic plan – along with their communication methods. The strategic framework is summarised in a 2-minute animated video (below) and a colourful infographic that describes the five goals and their relation to one another (click to enlarge).

Arts_Council_England_mission_and_goals_Infographic

Originally published in 2010, this 2013 update – coming just over a year after the Cultural Olympiad – reflects the Arts Council’s commitment to building on the 2012 legacy as well as its newly expanded remit for museums and libraries.

The full publication – which can be downloaded here – presents the work and mission of the Arts Council, takes stock of the current situation and sets objectives and measures of success. For each of the strategic goals, it paints a picture of what success will look like in 2020, details the policies and methods that are being implemented to get there, and lists the assessment tools and indicators needed to evaluate the progress of the strategic plan over the 10-year period (now 7).

It is also peppered with inspirational quotes from artists and cultural sector professionals, a few of which are copied below.

Makes life worth living
Jeremy Deller, artist

The arts have the potential to show that the everyday can be reinvented and that the ordinary is usually extraordinary and that the extraordinary can become part of or intervene and wonderfully interrupt everyday life.
Naomi Kashiwagi, artist

A really great museum is like a combination of a compass and a kaleidoscope. It gives you a sense of where you stand in the world and opens your mind to a myriad of possibilities.
Sally MacDonald, Co-founder, Heritage without Borders

Art is as complex as we are. It is hard for any one of us, artist or not, to understand who we are and what we genuinely do and art, which comes out of this creative chaos, reflects our situation and helps us recognise its variations,how we connect and disconnect with other people, places and ideas.
Siobhan Davies, artist and choreographer

The Relaxed Performance Project: theatre for all

Programming

In 2011, a “Wicked Discrimination” story was widely reported in the UK media: an autistic 12-year-old boy was accused of causing a “disturbance” during a performance of the musical Wicked at the Apollo Victoria, a West End London theatre. The family were “offered the chance to watch the show from behind a glass partition or squatting on a flight of stairs and watching through the banisters.” Complaints were not coming from other audience members; instead, staff mentioned a “precious sound engineer”. The family finally left the theatre, cutting short an experience that their son had been “hugely enjoying”.

Following this incident, the ATG theatre group – the largest in the UK – reportedly reviewed its staff training with the help of user-led arts organisation Shape. Its access policy – rather detailed but unfortunately buried deep into the website, nowhere near the homepage – states that they have a dedicated “Access Champion” in all of the group’s 39 venues, who offer orientation visits and other bespoke services, such as seat service during the interval; and one of their London theatre also took part in the recent Relaxed Performance project.

What are “Relaxed Performances”?

Relaxed Performances are creative, safe and inspiring public theatre performances for children with special needs, including Autistic Spectrum Conditions and/or learning disabilities and, crucially, their families. Performances are specially designed to give those who otherwise might feel excluded the chance to experience live theatre.

Led by a partnership between The Prince’s Foundation for Children & the Arts, the Society of London Theatre (SOLT) and Theatrical Management Association (TMA), the Relaxed Performance Project pilot scheme ran between November 2012 and June 2013 and presented 8 Relaxed Performances in theatres across the UK, with a conference held in September 2013 to share best practice with the theatre sector.

The full executive summary is available on TMA’s website; here are the key points taken from the report.

Who took part?

• The pilot project engaged just short of 5,000 audience members (adults and children), with an average audience size of 622.

• Of these, 60% reported they had never been to the theatre before as a family, 30% had never been to the theatre at all, and 90% had never been to a Relaxed Performance.

How does it work?

• A visual guide was compiled and posted to each family prior to the performance.

Autism-specific training was delivered to 300 staff of all partner venues.

• Advice was given on how to engage with potential audience members or how audiences were found.

• A press consultant worked with theatres to promote the performances in local and national press.

• Every participating theatre adjusted light and sound levels during the performance to suit the needs of the audience.

Designated ‘chill-out’ areas were prepared for audience members to use should being in the auditorium become overwhelming. These lessen stress, subsequently promoting feelings of ‘relief’ and ‘acceptance’ amongst individual family members.

Most theatres also offered a reduced ticket price for these performances.

What happens next?

One of the plays presented as a Relaxed Performance was The Curious Incident Of The Dog In The Night-Time, modified for people with autism, learning disabilities and sensory or communication needs.

Mark Haddon, who wrote the novel on which the play is based, said in the Guardian he was delighted by the special performances. “It is important to emphasise that this is about inclusivity, not targeting. These performances are for anyone who would benefit from a more relaxed performance environment, including people with an autistic spectrum condition, sensory or communication disorders, or a learning disability.”

In the same article, Jeremy Newton, chief executive of the Prince’s Foundation for Children and the Arts, said the plan was to make such performances part of the mainstream: “We’re hoping to start an attitudinal shift within theatres to a point in a year or two where the printed programme will say, ‘Tuesday night, signed performance for the hard of hearing; Wednesday night, relaxed performance for families with children on the autistic spectrum’.”

Finally, here are 10 Tips for putting on a Relaxed Performance:

1. Choice of Production:

Think about it! Is a pantomime the best choice? They can be considered to be challenging due to noise, lights and the uncertainty. Well-known shows might well sell better as they already have more profile.

2. Scheduling:

Work out with your local audience when the best time for them would be to come to a show.

3. Funding:

Can you fund the discounted tickets yourself? Will you have enough budget for marketing the show. On the day you will need extra people front of house.

4. Marketing & Press:

Building audiences for Relaxed Performances takes time. ‘Word of mouth’ and personal recommendation’ and building a personal relationship between a staff member and local groups proved a more effective means of marketing the programme than advertising. Several theatre staff reported that marketing through their ‘traditional routes’ was not effective in this instance. Press worked wonders.

5. Partnerships:

In order to build an audience for a Relaxed Performance it is imperative that you speak to community groups, schools and individuals and listen to their needs and work with them.

6. Advocacy:

Whilst this will take time, it will be worth it in the long run as it will build your community relationships and work as a good advocate for your theatre.

7. Preparation & Information:

Is absolutely key. If audiences know what to expect, there is less for them to worry about. It is difficult enough getting to the theatre so clear and comprehensive information is imperative – “The visual guide was  absolutely fantastic … the reassurance about the story line was really helpful in preparing us for the shock of it”.

8. Training & Understanding:

Take time to understand what a family might have to encounter day-to-day to understand how important this is and train your staff as it will pay dividends. “We trained the cast and front of house staff for today and with autism awareness training. They all felt incredibly honoured and really thrilled to be doing something special.”

9. Environment:

Make people feel comfortable and secure. “Having the relaxation room for the interval was really brilliant … he needed to blow out and I didn’t need to stress about him being too loud or being too fidgety in the show”.

10. Future:

“We would totally come again”. Build on your success. All theatre partners in the project have programmed a further relaxed performance.

Why Art Works

The Long Read

I’m visiting England this summer – to reunite with old friends, deliver a workshop on audience development during the Manchester Jazz Festival and undertake a research project for Jazz North – and to stay in the loop, I’ve been following as closely as it is possible from abroad the discussions around arts funding and the What Next? movement.

In a difficult economic climate and under a Conservative government, making the case for public funding of the arts is high on the agenda for artists and arts organisations, but also for audiences, as presented by this compelling video produced by Arts Council England.

In their advocacy toolkitArts Council England estimated the cost of culture at 14p per week per person – that’s CAN $0.22 or €0.16. However, there’s a place where (research has shown that) culture is even better value: north of the North West region of England, in the counties of Lancashire and Cumbria, culture costs just 3p per person per week.

Why Art Works in figures Creative Concern

This attention-grabbing infographics displays the key findings of Why Art Works, a 2011 strategic research project conducted by Manchester-based ethical communications agency Creative Concern and Cumbria-based consultancy Rebanks Consulting. This project was commissioned by North by NorthWest, “a network of (12) publicly funded visual arts organisations who have come together to support, promote and develop the contemporary visual arts in Lancashire and Cumbria”, two predominantly rural counties in the North West region of England. This network is itself part of the national Contemporary Visual Arts Network.

Here is a summary of the report taken from the Harris Museum website:

Why Art Works
Published in 2011, Why Art Works is the summary of an evaluation study commissioned by North by NorthWest, a consortium of 12 publicly funded visual arts organisations who have come together to support, promote and develop the contemporary visual arts in Lancashire and Cumbria.

The report 
The report makes a compelling case for supporting and exploiting the impact of the contemporary visual arts in Lancashire and Cumbria.

This case is illustrated by the Why Art Works benefits model, which identifies 10 key benefits categorised into three thematic areas:

Placemaking
1. Creating better communities to live in
2. Changing the way places look
3. Changing perceptions of places

Economic Value
4. Attracting and retaining talent, trade and investment
5. Attracting higher value tourists
6. Stimulating a creative economy

Engaging and connecting communities
7. Connecting communities to the world (and vice versa)
8. Engaging communities with other agendas
9. Changing the way people think, see and act
10. Creating art for its own intrinsic worth

Here is an illustration of the benefit model (click to enlarge):

Why Art Works benefit model Creative Concern

The report concludes with 10 case studies illustrating these benefits with recent projects involving member organisations. They’re all fascinating, and I have just picked a handful here, which happen to be the first three benefits, but also projects that I am familiar with.

  • Benefit #1: Creating better communities to live in

According to the Visit Cumbria website, Barrow-in-Furness is “a large industrial town which grew from a tiny 19th Century hamlet to the biggest iron and steel centre in the world, and a major ship-building force, in just 40 years”; elsewhere, it is described as “a tired and worn coastal town on the Cumbrian coastline”; elsewhere still, as “the capital of blue-collar capital Britain”.

Barrow-based collective Art Gene undertook a series of projects in 2010-2011 under the heading Barrow by Design, engaging international artists, architects and designers with local partners and residents to lead a regeneration effort from within – capturing the very essence of the place and creating a legacy for the years to come.  “Barrow by Design is a portfolio of live projects trialling new approaches through an international residency programme and project work with associate artists, and architects linked to education programmes for professionals and communities.” Amongst these projects, the Shop Front Design Scheme consisted of personalised consultations and small grants for local shopkeepers (around £2,000) to refresh their facades, a deceptively simple way to make a big impact when applied on a large scale. About 30 small business owners requested a consultation, and the results can been seen on Art Gene website.

  • Benefit #2: Changing the way places look

Panopticons by Mid Pennine Arts, a series of four “21st century landmarks” erected from 2003 to 2008: Colourfield, Singing Ringing Tree, Atom and Halo, designed to enhance natural vistas and “intended to become symbols of the renaissance of the area – stimulating pride of place; creating new tourism offers; encouraging inward investment; and positively affecting quality of life”. The wonderful-looking Panopticons, which have been photographed many, many times, have become a visual symbol for the sub-region, and the project has its own very pretty evaluation report stating that “22,700 local people, 47 schools, 366 teachers, 46 community groups and 100 volunteers have been involved in the project. Over 100 businesses have been supported, 139 artists have been employed, 208 construction jobs have been created and over 175,000 people have visited the new landmarks.”

  • Benefit #3: Changing perceptions of places

Since 1977, Grizedale Sculpture has been working with local and international artists to create “the largest collection of site-specific art in the environment in the the UK” in Grizedale forest. “The artists lived in caravans and worked for months in the woods with the foresters. (…) Today there are more than 60 sculptures in the forest spread over 2447 hectares. The programme is now being reinvigorated through a major new initiative called ‘Art Roots Grizedale, and a series of ambitious new commissions are being developed.” 250,000 people visit Grizedale each year, and a third (83,000 people) experience or participate in the art. It has also inspired many similar site-specific projects across the world, as well as, close to home, Forest Art Works, “a new partnership between Arts Council England and Forestry Commission England to support achieving great art for everyone in England’s public forests.”

 

The report conclusion is powerfully illustrative, steeping contemporary art in tradition and appealing to collective and long-term thinking:

(…) Somehow, in recent decades, ideas about the public purse and public benefit have become confused and restrictive, as if all that matters in the modern world are potholes, dustbin collection, gritting the roads and hospital cleanliness. Arts and culture were valued in the mid 19th Century, as evidenced by the  building of museums and art galleries such as the Harris Museum & Art Gallery in Preston. But it was more than constructing grand buildings in a neoclassical style. The decision makers of the time believed in the arts and put their money (or rather their community’s money) behind their idea. (…)

Communities like Preston historically saw their art galleries as an important public good, part of what made them progressive, forward looking and civilised communities. It was an enlightened, ambitious and progressive vision of the North, and one we can learn a great deal from.

Without this faith and the willingness to act, we risk being judged as the blinkered generation who simply could not see beyond narrow accountancy metrics. Much of the space in this report has been taken up in evidencing that art works, but there is a deeper point that is more important, art really matters, it makes us who we are.