Summer Summary 2: Audience Experiences

Tools of the Trade

I’ve only managed to cover a few of my recent wonderful (and free!) aesthetic experiences in the first part of my Summer Summary, so I’ll just mention here quickly my visits to the Walker Art Gallery (Liverpool), the Tate Modern & Britain and the Whitechapel Gallery (London) – although I do intend to come back to my wonderful time at the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao with the full-fledged post it deserves.

The second part is going to be all about the “working” side of my working holiday, but it’s not so much of a leap, because much of my work is actually concerned with the audience experience.

Part 2: The Audience Experience

The workshop: Growing Audiences for Jazz

One of the reasons for my summer(ish) European escapade was to deliver a workshop on audience development for NorVolJazz, a network of not-for-profit jazz promoters based in the north of England. My presentation is available online, and preparing it was a great way to reflect on what audience development means to me.

I started with a broad definition by Arts Council England, of which I like not only the multi-function approach (which suits my generalist nature), but also the distinction between audience development as a process (which is where most organisations stop) and ethos:

The term Audience Development describes activity which is undertaken specifically to meet the needs of existing and potential audiences and to help arts [and cultural] organisations to develop ongoing relationships with audiences. It can include aspects of marketing, commissioning, programming, education, customer care and distribution.

Audience development can focus on finding audiences outside the mainstream –i.e. “new audiences” or “audiences from socially excluded groups”. Audience development also reflects the relationship with audiences that develops over time with a focus on the long term.

As a process, audience development employs a range of marketing tools such as research, publicity, communication and customer relationship management.

As an ethos, audience development places the audience at the heart of everything the organisation does.

(source: Wikipedia / Arts Council England)

The last sentence is particularly relevant to the small organisations and independent promoters I was talking to: it’s about a reversal of perspective, from perceiving audience development efforts as an extra – and optional – financial or time cost to thinking first and foremost about people who come – or don’t come yet – to the gig: they ARE the gig.

Of course, it’s easier said than done, and it takes time and commitment, but the mistake would be to think that if audiences don’t come, it’s because you lack money or special skills. Sure, it might help – but the key here is to adopt the audience’s point of view and to think through their complete experience, from the moment they hear about the gig to after they’ve left the venue. I approached this in my workshop with a narrative structure, getting participants to think about how to “make them come”, “make them stay” (a personal worry, with jazz) and “make them come back”. This all goes well beyond the music: knowing in advance about the length of the sets or when the kitchen closes, for example, could make all the difference in the decision to come or not.

Going further, this 2009 series of briefings on audience development commissioned by East Midland Jazz was developed to be used directly by small promoters, avoiding jargon and helping out with decision-making. Although it is based on a specific regional audience and offer, most of it can be used as a starting point for a reflection on motivations and barriers, developing younger audiences, persuading more people to come to jazz more often and pricing.

In 2011, US-based Technology in the Arts published a guide called Online Audience Engagement: Strategies for Developing Jazz and Classical Audiences, also very practical and action-oriented, with some interesting case studies to provide best practice examples.

The Meeting: The Experience Business

Looking for inspiration for my workshop, I researched a few different case studies, some of which I’ve summarised in a previous post about innovative audience development initiatives for classical music. I also stumbled upon a goldmine of tips and insights when I discovered The Experience Business, a UK-based arts consultancy that has truly taken to heart the audience-centered ethos advocated by Arts Council England.

I met with founder and director Lisa Baxter just between her lecturing and workshop tour in Australia and the Mindcamp Creativity Conference in Canada that she attends regularly. Her approach is resolutely boundary-crossing, breathing fresh life into arts marketing by drawing from design thinking and user experience design, applying advanced creative facilitation methods and working with full organisations (and not just the marketing or senior executive team).

On her website, she’s sharing the books and quotes that influence her thinking, as well as this video by Tedde van Gelderen, CEO of Akendi, that presents what Experience Design is and can do:

The Book: The Audience Experience

Fittingly, Lisa Baxter contributed a chapter to a book that I had ordered just before meeting her, The Audience Experience: A Critical Analysis of Audiences in the Performing Arts. Written by a wide range of arts research academics and practitioners, it aims at addressing the following question: “What are audiences thinking, feeling and doing as a product of their engagement with arts practices?” It is redefining the now-ubiquitous term ‘audience engagement’ as “audiences that are engaged in both experiencing and remembering”, hence going much, much further than the traditional bums-on-seats approach.

The chapters explore, amongst other topics, audience response to new trends in arts presentation, such as ‘Alternative Content’ (i.e. live streaming of a performance in a cinema, used for opera, theatre, ballet and music) (CH. 2, Barker); the influence of venues and settings in shaping the audience experience and participation pattern (CH. 4, Brown); new methodologies to understand in greater depth the meaning of performing arts experiences (CH 5, Foremand-Wernet and Dervin; CH. 8, Baxter, O’Reilly and Carnegie; CH. 10, Radbourne; CH. 11, Johanson); and the relation between playing and listening to music, or studying and watching dance, and its influence in shaping the audience experience (CH. 6, Pitts; CH. 9, Vincs).

It’s probably best to leave it to the audience to describe what the audience experience actually is, so here are a couple of quotes gathered through some of the book’s case studies:

What I love about audiences in the theatre is that collective surge that can sometimes happen. It’s not always palpable but there’s a sense of everyone moving forward, or of relief, or maybe of being uncomfortable, or feeling the next person next to you, reacting. It’s a reflection of the emotional character of what’s going on.

When you go to a live performance, it’s happening, it’s in the zone, it’s transcendent. You feel like you’re a part of something special: you’ve actually been present, you’ve borne witness to something.

And a final one from an audience member whose life might very well have been changed by a successful audience development campaign:

Wow, I have never given much respect or thought to this classical music genre, but this was actually very delightful music … Why haven’t I been introduced to this music before? … I have often been told that classical music is boring or not ‘great’ music. I’m disappointed that I let other people’s point of of view distort my taste in music … This music definitely changed my opinion on the genre, not to mention I will be listening to this stuff more than I have.

Summer Summary 1: Art Everywhere

Programming

August is drawing to a close and to my horror I realise that I haven’t done much blogging this summer. I have a good excuse: I was away, on a working holiday trip to Europe. So to lessen my guilt of not producing much content for Art of Festivals, here’s a summary of what I’ve seen, heard and done this past month. I’ll start here with my encounters with free music and art in unusual settings.
(All photos by @artoffestivals, click on images to view a larger version in a new tab).

Part 1: Art Everywhere

Manchester Jazz Festival

I started my trip with 10 days of live contemporary jazz at the 18th annual Manchester Jazz Festival, allowing me to reunite with old friends and discover new and unexpected gems. There were lots of free gigs on offer, at the rate of 3 or 4 a day, and the paying gigs are usually priced at no more than £15. The festival uses a variety of venues and spaces throughout the city centre, from the “Festival Teepee”, a huge tent originally commissioned by Manchester International Festival, to the 300-year-old St Ann’s Church, the recently renovated Band on the Wall (which eventful 200-year history as a pub, then cinema, then live music venue can be found here) and the Grade-II listed Midland Hotel, where Rolls is rumoured to have met Royce.

Attending the festival – and not working it, as I had done for 3 years – was a great reminder of what it’s like to be on the other side. The festival team might be solving a crisis backstage – the next band is stuck in traffic, some volunteers haven’t showed up, or the horrendous weather is threatening to ruin the show – but nothing transpires stage-side: the gig starts bang on time, the sound is perfectly balanced, the performers are highly skilled and engaging, and the only real question remaining is whether or not to have that second glass of Pimm’s.

My festival highlight: spending lots of time with the great guys from Trio Journal Intime (Sylvain Bardiau – trumpet, Matthias Mahler – trombone, Frederic Gastard – bass saxophone), rescuing said bass saxophone from airline mismanagement hell and being completely blown away by their ‘Lips on Fire’ Jimmy Hendrix-inspired gig. Here’s a live performance video for further proof:

Yorkshire Sculpture Park

After my favourite festival, I went to my favourite sculpture park – not that I know that many others, but I can’t imagine that they can come any finer than this: 500 acres of landscaped park in the heart of Yorkshire, with a huge collection of works (featuring Barbara Hepworth, Henry Moore, Anthony Caro, Andy Goldsworthy, James Turrell, Richard Long, Antony Gormley, Helen Escobedo – and so many more that it’s probably best to check the full list here), dotted here and there in the meadows, woods and formal gardens. The indoor galleries host infallibly exceptional temporary exhibitions: this time Yinka Shonibare MBE, on my previous visit Jaume Plensa. As for most cultural institutions in the UK, entrance is free, you only pay for parking; and there are many events, workshops and guided visits on offer for all ages.

Yorkshire Sculpture Park, summer 2013

Yorkshire Sculpture Park, summer 2013

HaHa Bridge, Brian Fell

HaHa Bridge, Brian Fell

Ten Seated Figures, Magdalena Abakanowicz

Ten Seated Figures, Magdalena Abakanowicz

Buddha, Niki de Saint Phalle

Buddha, Niki de Saint Phalle

Wind Sculpture, Yinka Shonibare MBE

Wind Sculpture, Yinka Shonibare MBE

Panopticons

Panopticon (noun): structure, space or device providing a comprehensive or panoramic view

The following day, I set off with friends in the other direction for more outdoor sculpture fun. The Panopticons are a major public art commissioning project, meant to create new landmarks in the rural setting of East Lancashire. All four structures were designed by different architects and/or artists, working both as focal points and viewpoints and drawing from the local heritage. They were completed in 2006-2007. I have already written about the Panopticon project in my post about the research project Why Art Works, so I wanted to see them for myself.

Travelling in style in a red, white and chrome Triumph 2000, we created a public Google Map and followed the route suggested in this article by Nick Hunt, Director of Mid-Pennine Arts, the commissioning agency behind this cultural regeneration effort. We only managed to score 2 ½ out of 4, mainly because we spent so much time chatting about our impressions, taking photos, getting lost, and thoroughly enjoying ourselves.

The two structures we experienced close-up are Colourfields, a converted cannon battery site set in the very Victorian Corporation Park, and Atom, perched on top of the hill in Wycoller Country Park. In both instances, we walked in beautiful landscaped settings, taking in the sights, enjoying the fresh air and reflecting on the shaping of nature by culture.

While we were determined that we would make it to Singing Ringing Tree, we had to give it a miss when we realised that we were only a few miles away from Bronte Country (i.e. the likelihood of a good pub). And the remaining half Panopticon? That’s Halo, which we spotted from the motorway on the way back to Manchester.

Mid-Pennine Arts’ website states that the Panopticons “were designed to attract visitors into the countryside to enjoy the stunning landscapes that this delightful area has to offer”. This cunning plan clearly worked, as there are very few other reasons that could have influenced us to head to Blackburn and Burnley, and I’m immensely glad that we did!

Atom, Panopticon, Wycoller Country Park

Atom, Panopticon, Wycoller Country Park
Design by Peter Meacock with Katarina Novomestska and Architecture Central Workshop.

View from inside Atom

View from inside Atom

View outside Atom

Art Everywhere

I was lucky to be in England just in time for Art Everywhere – self-described as “A Very Big, Big Art show”. It’s a nationwide initiative swapping billboard ads for art posters, using the collections of the Tate (Modern and Britain) and other museums and galleries.

The exhibition ran from 12 to 25 August, featuring 57 different British works of art across 22,000 poster sites. I spotted quite a few in train stations in Sheffield and Manchester and all over London.

It’s public art in more than one way: it was part-funded by the public, through a crowdfunding campaign raising over £30,000, with rewards such as badges, bags, T-shirts and framed prints; the works were chosen by public voting, out of a longlist of over 100 artworks; and interaction was encouraged via a photography competition. It is estimated that 90% of the UK population will see at least one of these billboards during the course of the campaign.

The interactive map helps getting a sense of the huge scale of this project, and this video shows a few works in their newly found context.

Take it away

Spotlight

In the midst of the Arts Council England funding cuts, I wanted to check if a brilliant scheme that they used to run was still in operation, but I couldn’t remember the name of it, so here is how I went about it (a feeble attempt at network mapping – for a more impressive example, see this Map of Jazz):

1. I remembered that video interviews with musicians were featured on the website, including one with clarinetist Arun Ghosh, a regular Manchester Jazz Festival guest.

2. Last time I spoke to Arun, in 2009, he was musical director for Something in the Air, a MIF Creative project with Oily Cart, described as “a stunning aerial adventure for young people with profound and multiple learning disabilities or an autistic spectrum disorder.”

This brought up great memories but didn’t advance my search. However, checking Arun’s website, I noticed two noteworthy facts:

a. Arun has a new album out.

b. He is playing at a festival called Love Supreme, which, with such a name, could only be jazz, and turns out to be “the first 3-day greenfield jazz festival in the UK for over twenty years”, a few miles from Brighton.

Going slightly off-track, I investigated this new festival to glean a few more facts:

i. As well as high-profile international artists – Robert Glasper Experiment, Melody Gardot and Esperanza Spalding – and excellent local acts – Portico Quartet, Neil Cowley Trio, Gogo Penguin, Kairos 4Tet, Troyka – Love Supreme features Bryan Ferry of Roxy Music fame playing his own repertoire in a big band style (with a big band) and the intriguingly-named White Mink Vs Peppermint Candy, which turn out to be two hot electro swing club nights currently surfing the cabaret revival wave (for a French and live version of the genre, see Caravan Palace).

ii. To break a few more stereotypes about jazz, it actually has a nice website, with lots of Instagram-style photos and an easy navigation. It offers camping, glamping (glam camping, anyone?) and podpads (which look truly adorable with their candy-stripe beach hut vibe).

As this didn’t bring me anywhere nearer the object of my initial enquiry, I turned to the Arts Council England website and looked at their Initiatives page, and there I found it: Take it away. The link provided sent me to an 404 error page, but a quick search finally got me to the right website.

What is Take it away? A programme aiming to make musical instruments more accessible to children and young people by providing interest-free loans of up to £5,000.

How do I take it away?  Individuals must either be over 18 buying an instrument for a child under the age of 18 or aged 18-25 using the scheme in their own right. They also must be a permanent UK resident working at least 16 hours per week. They can apply by mail order or directly at one of the 300+ participating shops, then pay a 10% deposit, et voilà! They can take their new or reconditioned instrument home and practice, practice, practice.

Who runs Take it away? Take it away is an Arts Council England intiative operated by ​Creative Sector Services CIC, designed to help more children and young people get involved in learning and playing music.

The website is full of tips and advice, as well as some lovely customer case studies – such as 17-year-old multi-instumentalist Emma who dreams of becoming a music teacher or young sax player Omar who wants to be in a jazz band.

Professional musicians across all genres also share their career path and their thoughts about the scheme – here is a small selection, with links to the full interviews:

Frank Turner:

I think that anything that helps getting younger people into music is good. Although I think a little adversity is important too – Rock ‘n’ Roll is, and will always, at heart be rebellion music.

Courtney Pine:

In many cultures outside the UK music is an integral part in the development of the young. This has been a tried and trusted way of supporting positive growth patterns in young minds. From the beginnings of our existence in Africa repetitive reinforcement of social conduct, order and general safeguarding against danger has been reliant on songs or nursery rhymes which allow the young to ‘get the message’ in a very direct way. Playing an instrument is a further development of this, which gives (in my experience) the student an even closer attachment to personal development. I believe this scheme to be important and very relevant to our current society.

Joseph Arthur:

It’s amazing to give people the gift of access to their imagination. Apart from the basics of survival I can think of no  greater gift.

And finally, to close the loop, here is the video interview with Arun Ghosh that got me started on the Take it Away trail, where he talks about clubbing, improvising on the recorder and why the clarinet is a vastly superior instrument.

Manchester Jazz Festival 2013

Steve Mead, Artistic Director

5 questions to...

For the first installment of my ‘5 Questions‘ to festival folks, I have the pleasure to share insights from my good friend Steve Mead, a veteran Artistic Director who’s been involved with Manchester Jazz Festival from the very first 1-day showcase, in 1996 (which, for the anecdote, was rescheduled at the last minute because of the IRA bomb that exploded in Manchester city centre that very same day).

1. Hi Steve! Your next festival is in July 2013. What’s a typical day right now?

You’ve caught me at my busiest time of year – I’m at the tail end of programming our festival (75 bands in 10 days) and just starting to write the copy for our brochure and website. So recently I’ve been having lots of phone calls and emails with artists about everything, ranging from whether a repertoire of Swedish folk songs is appropriate for a jazz festival (I think it is!) to whether a vibraphone, drum kit and sousaphone will all fit in one car… Putting together the copy – apart from the challenge of trying to find 75 different ways to describe music – really helps bring into focus the intense audience experience that a festival creates. Seeing the full schedule unfold before your eyes, one wonderful event after another, makes me feel enormously privileged to be just a small part of making it all happen.

2. You’ve been organising mjf for 18 years now. What gets easier with time? And what doesn’t?

Yes, it’s our 18th this year, and I wouldn’t say things get easier with time, the problems just become more familiar! One thing I do hear more of is how relaxed and well-organised the staff & volunteer team looks during the festival itself. Planning ahead and being able to anticipate potential problems (equipment or people not turning up on time, flight delays etc), and making allowances for tricky situations that may not actually happen, gives us more breathing space during the event if everything does go smoothly – so we’ve clearly got better at planning. The constant challenges are almost invariably financial: in the current economic climate, there can be unforeseen disappointments in any one of our income streams, which impact right across the organisation.

3. Before, during or after the festival – what’s your favourite moment, the one that makes it all worth it?

Seeing a band give an inspiring performance – especially if it’s an artist you weren’t sure about and were taking a bit of a risk on, or the premiere of new project that really delivers and connects with the audience. During many of the gigs I’m positioned alone at the side of the stage and often revel in some beautiful spine-tingling musical moments.

4. What other festival do you or would you love to attend as an audience member?

I love to see how other festivals work so can rarely attend just as an audience member. There are many jazz festivals like Molde in Norway that I can never get to because of our timing clash. I love going to other small festivals like One Taste in London – not jazz but a curious mixture of styles and settings that makes for a special festival experience.

5. Over to you – Steve Radio Presenter*, what question would you ask Steve Festival Organiser?

If you were to hand over the reins to your successor, what one piece of advice would you give them? I’d say: be yourself, be memorable and don’t just copy what I’ve done – make your own mark and take it in new directions.

* Steve’s other dream job – listen to him introducing each gig and occasionally on ALL FM and BBC Radio 3!

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Manchester Jazz Festival has just announced its new commission for mjf 2013 – I wrote a few words about it in a previous post, and you can read more about it here.