Arts Volunteers in Canada: Performing Arts

Spotlight

A 2013 Canadian Arts Presenting Association (CAPACOA) study showed that “for each paid staff member, there are 17 volunteers giving their time to performing arts presenting organizations”. Whilst ushering is a typical role on performance night, especially in smaller companies, volunteers can also play a strategic role in fundraising and outreach.

I have picked three examples below of major Toronto institutions that have developed long-running relationships with their volunteers and engage them fully in the life of the company.

This is part 2 of a series of 4 posts on arts volunteers in Canada.

National Ballet of Canada

In 1951, a group of Toronto ballet enthusiasts raised funds to bring British-born ballerina Celia Franca to Canada and support the first performance of her newly formed company, the National Ballet. The National Ballet’s Volunteer Committee was formally established in 1972 to continue this fundraising work; it has contributed $6 million to date to create new productions through the Build-A-Ballet™ Fund, started in 1977 with a $150,000 gift for La Fille Mal Gardée.

To feed this fund, the Volunteer Committee operates Paper Things, a stationery and gift store in the fashionable Yorkville area ($2 million contribution since 1963), as well as the Ballet Boutique during National Ballet performances ($600,000 over the past 6 years). In previous years, the Volunteer Committee held an annual Gala event and quarterly art shows.

The National Ballet is “the only Canadian ballet company to present a full range of traditional full-length classics”. It also presents and creates new contemporary ballets, especially by Canadian choreographers. A Virtual Museum retraces the history of the company since 1975.

Video: Extract from Pur ti Miro, the 46th ballet sponsored through the Volunteer Committee’s Build-a-Ballet Fund™.

Canadian Opera Company

The Canadian Opera Company was established in 1950; it pioneered the use of surtitles, provides training to emergent artists and commissions new opera through a Composer-in-Residence programme. About 150 volunteers a year support the COC’s office operations and outreach and education efforts.

Volunteers provide assistance in the office and in the archives, act as Front of House for the Free Concert Series, welcome members at the Friends’ Lounge, operate the Opera Shop, work with the Education Programs team and offer guided tours of the performance venue and of the Opera Centre, including the music library, COC archives, wigs, costume and props departments and rehearsal spaces.

The COC also operates a Volunteer Speakers Bureau, whose members “act as ambassadors for the COC and the art form by writing and giving talks on opera at various public speaking engagements throughout the season”. After School Opera Program volunteers help the Education and Outreach team to “introduc(e) 300 children (a year) ages 7 to 12 to opera as a collective celebration of vocal music, drama and visual arts”. This opportunity is open to people looking for community arts experience and high school students who need to fulfill their community service requirements.

Video: ‘Inside Opera’ – Rehearsal of Hercules directed by Peter Sellars, COC Season 2013/2014

Toronto Symphony Orchestra

Started in 1923 and merging fundraising and outreach support, the Toronto Symphony Volunteer Committee “is an organization committed to the financial support of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra and to expanding awareness of its musical and education programs.” Fundraising activities range from a Annual Bridge Fundraiser – a full morning of cards followed by a silent auction and lunch reception – to a Team TSO at the Toronto Waterfront Marathon / Semi-Marathon and a Fine Wine Auction. Over the years, the TSVC has contributed to funding several Chairs (Concertmaster, Principal Flute, Principal Trumpet), bought several Steinways and a harp and commissioned more than 15 compositions. It also supported the TSO’s general operations, the Toronto Symphony Youth Orchestra and the TSO’s Education Programmes.

Volunteers also contribute to the orchestra’s youth & education programming: they support financially the Toronto Symphony Youth Orchestra, enrich the experience of teachers and students attending open rehearsals and provide assistance during the Young People’s Concerts, a series of afternoon performances for children aged 5 to 12.

On concert nights, volunteers also help ticket logistics and other event duties to run the TSOundcheck scheme – discounted tickets for under 35.

Video: TSO’s Young People’s Concert – audience reaction 

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.

Review: TURF, July 2013

Spotlight

I love going to festivals, but, too often for my own sake, I tend to be unduly critical and to let the lack of signage – or any other event planning flaws – come in the way of my enjoyment. It’s called déformation professionnelle in French, and it (i.e. I) can get very annoying.

That’s why I’m so happy to report that I have thoroughly enjoyed the latest festival I attended, TURF.

TURF-logo2_350px

Let’s start with the name, with the help of the website Fest FAQ section:

Q – What does TURF stand for?
A – Toronto Urban Roots Festival

Q – Are you guys aware that not every band on TURF is specifically Americana/Canadiana Roots?
A – Really, well that’s why the word ‘Urban’ is in the title
A – It’s just not your grandma’s, or father’s roots music festival, we’re hoping it’s 2013 specific

Or maybe someone in the festival team can’t resist a bad pun – in any case, that should make the festival name rather memorable.

The early bird 4-day tickets were $125, and I got mine at the normal $150 price – not bad for nearly 30 bands, and highlights including Camera Obscura, Frank Turner, Yo La Tengo and Belle and Sebastian (which I missed because of the torrential rain, though the show went on). The tickets are “all-in”, inclusive of all charges, fees, processing… which is noted in the FAQs as being innovative (and should definitely be the norm).

The venue is the Garrison Common, basically a nice grassy field with trees (and shade) adjacent to the historical Fort York, and here’s the pretty site map that you get handed on arrival (with the line-up on the other side):

TURF Site Map

(This is also where Toronto-based label Arts & Crafts held their 10-year celebration 1-day festival, Field Trip, earlier in June).

It’s an “urban” festival, so easily accessible by public transport, and there was ample bike parking provided, with lots of cattle gates lined up just outside the festival fence.

Wristband collection

On the way to the box office / wristband exchange, there was a free coat-check tent, which was storing dozens of umbrellas and where I could leave my bike pannier. The wristband itself was a nice fabric ribbon with a plastic one-way sliding ring – so much more comfortable than vinyl for prolonged wear. As this is Canada and you must be over 19 to drink alcohol, I also got a flashy 19+ wristband, to renew every day.

On the beverage and food front, the two bars were staffed by Lee’s Palace, a local live music venue, wit beer and cider provided by Molson. There was also a free water refill station courtesy of Event Water Solutions. Rotating food trucks, in true Toronto fashion, included Australian meat pies, poutine, Greek and Persian cuisine, wood fired oven pizza, fish and chips and a mobile espresso bar.

There were quite a few kids around, and even a few new-born babies. The festival policy is to let under-10 go free – which is bound to create a family-friendly atmosphere, and they also provided an unsuervised kids’ area in a quiet shaded corner of the field, fenced by colourful ribbons, with a few low-tech activities for all ages – blackboard and chalk, low table for drawing… a very nice touch to give kids some respite and attention if it gets a bit much in the main “adult” area.

To finish with the housekeeping section, there were plenty of portaloos, one set for each stage, and the picnic tables were a big plus to have a rest in the shade and eat messy street food in a dignified manner.

Sets were alternating between the two stages in a perfectly smooth and timely manner, and it felt really resting to the eye to be able to see bands without any logo whatsoever in the background.

Contact details on the website are limited to general and media enquiries, but with a bit of digging I found this pre-festival interview by a Guelph University student magazine with TURF’s founder, Jeff Cohen, owner of indie promoter Collective Concerts and of Lee’s Palace and the Horseshoe Tavern. The line-up and the beer tent logos suddenly made a lot of sense, and he makes interesting claims about the festival value – namely “the tax base generated from the newly created jobs and ticket sales revenues”, “easy access to live entertainment” and bringing commercial revenue and a new audience to Fort York (to which $3 per festival ticket is donated). On the job creation front, there was a small army of security staff, and even the uniform-wearing cleaning staff was duly employed – no signs of volunteers anywhere.

West Stage

West Stage: Frank Turner getting the crowd to sit down (before he gets them to star jump)

East Stage

East Stage: waiting for She & Him, watching the cars go by on the flyover.

And for this inaugural festival review, here are the very first Art of Festivals awards: 

Signage: “Restrooms” sign (special mention for the bike parking)

Restrooms

Bicycle Parking Sign

Free bike parking comes with a

Food & Drink Vendor: Manual Labour Coffee for pretty much everything, from their cutesy vintage pod-like caravan to their COFFEE star-studded sign and other sweet touches.

IMG_5100 COFFEE sign Liquid Sugar Bear

Performance: Frank Turner who mentioned Toronto a record numer of times and clearly played for the crowd (and got the love back) (special mention to Whitehorse who sounded amazing, but it started raining heavily so I left to shelter my camera).

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.