“By engaging people in groups they hope to remove some of the nervousness associated with attending arts venues for the first time.”
Think about arts organisations and commercial businesses and your mind may naturally go to sponsorship. Corporate support is a vital source of income for the sector. But tucked away in local businesses is something equally valuable: a wealth of potential new audiences.
As a sector that receives public funding, we know we have a responsibility to engage new audiences. Every culture professional I know is driven by a desire to share their enthusiasm for the arts. But how do we channel that enthusiasm and involve a wider audience?
The Creative People and Places (CPP) projects, funded by Arts Council England, are answering that question through action research. The projects take place in areas that evidence shows have low cultural engagement. Each project has created its own approach and, for some, working with businesses is already proving fruitful.
Creative Scene, the CPP project in North Kirklees, launched a programme strand called Artist@Work with the aim of making art part of everyday life. Conscious of the amount of time people spend in businesses, for work or play, they put out an open call for companies to host an artist. Among the eight that came forward was Fox’s biscuit factory.
Creative Scene and Fox’s created a brief together and selected a digital artist to work with Fox’s employees. The artist, David Boultbee, engaged workers in conversations about their memories of the factory. He then worked with them to present their stories on the exterior of the factory building.
Fox’s biscuit factory is the largest single site employer in Batley. With 800 members of staff, most people in the town know someone who works there and staff talked about the project. The reach of the residency was vast and wove the arts into people’s lives in Batley.
Creative Scene is now looking to resurrect an old Fox’s tradition of coach trips, providing cultural outings for employees and their families. By engaging people in groups they hope to remove some of the nervousness associated with attending arts venues for the first time.
Transported, the CPP project for Boston Borough and South Holland, also delivered a factory-based project. They commissioned Assault Events to develop a performance at the Elsoms Seeds factory. The performers spent six weeks chatting to employees about daily activities and the factory’s history. They then created a dance piece to perform to staff and their families.
Employees were curious to see how what they do at work could be turned into dance and music. They found the performance moving and it created a sense of pride and community within the workforce. As a result, Transported and Elsoms have agreed another artist residency and Elsoms will host a business lunch to promote the value of arts in the workplace.
Delivering a project of this scale may not always be feasible but the learning can be applied more broadly:
Open up conversations:
Like many great audience development initiatives, the projects began with open conversations. Creative Scene and Transported expressed an interest in working with businesses and that interest was returned.
Begin and end with your audience:
The artists based their work on the history, memories and stories of the people they aimed to engage. In doing so, they created work that felt relevant to diverse groups – many of whom were not arts attenders.
Balance risk with comfort:
Seasoned arts attenders are comfortable in a theatre or gallery environment so encouraging them to take a risk on a new artist is relatively easy. For those not familiar with the environment or artform, the risks begin to stack up. Transported and Creative Scene balanced the risk by delivering their projects in familiar environments. Creative Scene is now exploring whether visiting as a group makes attending a theatre less daunting.
Create mutually beneficial partnerships:
These projects were mutually beneficial. Creative Scene and Transported invested time in understanding the objectives of the businesses they worked with. They were also able to articulate how they could help achieve those objectives, which paved the way for successful relationships.
Plan for the future:
CPP projects are building long-term relationships and ecologies through which the arts, people and places can thrive. During their projects Creative Scene and Transported were already thinking about how to maintain engagement.
As a sector, we know a lot about the people who engage with our work. Those who don’t can be a mystery. The likelihood is that, while they are a mystery to us, there’s probably a business somewhere that knows those individuals like we know our audiences. Channelling our enthusiasm into connecting with those companies could be key to our audience development aspirations. Working with businesses has the potential to both engage new audiences and, if we forge mutually beneficial partnerships, attract financial support.
Full case studies by Transported and Creative Scene are available at culturehive.co.uk: search CPP.
Find out more about Creative People and Places at their website.