MHC Forum 1999
Audience development in this economic climate is increasingly playing a key role in arts and cultural organisations. In an attempt to sustain audiences and funding, arts and cultural organisations currently find themselves in a critical position to fulfil and to respond to State and Federal arts policy briefs and develop artistic and business plans through strategic planning that include addressing issues of cultural diversity and audience development.
Whilst audience development itself sounds an exciting activity to become involved in, less enthusiasm is in the reality of engaging and maintaining activities. Rarely is it discussed however about the practical strategies of implementation and monitoring of audience development initiatives or the day to day management of such activities. Understanding the benefits of audience development activities generally but especially with ethnic communities still requires a level of confidence and careful consideration about time and resources required.
From my experience audience development activities whilst having a direct marketing focus and result in short term outcomes, it does not have to be limited within the marketing objectives of the organisation. Audience development often requires staff awareness and involvement not just from the marketing staff for project based work. The whole cycle of presentation and delivery of 'cultural product' to the public especially to ethnic communities cannot be ignored in the critical factors associated with getting audiences and visitors 'through the door'.
My approach has been to consider it as an ongoing process within in an organisation's long term strategic plan. Though some arts organisations are more engaged with a number of audience development strategies and initiatives with ethnic communities than others- it is still in its early stages, in progress and at various stages of implementation and a range of applications. Often it involves an approach that combines community cultural development, arts development, arts marketing such as publicity and promotion and in particular relationship marketing.
There is however, still a number of approaches and models that are currently undertaken by arts and cultural organisations that can be applied to the museum sector and in particular to the Migration Heritage Centre and its future planning of audience development initiatives. However, it has become evident that without equal partnership, commitment and meaningful dialogue and engagement and despite positive outcomes being achieved we have not looked critically enough at the processes involved.
Through 'reframing' the approaches and strategies of audience development activities, more long term benefits can be achieved through a multi-layered and structured stage approach. The impact this approach can have on individuals in the workplace in shifting attitudes, work practices and affecting organisational cultural change in major arts organisations and companies and cultural institutions in the future is vital. This can improve the general current situation in the quality and loyalty of relationships with the community in building potential audiences and project collaboration.
When we consider the way that some corporations in the business sector have embraced multicultural marketing and policies of cultural diversity and productive diversity in utilising the cultural knowledge and skills of the workforce and know the benefits, there are some positive aspects that we can learn from these experiences. We can see that a number of these approaches could also be explored, utilised and maximised within the arts and cultural sector.
Through audience development activities it can result in a number of primary and secondary outcomes that can assist arts and cultural organisations to achieve the fine balance of their artistic, curatorial and financial goals through short and long term strategic planning. Models and approaches to audience development activities can vary according to the context, the community or target group but there are still fundamental and critical factors that apply to achieve any level of success or deeper engagement and participation in arts and cultural activities by ethnic communities.
Promotion of cultural diversity in the arts is not a new development but some approaches may be different from the past. In a growing attempting to shift 'one off' experiences or events that sometimes can be 'tokenistic' inclusion to more regular and meaningful consultation and dialogue to increase cultural participation by ethnic community groups.
The acknowledgment of the critical and important role of non-English speaking background arts workers, artists and audiences play as bridging links and as 'brokers' or catalysts as part of the dynamic cultural fabric of this country is yet to be fully explored and utilised across all arts and cultural sectors.
NSW especially is a state that has a variety of opportunities for the arts and culture in audience development in terms of the high percentage of non-English speaking background people living here, and the luxury of having a wide range of cultural arts activities that are available to specific communities and the wider community.
According to the 1996 ABS report Australia now has over 220 countries represented with 36% being migrants and their 2nd generation children. Twenty three percent of the total Australian population i.e I in 4 was born in other countries while 15% come from countries that do not have English as their first language.
It is expected that these figures will continue to increase into the next century.
However, non-English speaking background communities have not been a focus for cultivating audiences by major arts and cultural organisations in any substantial way or consistency compared with the standard marketing strategies in an organisation to target groups that are nurtured not even as new audiences. In addition, this sector is rarely consulted in formal market research surveys and recorded as such so there is little specific data and information available on any formal level.
Despite a number of reports and research in this area on the issue of cultural diversity in the arts over the last 10 years we have finally reached a stage where policies exist in an attempt to have an overall strategy. But it is still a challenge to have a coordinated effort by key stakeholders both within and outside of an organisation when there is various levels of engagement, cultural understanding and different stages of implementation. Arts policies have provided a greater momentum for arts and cultural organisations to address issues of audience development with ethnic communities with some more actively engaged than others.
In 1989 the Australia Council launched its policy 'Arts for a Multicultural Australia' and its established a committee to advise Council on issues of cultural diversity. In 1996, to assist the museum and gallery sector, the publication, Open Up! Guidelines for Cultural Diversity Visitors Studies was published by the Australia Council and the Powerhouse Museum. In addition, in 1998, 'The World is Your Audience-Case Studies in audience development and cultural diversity' was also published by the Australia Council and produced by Pino Migliorino of Cultural Perspectives. Both these publications provide detailed and practical strategies and case studies for implementing processes and engaging appropriately with ethnic communities but require more frequent application in the workplace by arts and cultural organisations to be a more effective resource.
Recent developments at State level for multicultural arts policy was through the document launched by Premier Bob Carr at Carnivale in 1997. The document, NSW Government: The Arts and Cultural Diversity-Principles for Multicultural Arts support in NSW encourages more pro-active engagement with artists and communities of non-English speaking backgrounds by major state art and cultural institutions. It states that there will be individual agreements negotiated on their performance and approaches to address cultural diversity issues.(1)
Whilst there is commitment in intention of improving current practices for ethnic communities, this cannot be fulfilled without equal partnerships, coordination and cooperation. Discussion and monitoring to assess progress, challenges or difficulties is an essential part of real implementation for full benefits to be maximised.
In addition, at both State and Federal level we also have Community Cultural Development Fund/Committees that have been established which also play a key role for cultural development for all communities. It also provides the opportunity and support to encourage the stimulation of cultural activity and audience development activities. This is also to ensure that the continuum for ethnic communities in artistic activities to support cultural maintenance, cultural identity and practice of traditional, developmental and contemporary works can be initiated and managed by these communities and are still practised and explored in Australia. In addition, project funding is available through other specific artform committees for particular projects. In addition, at State level having a committee dedicated to Museums Programs, Literary and History Programs is important resource for communities to know more about and access to initiate their own projects.
Whilst cultural attitudes and perceptions have gradually changed it has been slow overall in the wider arts community to fully engage with ethnic communities in audience development activities. Understanding the barriers and points of resistance and why making changes to accommodate this sector of the community has been considered 'unfamiliar territory' or 'high risk' in artistic development by arts and cultural organisations has been an essential part of making progress in this area.
For e.g Carnivale has been one regular annual cultural event at a state level that has helped raise the level of confidence to the wider arts and cultural community by providing the platform to showcase a wide range of works across all artforms. However this has required a constant and intensive process in 'brokering' partnerships to engage companies and venues to encourage greater involvement and commitment both in attitude and resources.
Gradually we have seen the increased support with the assistance of government funding and support from various media sponsorship and arts and ethnic media partnerships. Through this kind of assistance it has enabled Carnivale to have a higher profile in the wider community in Australia and proven by the number of events and artists involved that there is rich cultural resources to be tapped into.
In addition, for example there is a number of organisations and professional groups that receive core funding or project funding from State and Federal level that are regularly involved with non-English speaking background communities through arts projects and performances within NSW.(2) Some of these organisations and groups have been involved in projects exploring issues and politics of cultural identity, cultural heritage and migration issues and cross cultural works and have built up some experience and regular contact with certain communities.
Projects with multicultural arts officers working with local communities and artists and sometimes supported by local government or project funding from Government sources. They also have been involved in an increased level of 'brokering' and partnerships with arts and community organisations and cultural organisations for non-English speaking background artists and communities, some who are keen to show their works in other contexts for the wider community.(3)
On a community level, there is also a number of independent arts groups within particular communities and despite competing priorities of welfare issues and activities still manage more regular cultural activity. Continuity of regular activity within the community can assist in impacting on the process of audience development for the participation of non-English speaking background communities more broadly in other cultural activities offered by major arts and cultural institutions.
However, major engagement has primarily been through one off events or a short season of performances that are still a vital part of the dynamics of the cultural life that newly arrived and established migrant groups and artists are involved in, some with government funding assistance and others with the resources and finances within the community. As confidence and skills are developed within various communities and broader networking is established shifts in patterns are starting to occur where they are 'culturally negotiating' new venues for presentation e.g in theatre, gallery, museum and educational venues.(4)
There is however a huge potential in an arts organisation whatever size and resources to refine their current existing approaches to be more active and effective in regards to cultural diversity in the arts and audience development with ethnic communities and to integrate these activities in the core business of their operations.
There are a number of short term and long term strategies that can be employed that can assist in shifting attitudes and work practices in an arts organisation to have closer interaction and engagement with ethnic communities and individuals and artists from non-English speaking background that is mutually beneficial.
Whilst in the arts and cultural industry we feel there are always limitations to our capacity in financial and human resources it is important that we take steps to move towards looking at practical and manageable strategies in this area. Approaches that are appropriate that suit the current situation and context, realistic in expectations and maintenance and to incorporate in future plans specific strategies that can stimulate greater participation by non-English speaking individuals and communities in mainstream arts activities.
In addition, it is important to understand the major critical factors in audience development with ethnic communities and the processes involved in this to maximise our opportunities and increase cultural participation of ethnic communities. Education and cultural understanding however is a two way process if we are to build and develop audiences for the future.
Increasing success in audience development with ethnic communities encompasses not only a focus on marketing, publicity and promotion but involves a range of other ways and methods that can increase your potential for attracting new audiences and maintaining them. These often involve formal and informal methods.
The main areas which I have explored in the arts in terms of audience development and cultural diversity have been-
There are number of aspects and practical steps that can involve e.g building relationships and networking, building up confidence through cross cultural awareness and training within an organisation especially with customer service staff, awareness of productive diversity potential in your organisation through utilising cultural and linguistic skills and knowledge of existing staff and artists and other employment opportunities. Like any individuals in an organisation they bring new networks and in this case from particular communities due to promotion on a personal level.
Creating opportunities by encouraging involvement of non-English speaking background individuals, artists and communities in all aspects of an organisation creates an access point, familiarity and sense of interest and ownership and loyalty .
Other opportunities are in encouragement of joining as members or friends or creating employment opportunities for services required within an organisation by developing business relationships with potential sponsors, publicists, designers etc. Word of mouth is still a very effective way to spread the word in ethnic communities.
Marketing opportunities can also be increased through establishment of a cultural calendar, awareness of cultural events and special cultural days within ethnic communities for development and planning of special promotional campaigns.
Whilst the challenge for any arts and cultural institution, arts organisation or arts company is to increase our audience base it is important to look at also diversifying and broadening that base -age wise, socially, geographically and just as importantly culturally.
Whilst there has been a common tendency in the arts to market to ethnic communities only for a culturally specific event and have a high success rate of an attendance for an opening night. The ultimate challenge is to ensure that relationships and community links are maintained after this event so that the work and resources have a longer life by encouraging these communities for repeat attendances to other events and programs that are not related specifically to their community.
A common assumption that is made is that these communities and individuals are only interested in cultural events relating to their community. Whilst it is obviously a drawcard and access point for new audiences if they are unfamiliar with an organisation or venue this may limit the potential for the future for other events that you have to offer. The principle that is applied to any new audiences once we have 'captured' them is how to sustain their interest and loyalty.
Some of the main strategies and processes I have applied in my work situations have been -
Whilst arts marketing is reaching a higher priority, for those organisations that are involved in market research surveys and reports one fundamental and critical factor is to ensure it is inclusive of non-English speaking representatives (both 1st and 2nd generation) as part of the mix of focus groups and participants in a survey. This factor has often been overlooked in general marketing research.
Whilst there are a number of approaches that are not any different to the way we might approach marketing, publicity and promotion generally there are obviously some specific needs that need to be accommodated for to minimise the existing barriers.
A common pattern that is occurring in arts organisations and cultural institutions is the lack of coordination with centralising databases and coding. Ensuring that contact lists with key ethnic community contacts and networks are coordinated for future and regular contact by establishing new or expanding databases with various departments or relevant staff members within your organisation can only strengthen and build up the organisation's resources and knowledge.
Some of the other key factors that are important to consider and understand-
The broader issue of cultural development and cultural participation by ethnic communities their views, expectations and experience.
Despite, the myth that people of non-English speaking may not be interested in the program or cultural product in mainstream arts it is difficult to come to this conclusion immediately. Without considering the following factors such as a wide range of communities and individuals with specific histories of their exposure to participation in art and cultural activity in their own country, experience and exposure to arts and culture in Australia, level of education and where they were educated, their level of exposure to Western art forms.
This of course can vary according to the political, cultural, religious and social context and the influence and impact of Western artforms in their home country and how established the community networks and infrastructures are in the especially cultural networks and the ethnic media (circulation and frequency) and the language level and length of residency in Australia.
a) Community profiles
Assistance in information and understanding more about the culture, size and places of settlement certain ethnic communities in Australia.6 For e.g can be obtained from census published by the Australian Bureau of Statistics, Ethnic Communities Council and Ethnic Affairs Commission and other ethno-specific community organisations such as migrant resource centres or local government.
With key community, political leaders and key ethnic community organisations, consulates and cultural centres to identify access points and networks available within the community. It is also important to ensure that there is recognition and visibility of these individuals at key events not only in the context of their own community but also as part of the cultural representation of the wider community. Are they regularly invited to opening nights and special events that are part of the organisation's activities and not just to ethnic specific events? To cultivate 'cultural ambassadors' that can assist in promoting you work to the rest of the community is a huge advantage and by 'word of mouth'.
c) Identifying certain communities and artists
Identifying communities and target groups within those communities or within a geographical location through existing networks and other arts organisations with experience with ethnic communities. Establishing relationships with a key organisations can provide assistance to other information and resources you require e.g translators etc. that are not available within your organisation.
In addition, some of these key multicultural arts organisations are also the stimulus and support for a number of arts projects involving ethnic communities and artists who are rich resource of experience and knowledge including other arts organisations that incorporate community cultural development principles in their artistic process with ethnic communities.
Various state arts service organisations have also developed comprehensive databases in identifying artists of NESB. For example the NSW Writers Centre who received funding from the NSW Ministry for the Arts to compile a database of non-English speaking background writers. Other organisations in the performing arts such as the Australian National Playwrights Centre and Playworks have been active to assist non-English speaking background. Playwrights who have migrated here such as Le Quy Duong (winner of the 1997 NSW Young Writers Fellowship) from Vietnam and Merlinda Bobis, bilingual poet and author from The Philippines who both have been featured in the Sydney Writers Festival. They have both gained recognition and have had theatrical works performed in major theatre companies such as Belvoir St Theatre and with the Playbox Theatre in Melbourne. Both were also involved in the Sydney Asian Theatre Festival at Belvoir that gave them opportunity to first showcase their work in Australia.
Also literature projects and inclusion of non-English speaking background writers at the NSW Writers Centre Spring Festival especially with newly arrived migrants and writers from emerging communities have been generated. Multicultural arts officers such as Barry Gamba who was based at the NSW Ethnic Communities Council played an active role and instrumental in publishing an anthology of their works - Geography of Memory. Barry also assisted in developing 10 x 6, a series of short performance works by emerging writers who have been showcased at Belvoir St Theatre and Griffin Theatre as part of the Carnivale program.
Paula Abood, was also awarded the inaugural writers residency at Government House and assisted in presenting non-English speaking background women and their readings at Government House for the Sydney Writers Festival. Through this kind of facilitation and cooperation non-English speaking background artists presented their works to a broader context and to new audiences and also brought with them their networks of families and friends to venues possibly for the first time.
Referrals from individuals in communities, arts workers, peak multicultural organisations and community networks have assisted arts and cultural organisations to locate particular artists for projects.
Other useful resources have been the Ethnic Communities Council Directory which is currently being updated and the Australian Performing Arts Directory produced by Artslink.
Like any new audiences, don't assume ethnic communities know about your organisation and its programs or range of activities and especially its profile in arts and culture in Australia. This is important before any specific promotion can take place. Profile building and regular access to promotional material can build up familiarity.
Dissemination and distribution of information is a fundamental factor. Reassess where and who is your distributor of promotional material. Is your distribution list inclusive of appropriate outlets and venues geographically targeting high NESB areas?
Through consultation with community contacts I have identified a number of venues or community centres to distribute promotional material on a regular basis.
Also important factors to understand is the role and function of the ethnic media for those communities and their priorities and due to shortage of staff often do not have staff with specialised knowledge of art and culture or pages dedicated to this area. However there are a enough who are personally interested and have been of great assistance especially if given enough time to translate information.
Ensure that a key contact in the media is established to ensure that press releases etc can be sent regularly e.g setting up a fax stream system is the most effective method. In future planning, for an arts organisation every attempt must be made to ensure that there is some budget allocation within the marketing budget to fully maximise promotional opportunities and to maintain good business relationships.
For e.g whilst working with the ethnic media at SSO and ACO they were initially more receptive to programs that were ethno-specific however, over a period of time they are also interested in other concerts offered. There are some ethnic media though that still prefer only ethno-specific information. Through regular contact, experiencing 'first hand' a concert and regular invitations, advertising and promotional campaigns the ethnic media have now responded with more art and cultural content in their newspapers and coverage of other concerts. More confidence has been established to share ideas and new strategies for developing readers as audiences and assistance in building up database specific to this market.
For example, if we think of existing databases that have been developed within our organisation is it culturally inclusive?
For e.g does it include ethno specific organisations, groups in the community and at universities, professional groups, choir groups (e.g inclusion of several choral groups within certain NESB communities), church groups (e.g identification of churches with high NESB attendance for Messiah concert for the ACO and SSO), special interest (e.g orchestras within NESB, musicians groups) and cultural groups that can be integrated to what already exists or do new databases need to developed that can be used for promoting group bookings, special promotional campaigns or introductory offers? Are the ethnic media on a database that can be easily accessed and are they regularly invited to your events?
Familiarity e.g related to their nationality or home country, various options are available to maximise communities interest and increase audience development potential. It is an important access point if a particular community is not familiar with your institution and then once they have had a first hand experience will be more responsive for a return visit to other non-ethno specific related activities.
a. Existing artistic programTapping into cultural connections with new potential audiences in ethnic communities through e.g theme, artist, performer, cultural influences in the work or foreign languages.
b. Developing an artistic program or curating an exhibition
Part of the dilemma for any arts or cultural organisation is about how to balance an artistic program that ensures artistic and financial success is a ongoing challenge that provides stability in maintaining loyal subscribers, attracting new audiences and single ticket buyers and encourage repeat attendances or visits.
Broadening our definition and interpretation of what is 'Australian work' and who is an 'Australian artist' requires increasing confidence in the arts. To fully understand the complex issues of 'excellence' and understanding the various artforms and aesthetics that are now practised in Australia can only be part of the educative process. It is essential to increase the appreciation by artistic programmers/curators and audiences to understand more fully the potential and appreciation for cultural diversity in the arts in Australia.
For example with the SSO in association with Carnivale, Themos Mexis, Australian composer of Greek origin performed a concert of his own compositions at Government House with three musicians from the SSO. This was a partnership in combining skills, talents and resources. SSO provided the musicians and included the concert in their regular bi-monthly flier sent to subscribers and for street distribution. Carnivale provided the marketing and publicity expertise and attracted an audience predominantly from the Greek community. SSO also received a lot of secondary publicity through this association. This expanded audience potential for both Carnivale and SSO through joint marketing efforts.
All these strategies were explored in the management of the Sydney Asian Theatre Festival at Belvoir St Theatre.
Currently there is still an overall low percentage level of employment of non-English speaking background arts administrators, curators, artistic programmers and marketing managers of non-English speaking background working in the arts and cultural sectors.
Museum of Sydney
Through a high level of community participation, new audiences are built through their involvement and interest to bring friends and family to the exhibition.
National and Regional
For some arts organisations, touring is also part of the organisation's agenda. Whilst audience development in regional areas is a subject we rarely address and again market research surveys focus far more on the urban we can still attempt to address non-English speaking background audiences as part of the marketing strategy. The same strategies suggested earlier are still applicable in this context. This just requires some time in the initial stage to research and identify the state or region. Seek advice from appropriate arts organisations or companies with experience in this area. Often it is through Regional Arts Development Officers, multicultural arts officers and Community Development Officers and local NESB community groups who can provide local knowledge and contacts.
Non-English speaking background artists, communities and individuals living in Australia provide an important key to opening the doors to international opportunities and exchanges. They also provide cultural and linguistic skills and knowledge that can be useful for Australian to further links internationally and to gain a more intimate knowledge of the cultural infrastructure and information about various countries.
Whilst the current cultural landscape is reflecting changes at some venues and in arts companies in Sydney in artistic programming, it must be go hand in hand with commitment and understanding the resources and budget that is required to ensure there is appropriate audience development strategies and processes and adequate marketing support, personnel and effective customer services staff.
Deciding to diversify artistic programming and attempting to increase audiences in the short term without consideration of this major issue only results in an experience that may be set up for failure. To maximise the success and to ensue that it leads to more positive collaborations in the future it is critical to ensure that NESB individuals and communities are part of the decisionmaking, long term planning of the project and that consultation takes place and at there is involvement at every level. As a result of the collective resources and building up of expertise, skills and knowledge it increases our understanding and lays a solid foundation for the future.
As a result, there is a greater rate of success by having the opportunity to work together and to avoid any pitfalls and maximise the support from audiences and community networks for a more long term and sustainable future in the arts.
Some of the future challenges involve maintaining relationships that have been established, monitoring attendance patterns and sales and custom service needs of ethnic communities. Whilst arts organisations will never be able to fully accommodate bilingually in all the community language needs in the short term in customer services but we can work towards strengthening our current resources and needs in the long term.
We have yet to develop such a similar system in NSW and is a challenge leading towards the year 2000, where such a similar system of a multilingual Ticketek system would be able to service arts companies to give them the adequate support in this area and increase greater access in encouraging ticket sales. This however if developed for the year 2000 is an infrastructure that would serve the local and tourist population beyond 2000 in Sydney and NSW and can also be used for sports events etc.
Regular evaluation, training, reassessment of methods and processes may always need to be modified for particular groups and contexts and to meet the changing needs and audiences in the next millennium.
There is a greater with more computer knowledge and skills to have the capacity for monitoring and reporting to see changes in cultural attendance patterns and learn over time how to refine and target more specifically their programs and events and allocation of financial and human resources.
Companies and institutions may feel more equipped and confident to strengthen and enrich the company's skills and resources involving cultural diversity in the arts and audience development.
Audience development is an ongoing process with short and long term goals and strategies, though possibly time intensive at the beginning is a rewarding and challenging part of ensuring a vital part of future support for the arts and culture from the community.
1 The main principles in this document suggest a two-directional approach in focussing on two major strategies-
(a) 'Focussing on cultural diversity'
'The first is directed to various ethnic groups themselves (as well as other communities that make up our society). It aims to help them maintain their cultural heritage and build the necessary infrastructure and support networks to develop their culture and present it to others'.
(b) 'Requiring mainstream arts structures to incorporate cultural diversity consideration in their activities'
'The second is directed at organisations within the notional mainstream, which will be encouraged to recognise and demonstrate their cultural diversity as a condition of receiving Government support for their activities'
2 A few examples: Belvoir St Theatre, Gallery 4A, the Multicultural Arts Alliance, Casula Powerhouse, Performance Space, Sidetrack Theatre, Shopfront Theatre, PACT Theatre, Northern Rivers Performing Arts, Theatre South, Campbelltown City Gallery, the Australian Institute of Eastern Music and Urban Theatre Projects.
3 For example, Bogcheh - an exhibition and installation by a group of diverse non-English speaking background women which was a project originally generated locally by Fairfield Community Arts Network and then was exhibited in the Community Access Space at the Australian Museum
4 The funding of the only multicultural arts officer for the Vietnamese community in NSW has assisted in initiating and supporting arts projects and the establishment of Citymoon Theatre Company by Ta Duy Binh and Bruce Keller. There is also a growing number of other young theatre and music groups emerging from this community. Also there are groups such as Balai Ensemble (cross cultural group-primarily from Asia and Latin America) and Taqa Theatre (Arabic/Australian theatre ensemble) which have been established.