Category Archives: research

Published! Digitizing the Performing Arts: An Assessment of Opportunities, Issues and Challenges

The thrill of release! Yes, we published today our latest national report – already billed as landmark ūüėČ – titled ¬†Digitizing the Performing Arts: An Assessment of Opportunities, Issues and Challenges. It is also available in French:¬† La num√©risation des arts du spectacle : √Čvaluation des possibilit√©s, des enjeux et des d√©fis.

I hope that this assessment provides a springboard for new conversations and digital capacity in the presenting field.

The question at the core of this work is who will be the digital intermediaries for the performing arts; and whether the presenting field can carve out a digital space that supports and benefits the entire performing arts eco-system. Doing so, I think, would require both a transfer and an expansion of the arts presenting expertise we see on the theatre platform to new digital platforms.

Presenters historically have been the dominant platform where performing arts and audiences connect. The theatre, stage or the festival site literally act as a platform. With that, this report seeks to begin to answer – or at least inform – big questions:

  • Can live arts presenters re-invent distribution of performing arts at digital scale?
  • How will Canadian artistic talent be nurtured and supported to grow viable careers and earn fair compensation in the digital realm?
  • How can we, and should we, as a free, vibrant society assure a broad diversity of voices that reflect all of Canada is heard in digital spaces as well as live performance spaces?
  • What is the future of live Canadian theatre, dance, music and other performing arts as digital technologies and capacities of data networks continue to advance?

This report by CAPACOA and Strategic Moves is the culmination of several years of conversations that emanated from our study on The Value of Presenting: A Study of Performing Arts Presentation in Canada. We are grateful for an initial round of financial support from Canadian Heritage to undertake this assessment.

On a personal note, I so appreciate and enjoy working with my colleague-client, Frédéric Julien, Director of Research and Development at CAPACOA. He is a tireless advocate in the arts; and equal parts smart, rigorous in his thinking and affable. Thank you, Frédéric, for your work and your collaboration!

New study on the arts in rural communities examines three regions in Canada

‚ÄúThe specific characteristics of the performing arts eco-system matter to whether they can fuel vibrant rural communities.‚ÄĚ With this hypothesis in mind, I have been¬†investigating whether there are common criteria or success indicators for building a sustainable, rural arts community. This exploratory research draws on existing literature about arts in rural communities as well as¬†my¬†work with organizations in rural communities from coast to coast to coast. In this initial phase of the study I¬†focus on three communities:¬†Haliburton County, Ontario; Temiskaming Shores, Ontario; and Wells, BC.

I will present findings from this new study for the first time at the SPARC Symposium taking place in Haliburton from October 27 to 30, 2016.

My work with SPARC goes back to¬†2014: I¬†presented a keynote at the first SPARC Symposium in April 2014 on¬†‚ÄúCo-creating a Culture of Place in Rural Communities.‚ÄĚ Then SPARC invited me¬†to co-facilitate the SPARC Network Summit in November 2014. In my¬†ongoing consulting practice I also¬†work with small, rural and remote communities to help strengthen local capacities and capabilities.

A key goal of the SPARC 2016 Symposium (a project of the SPARC Network) is to create an environment where people can network: exchange ideas, find opportunities for collaboration, discuss solutions to tricky problems and identify big ideas. Attendees will have an opportunity to meet people engaged in the performing arts from rural communities throughout the province and across the country.

Whether your goals are professional development, learning strategies to attract new audiences, innovative approaches to sustainability, opportunities for information exchange, or developing creative methods for marketing campaigns or mentoring programs, it is SPARC’s belief that this year’s program will facilitate them: http://www.sparcperformingarts.com/sparc-symposium-2016/

See you in Haliburton next month!

What’s the matter with numbers?

With thanks to CAPACOA for commissioning my response to the Culture Shock debate¬†entitled¬†¬†“Hard Facts VS. Proverbial Truths:¬†The Impact of Arts & Culture on Canadian Citizens & Communities”¬†held on November 20, 2014 at the¬†Community Knowledge Exchange Summit.¬†¬†Moderated by Canada¬†Council¬†for the Arts CEO Simon Brault you can watch the archived livestream¬†here.¬†

Billed as #CultureShock, Alain Dubuc, a journalist and economist, and Shawn van Sluys, who heads up a philanthropic foundation that works to make the arts more central to our lives, debated whether ‚ÄúFor arts and culture to be fully valued by society, their impact must be demonstrated with hard facts‚ÄĚ or whether proverbial truth are sufficient.

The case for telling the stories of transformation and understanding through art was made eloquently. Yet, I was more struck by the economist‚Äôs assertion that hard facts are ‚Äúthe best way‚ÄĚ rather than ‚Äúthe only way‚ÄĚ to ensure we fully value arts and culture.

This debate brought to my mind Daniel Kahneman‚Äôs observation in¬†Thinking, Fast and Slow¬†¬†that humans ¬†have a propensity to believe that “what you see is all there is.” ¬†He cautions us that we can easily miss important parts of a situation because there may be more going on than meets the eye.

And that reminded me of the old adage that what we count is what matters. ¬†By inference that suggests that we actually count what truly matters, and that those things left uncounted do not matter.¬† In the arts much of what gets counted are ticket sales or attendance as a percentage of capacity. Until recently, little attention has been paid to collecting the stories, let alone data points, of impact and benefits of the arts. In my view, just because some things are (relatively) easy to measure, like attendance or GDP or employment figures, that does not mean that they tell the whole story ‚Äď or the most important parts of the story. Conversely, just because some things are harder to measure that doesn’t necessarily make them any less important or, for that matter, immeasurable.

Indeed, I think we gain the deepest insights through a purposeful combination of numbers and stories. For numbers are not meaningful by themselves. Numbers require context and an understanding of the intrinsic dynamics at play. In my work as a researcher and strategist, my task is not merely to produce tables and analysis, but to interpret findings and create meaning. It is this highly creative process of meaning creation and collaboration with all the decision-makers that can lead to new insight. And in creating meaning we bring the numbers to life through examples: the stories.

Some in the arts do not wish to speak the language of numbers which they equate with the language of business. From my experience working with corporations I know that yes, numbers are important, but many invest heavily in innovation and creativity in order to solve significant problems and improve quality of life through new products and services. The divide is not so great. Rather, we may well be just lacking translators or mediators; people who are proficient in both languages and who can help us understand each other better.

Watch the debate. 

Research in the arts for everyone!

I was invited to present a webinar on the Dos and Don’ts of Research in the Arts this week by Ontario Presents and Atlantic Presenters Association. The full webinar recording and a few downloadable files are available¬†here.

The audience for this session were people working in arts presenting organizations. They are not researchers typically, but use or commission research and may well put together the occasional survey. The focus of the webinar was understanding what value research brings, reviewing a comprehensive research design, exploring briefly major types of research (secondary, qual, quant and data analysis), a few high level observations on sample design and questionnaire design and, finally, legal frameworks that apply to marketing research.

Obviously, each of these topics merits much more time and depth . In fact, this webinar came out of¬†a 1.5 day arts research seminar I conducted¬†for Atlantic Presenters in St. John’s last June. All to say with this webinar¬†I aimed to raise awareness of what we think about when undertaking and designing research and keep it real in terms of practical applications. The hands-on workshop is a whole different level of learning and practicing research and analysis skills.

 

New marketing mind set in performing arts

Here are three vital elements to performing arts marketing and by extension a thriving arts scene:

1. Arts and cultural research has confirmed time and again that the performing arts sector is not a zero-sum field. Rather, Canadians become ever more likely to attend based on prior attendance at cultural events and performances. These behaviours are strong predictors of attendance while basic demographic factors are much weaker. That means, competition in the performing arts is not other performing arts organizations but rather all the other ways people spent their leisure and entertainment funds. Community-wide, true partnerships should become the rule not the exception in the performing arts.

2. I have a growing body of work that recognizes that performing arts are not only a show on a stage, but that all surrounding aspects contribute to the audience experience either positively or negatively. It is about full experience design.

This graphic represents key elements of the audience’s arts experience that can and should be fully designed. All have the power to make or break the audience experience, put up barriers to it or enhance it.

It means applying end-to-end design thinking including all the ways in which audience members can amplify the arts organization’s message and reach among their own networks.

Pricing and packaging are aspects that are often taken for granted due to a persistent belief that the arts do not suffer from sticker shock; that if someone really wants to see a show they make it happen. Well, price elasticity is real in the arts, too. The higher the price the fewer people will consider attending. Therefore, considerations should be given to how to price shows that are not expected to sell out at a given price point or that are not selling out despite seemingly well-founded expectations of that. Each of these aspects merits full consideration in your planning and in your evaluations afterwards.

3. Another important idea is that marketing materials are designed for specific purposes to address where a member of the target audience is at in the purchase decision process. Arts marketers need to use the full array of tools in research and evaluation to see how their marketing programs are creating the desired response or not.

An arts marketer’s job is not merely to sell the workhorses of the performing arts – anything by Beethoven and Mozart, Nutcracker and Swan Lake, Shakespeare – ¬†but indeed to lead larger and larger audiences to contemporary, current live professional performing arts experiences that they don’t already know.

To do this requires the integrated use of contemporary marketing strategies and tactics. It is about compelling storytelling, co-creating meaning, and making research on events and purchase of tickets easy and immediate. The increasing integration of services like Youtube, Facebook, Twitter with both desktops and mobile devices and within websites creates new dynamics between organizations and their audiences. this is a good thing.

Today, website pages can be shared with a push of a single button to a user’s social media universe and it can raise awareness, start conversations or solicit sales through their social networks. Similarly, organizations are cross-linking their web sites and social media presence to provide a seamless user experience, going where users are.

This mind-set approach makes clear that an organization‚Äôs brand is more than a logo applied consistently. It is how it behaves and interacts with current and potential customers. Or perhaps it reaches even further: it is an entire eco-system’s way of being and interacting in the world – and how the sector (and the communities it inhabits) thrives will depend on this concerted action.

 

Strategies to grow membership

At a recent board workshop we discussed different ways to look at the association’s membership in order to understand better how to grow it.

I proposed to look at the cumulative number of members over several years for a more complete evaluation. Typically, we look at the total number of members Рor subscribers Рas an annual figure and then we pay some attention to churn (non-renewing members). Growth occurs when this churn figure is lower than the number of new members acquired, i.e. more people join than drop out. Evaluating churn makes clear why the first task in an established organization is usually retention, keeping members/subscribers year after year. High rates of retention mean that growth can be achieved more readily (as long as you have not captured your entire market);  it also means that your marketing efforts should become more cost-effective as retention should cost less than acquisition.

When we look at a wider time span, for instance 5 years or 10 years, we gain a different understanding of the degree to which an organization has reached and engaged its market. Is the the cumulative 5-year figure very close to the annual figure or is it much larger?

If it is very close then you are basically stable. If you wish to grow in this scenario then you need to focus on acquisition strategies to accelerate growth.

If the 5-year cumulative figure is much larger, then you might need to think not only about acquisition but re-acquisition. Re-acquisition means re-engaging with people who have made up their mind already about the value you provide by rejecting it for some reason. Re-acquisition is quite a different task, requiring different strategies, tactics, messages and channels. Because these people are not a blank slate (they have developed firm beliefs about your organization and have perceptions founded in their personal experience) I think that re-acquisition is fundamentally more difficult than gaining a brand new member, subscriber, customer.

Strategically this dynamic has to be considering in light of your total market potential.

There are times when re-acquisition can be critical to ensure an organization’s sustainability in the long-run. Given the nature of re-acquisition, strategies designed to re-engage likely run their course over 3 to 4 years. The focus then has to shift to true acquisition because those you wish to re-engage either have done so or simply are not going to have their minds changed unless something important, and likely out of your control, changes for them.

In both scenarios, retention driven by creating value and a mutually beneficial and meaningful relationship with members remains paramount.

Igniting a SPARC in Haliburton

I was invited to speak at the SPARC Symposium in Haliburton, Ontario this spring. The organizers had a clear vision for this symposium: to bring people working in all parts of the rural arts eco-system together to explore opportunities and challenges, collaborate across communities and open new doors for exchange, resource sharing and a new kind of network focused on meeting the needs of broad rural arts communities.

With that I sought to create an opening keynote that would help establish the conversation using stories and, yes, conversation. My key messages revolved around the ideas of “where there is a will, there is a way”, and a vision of “building vibrant communities fueled by the performing arts and its community-engaged partnerships” and my proposal to consider “public engagement through the arts” where arts are a means to an ends, rather than the end in itself. I told some stories based on my recent work with a focus on small, rural and remote places across Canada to give substance to these ideas through examples. I shared some data from The Value of Presenting study that shows just how much arts presenting organizations in rural and remote communities are leading the way in community-engaged practices.

The conversation and contributions by participants throughout the talk helped set the stage for a fully engaged, working symposium. I loved the energy, the thinking, the sparks that were flying over these four days in Haliburton.

I was also thrilled to see representatives of several regional presenting networks that I have been working with over the last few years at SPARC; there is much space for collaboration, strengthening connections and learning.

SPARC organizers have turned this and all the other amazing working sessions into a unique interactive online magazine. (Sticks and Stones Productions) You can also access my keynote directly on Vimeo. (The other keynotes and videos from the conference are also available there or through the online magazine.)

Finally, my presentation slides are posted on the CAPACOA site for download .

Over the summer SPARC has turned its attention to developing a follow-up conference this fall with the aim to constitute a rural arts network. If you are interested in these ideas, check out their web presence (web, Facebook, Twitter) and get on the e-news list.