Walker International Communications Group

Envisioning a Creative State

I just returned from my fourth trip to Melbourne, Australia. Why the love affair with Melbourne? The recently released 2016 census figures for Australia demonstrate a growing shift in the population–one in four people living there was born in another country. Immigration impacts every aspect of society, especially the arts, and this data demonstrates why engaging with diverse audience is critical to the future of that country’s arts organizations.

Australia’s transition mirrors the global transition —increasingly, nearly every country in the world, and certainly every state in the U.S., is being provided with an amazing opportunity to embrace its growing multiculturalism and ethnic diversity. Coupled with the aging of the traditional arts audiences, this infusion of diverse communities, rich with their own cultural traditions, requires that arts marketers develop new and creative ways to engage these audiences. In other words, the arts organizations destined to survive and thrive well into the 21st century are the organizations that recognize, cultivate and incorporate multicultural audiences in their planning and programming. Consequently, as a leading authority in multicultural audience development, I have much to share when I go to Australia, and I continuously seek opportunities to learn.

I was invited to speak at three separate events during my week in Melbourne. My first presentation was at the astonishing inaugural Creative State Conference. Sponsored by Creative Victoria and produced by REMIX Summits, the conference brought together creatives representing a broad cross-section of disciplines from throughout the state of Victoria and the world to share ideas to help shape Victoria’s emerging innovation economy. Two years ago, the Australian government committed $1.1-billion for its National Innovation and Science Agenda, established to foster collaboration between the business, science, technology and creative sectors as a means for developing an “innovation economy.” More than half of this money will be allocated to Victoria, whose population is about 6 million people.

I was among the thought-leaders given 25 minutes to address the sold-out event, which also was broadcast online to a global audience. It was important to stress the opportunities that immigration and multiculturalism offer all of us to experience our common humanity through a diverse cultural lens. I outlined some of the innovative methods required to reach multicultural audiences, such as forging dynamic partnerships with “boots on the ground.” And I reminded everyone that audience development is a long-term endeavor, not just a one-time opportunity to spike ticket sales or fill empty seats.

As much as I enjoy presenting and sharing what I’ve learned over the decades I’ve been pioneering audience development methodology, I enjoy even more learning from others through presentations and dialogues. I was particularly inspired by Dr. Sarah Jane Pell, astronaut and artist, whose work takes art to space and underwater. I know—fierce!  You can see a trailer of her work here. Dr. Pell was so bright and engaging; I loved her warrior spirit to literally do what no man has ever done before.

The closing event was a presentation by Future Crunch, part of a global movement of scientists, artists, technologists and entrepreneurs who are seeking to foster intelligent and optimistic thinking, as well as new and better ways of facilitating human progress in the 21st century. Billing themselves as “field guides” to the future, they talked about the power of story; how data is the commodity replacing oil, and the link between connectivity and emotions. I especially resonated with their belief that with courageous optimism we can change even the direst of circumstances into opportunities to create value.

While in Melbourne, I also reconnected with many of the alumni from my Bite the Big Apple program during my presentation at Deakin University. The program provides international arts managers an opportunity to learn from a broad array of New York arts managers. It was great to hear the positive impact their participation has had on their efforts to build diverse audiences in Australia. My business partner Fotis Kapetopoulos and I were very proud and happy to hear their reports.

My last lecture was with Wyndham Council, a presenting arts organization, who had questions about reaching broader and more diverse audiences; creating programming geared towards the interests of local populations, and reaching audiences that we don’t know or have yet to meet.

In between my lectures were lunches and dinners where I shared more experiences about my work, and more important, I heard the experiences of others from all over the world, I was often asked about the lamentable political situation in the US and its impact on the arts. I also was featured in a  newspaper article and was interviewed for the radio by ABC Melbourne.

In my opinion, these events reflect astonishing and farsighted ventures that promote and cultivate the necessary role of creativity, and by extension, the arts, in developing an innovation economy; a sustainable economy for the future. We can learn a lot from the action being driven by this tremendous investment in the future by the Australian government. I can only imagine the innovation that could emerge from an arts-driven partnership in the U.S. with a budget of more than $100-million per year!

My first trip to Melbourne was in 2003, and I took along my husband, daughter and my mom. I am deeply honored to witness the changes and progress in audience outreach and development over the course of the 14 years I’ve been lecturing in Australia. I’m looking forward to returning. I love spending time with my Melbourne family–Fotis and his team at Kape Communications—and it’s important to me to continue to assess and learn from the progress made by the arts marketers with whom I’ve had the fortune to meet and counsel.

With the growing, global change in demographics, Australian artmakers will have to be innovative and bold; I am confident they will be providing lessons for the rest of us working in an ever-diverse arts world.  There is no option but to embrace this exciting change; there is no better time than now.