I just returned from Zagreb, Croatia, where I conducted a series of audience development workshops at the invitation of Kultura Nova. This organization provides professional training and financial support to arts and culture organizations so that they can better connect with civil society.
My experience was another reminder that access to the arts is a global conversation. The make-up of the audiences may vary, depending upon the population, but the questions are often similar, if not the same: How do we best extend the invitation to local communities to attend or engage in arts experiences? How do we build long-lasting relationships that are fluid and creative? What is the key to making our arts institutions an integral part of their lives? How do we revitalize existing audiences?
As I reviewed the applications of the 60 participants, I could see the similarities between their concerns and the concerns of people who’ve attended my workshops or lectures in the United States. For the Kultura Nova participants, diversity refers to class, multi-generations and geography, rather than race or ethnicity. They were interested in learning how to inspire or motivate potential audiences to experiment with something new. And, like many of us, they also were struggling with garnering media support and using digital marketing in a more dynamic way.
We engaged in a wonderful exercise in which I asked them to envision the future of their organizations in 10 years and how their efforts to develop audiences had become newsworthy. That’s where I witnessed amazing creativity. Their visions included a touring, all-female puppet group that employed women, age 45 or older, as performers. Another person, speaking on behalf of a literary translation group, envisioned that their organization sparked children’s literacy initiatives and had connections to bookstores.
The workshop sessions were a reminder that arts administrators of all levels are smart, attentive and creative people. They are determined to grow their audiences and, when given the opportunity, they can offer tremendous contributions to the many creative aspects of making and presenting the arts.
I have had the opportunity and honor to lecture internationally in-person in Moscow; Bloemfontein, South Africa, Scotland, Berlin and Australia and, via Skype, in New Zealand. No matter what their corner of the world, arts administrators and arts workers remain optimistic and hopeful, and I salute their never give-up spirit. Let’s continue to expand the global conversation reaffirming that the arts are for everyone.