ARC Stockton Arts Centre

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Ahead of a talk I’m giving at the AMA Conference in July, I was asked this question: As a CEO, why do you think it is important to be audience-focused?

The AMA kindly agreed to let me publish my response here as well as on their blog. So here’s my answer:

If we aren’t focused on audiences, then why would we present work? Our commitment to audiences at ARC starts with our artistic policy: to present work that is contemporary and relevant. By relevant, we mean work that resonates with our local community, that is about things that are interesting to them, about things that entertain them, and about things that matter to them.

If we lose sight of the audiences we are trying to engage with, then we lose sight of our overall vision, mission and aims.

It isn’t just about what we put on though, it is about the invitation we make, the environment we create, and the overall experience that we offer.

If we don’t invite people in a way that makes them feel like this event or activity is for them, if we don’t provide an environment that is comfortable for them to be in, and we don’t make them feel welcome, then we cannot expect people to come.

That is what being audience focused is about for me: about making sure that we think about our audiences in every aspect of our work.

This often means thinking about people that are different to us. We recognise the lack of diversity within the arts, and we want to change that. That means changing who tells the stories, which stories get told and who hears them. But it also means changing the environments that they get told in.

Sometimes this is about going out and telling stories in other settings, but this shouldn’t be the only answer. This country is full of beautiful buildings, many of which are purpose built or adapted to present arts and culture in the most ideal setting. I believe everyone should have the opportunity to enjoy experiencing culture in these places.

Recently I have asked staff to think about spaces they aren’t comfortable visiting – banks, betting shops and high-end fashion outlets were common answers – and then to think about why. The reasons were about perception, knowledge and fear of getting something wrong. We then applied these to how people might feel about ARC, and very quickly came up with a list of things that we could do to address some of them.

It was a simple exercise but just one of the ways we have thought about our audiences. If you aren’t audience-focused, and don’t place audiences at the centre of everything you do, then you cannot expect your audiences to grow.