Brave new world: role of arts marketers in resilience


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Keynote given by Mark Robinson at Arts Marketing Association conference in Glasgow, 20 July 2011

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  • Predicting the future is a tricky business. One can take the reference in the title the AMA have given this conference in two ways – Shakespeare, when one wonders what great people will inhabit this Brave New World that we’ve found ourselves in since – well since May 2010 or 2008 or since 7 July 2005 or since 9/11 or since the Miner’s Strike or the war.... Or the 1930s when AldousHuxley wrote his dystopian novel which imagines the stand of an individual against the rising tide of conformity.  I live and have my office base in Stockton, and a few miles to the north of the town centre, you’ll find Billingham, which is allegedly where Huxley got much of the inspiration for Brave New World. It was once home to ICI and a brave new town – and Huxley loved it, calling it ‘a magnificent kind of poem’ whereas he described nearby Middlesbrough as ‘growing like a fungus, like staphylococcus in a test-tube of chicken-broth’.
  • In many ways it was a model of town planning – homes, shops and cultural facilities all planned in when redone in the 60s. The integrated cultural facility the Forum has just been refurbished – if you search Billingham Forum on YouTube you can see a fantastic video of the Queen opening it in 196X. You can see from these photos that culture was built into the town centre back in the 60s – a band play to a packed square
  • and this is the Billingham International Folklore festival, which is still going today.  But Billingham was originally designed as a company town for ICI, based on the stability that words like Imperial, Chemical and Industry were supposed to bring and two years ago the last ICI logo disappeared from Teesside. What remains of that industry has been carved up and sold off in more slices than a prize pig. History has moved on, and the town centreis a fairly forlorn place now, although Billingham has lots going for it, – persistent, and full of spirit, but with only a kind of dogged resilience, like many damaged communities across the UK. Your challenge, our challenge, as a cultural is to make sure the arts do not become a kind of Billingham town centre over the next few years, as Arts Council and local authority logos disappear from brochures and entrances, and we are left with a proud and paranoid nostalgia, some under-used skills, and the remnants of an infrastructure.
  • I am going to try and do 3 things in my talk today to help us address that challenge by thriving not surviving. I willUnderline 4 things about the context which I think you must understand if you’re going to be leaders in our sectorThen talk about 3 respoonses this context and what it might mean for youI’ll end by suggest a few very practical things you can do to increase your resilience, things you can start to do next week back at base but might take you a long way in finding your own route to resilience. And it has to be your own way because there are no easy answers. If I had magic bullets I would give them out here free and sell them elsewhere, trust me. But this is the task we have set ourselves working in arts marketing – and I speak as someone who cut his teeth trying to persuade people to come to poetry readings - so upwards and onwards.So what’s the context? We’ve heard something already today about this... I’m going to use 4 quotes to talk about the context.
  • COMMUNITY-IDENTITY-STABILITYThese 3 words are one of the more Orwellian slogans to be found in Huxley’s Brave New World. The utopia in Brave New World is built on the desire for happy, content lives with no shocks, no nasty surprises, with happy communities clear in their identity, frolicking and having fun. The dystopia comes because of the downside of that: a life with no shocks and surprises simply consumption is hardly life at all: better to live adventurously, as I believe the Quakers say. Running risks is part of being fully alive. The scientific progress, the cloning, the soma drugs that pacify the population in BNW are an attempt to avoid the turbulence of real human life and interaction. Stability is profitable.  But we, in our new world, have to start with acknowledging that ‘stability’ is a thing of the past – and may never come back. You can take that at whatever level you wish. Firstly we have to acknowledge the new normal we exist in. This is both very different than even the baby boomers here can remember from the 70s or 80s. Contraction not growth is the order of the day, and this is likely to affect all parts of society – not just the poorest. I don’t need to go into detail on the public finances and public funding – you know that only too well. I remember hearing the terrifying phrase ‘flat real forever’ from a civil servant some years ago talking about public funding no longer building in inflation – even that mean be just a rosy memory. But this is about constant instability not just reduction. Ongoing instability will occur in many areas we will have an aging population: By 2035, 23 per cent of the population is projected to be aged 65 and over compared to 18 per cent aged fewer than 16. We will see further effects of climate change. (Or if you choose not to believe in climate change, we may have some funny weather.) Energy prices are likely to rise. And that’s just the things we can predict. We may see some regimes tumble and others rise. (This is not new, of course, and you could argue the arts have always been at the vanguard of change. We’ll see changes in how art is made and how it’s shared – but that’s another talk. My point is: you’ll have to respond or go the way of Billingham shops.
  • These are Unpleasant facts: (Quote from BNW)There are people out there who think you are dispensable. The arts – but also marketers. And maybe especially arts marketers. Eric Pickles thinks many of you don’t have proper jobs, and he’s not alone. The Tax Payers Alliance doesn’t represent me, but they do represent some people, and they are out there.Times are getting tight and disposable income may come under increased pressure. The ASDA Income Tracker suggested last month that household disposable income has gone down by 8% or £14 a week in the last year. Even those who earn more than £100,000 a year are saving less, and spending less. (And they are far more likely to attend arts events, remember.) You have to prove your worth or be subsumed. That worth, I’d suggest, comes from the intense experience of being part of an audience, and part of a relationship with a venue, or a work of art or an artist.
  • Whitman quote: To have great poets there must be great audiences too.Whitman said lots of things I agree with and this is one of them. But how do we achieve great audiences for everyone? Audiences now demanding relationships, in many cases personalised ones, not transactions – drawing on more than seat to put bum on, walls to look at. This is about how you talk with them, how you listen, how you interact – or collaborate to use this spring’sbuzzword.There is an opportunity here to think differently about the assets of arts organisations – what do, how do it, as well as places and spaces – from twitter to classes. Those relationships can be assets; the activities can become assets and drive income.
  • Recent work I’ve done for ACE with Tony Nwackukwu of burnt progress has established a link between embracing the creative case for diversity and organisational strength. We know that our society is becoming more and more diverse, and in ever-evolving ways. Between 2001 and 2009 the fastest growing ethnic minority group, in percentage terms, was Chinese, almost doubled. A need to diversify – and be seen to diversify – activity and income streams – this need being both cultural (driven by audiences and artists) and environmental (funders and politics)The sector is simply not responding to this urgently enough, despite some great practice. In interviewed the Global HR Director of a major law firm who had a far greater focus on getting non-white, non-male, non-Oxbridge talent into his sector than many major arts organisations. (Perhaps because 44% of law graduates in London are non-white, and 50% non-male.) with changes to HE art education, we run the risk of the arts becoming even more middle class than they already are.
  • Resilient ResponsesSo the context is of an ever-more demanding world and population, which is changing and diversifying and therefore becoming more complex to manage, at the same time as resources and maybe even the market are shrinking drastically. We need to draw on existing skills and develop new ones, and new approaches to respond to this. There are three key implications that arise from this context, but now seems as good a point as any to talk very briefly about adaptive resilience. Just over a year ago Arts Council England published my paper Making Adaptive Resilience Real. I defined adaptive resilience there as ‘the capacity to remain productive and true to core purpose and identity whilst absorbing disturbance and adapting with integrity in changing circumstances’. 8 characteristics slide:I identified these 8 characteristics as common to resilient organisations, measurable and consciously buildable.  The central one here is a culture of shared purpose and values – this links to all the others and without it, you are, I’d suggest lost and prone to drift. But on its own it’s not enough – you need to build the other ‘muscles’ as well. I want to draw 3 key areas out that can help us respond to that context and continue to build our adaptive resilience as a sector, that I think arts marketers have a particular role to play. This applies at all levels, albeit they might look different. But if you’ve been in the industry 1 year or 25 years, I think they apply.
  • Firstly, I want to emphasise relationships again, as you have a key role in building relationships with audiences.Build relationships and communities because they are increasingly as much an asset as a script, a show – they are where the value lies. Collaboration is going to be crucial, but as recent events have underlined trust is key to that, building up clarity and a sense of purpose.People know and value what you are – identity (connection to marketing). You need to know who you are before you can enter into an authentic relationship with someone. (And who wants to enter into an inauthentic relationship unless you go along with the other Orwellian slogan in BNW: Secondly, I think we need to concentrate on ever-more powerful storytelling – about the power of art, the power of artists and the power of audiences.Find ways of describing that value (ROI) to audiences, management, trustees – based on great data and stories. (M&S example.) Contact Theatre, who I interviewed for the work on diversity and resilience, do things like explaining how a sold-out show will enable them to run a community project, or to help a young company develop with mentoring or technical support. They have also opened up their commissioning processes to mix audience and experts from outside the organisation, not just their ‘literary manager’ as the trad model would have it. This gives audiences a real stake in the progress of shows and people – creating a kind of narrative interest, as well as a relationship.Tony Nwachukwu and my work identified that in many respects you are what you own, backing up my previous research into the role on tangible and intangible assets in resilience. Arts marketers can bring a fresh perspective to the identification and exploitation of assets with their in depth connection to marketing, brand, audience understanding and data. You should use this to tell stories within your organisations – because it’s often the stories we tell each other that shape that culture of shared purpose – and externally. Does it formally and informally, do it using any media necessary.Assets can include both the tangible and the intangible. From your building, or office, or shed, your database, the merchandise you create or could create around each show, your shop, your cafe. To your ideas, your reputation, your staff and their expertise, your networks, the introductions you can make, the training you can give, the time you can sell. Without wanting to sound like Louis Walsh, what bits of the sector or the place you work do you ‘own’? Dare people go to anyone else for what you offer? And how can you repackage the by-products in order to create either r income or interest or relationships? Could you make your rehearsal time or development time an asset by either filming it so you can create ‘making of’ type extras? Could you offer access to rehearsals to friends, family or philanthropists – at a price or in return for their committment?Most importantly, I think arts marketers need to step up to the leadership plate – and not allow themselves to be kept from the responsibility of shaping the personality of an organisation.Act like an Artistic Director or a Chief Executive – produce cultural value whilst balancing books. (There are an increasing number of senior management partnerships including marketing and communications specialists.) But you can all adopt a different kind of mindset than simply – and I know it’s rarely simple – marketing the product you are given. But to earn that seat, arts marketers need to adopt some of the mindset of artistic directors – connecting artists and audience, telling those powerful stories, never forgetting the job is great art and great audiences.By doing this, arts marketers can help an organisation both define its organisational personality – since you and the relationships you make are as central to the expression of it as the chief exec arguably – and manage its organisational preferences. In preparation for this conference I had a really great day with a group of AMA members discussing the relevant of those 8 characteristics of resilience to the marketing – and vice versa. Out of that we identified a number of tensions in most organisations, such as tradition and change. Both always present, like the north and south poles, but often shifting in power. From this, I’ve developed the beginnings of a hunch that might lead to a theory that could lead to a framework about organisational personalities. If anyone has been psychometric profiled using Myers-Briggs or one of the other systems, you might recongise the format.  
  • : ‘Promiscuity is a citizen's duty. Everyone belongs to everyone else’. Although there have been times recently that Arts Council England’s NPO have been urged to collaborate so furiously I’ve suspected this might have been slipped into Achieving great art for everyone)
  • I think organisations will vary on four axes: ORG PERSONALITY SLIDE:Continuity – Change (Do you prefer things to basically stay the same, building on tradition and the ongoing flow of your work or programme or do you prefer things always to be changing, and work to introduce change by innovating constantly?)Specialism – Holism (do you prefer working in identified specialism – either in roles or in what you do, or do you prefer integrating things and breaking down silos?)Predictability – Risk (Do you prefer to be able to predict what will happen, or are you happiest taking risks?)Adaption – Transformation (When you make changes do you prefer lots of small steps, or the great leap forward knock it down and start again mode?) As with personality profiles, the thing is there’s no ‘best’ way of being, and few people are every 100% at one end of the spectrum. They are useful for knowing yourself, and understanding your behaviour – even adapting it to circumstances. Your challenge is to both shape this, and reflect it, for your organisation. Understanding where you’re natural preferences are can be a help though. You might want to think about your attitude to new marketing techniques – are you over-relient on ‘what works’ to the exclusion of trying out new approaches? Could you use information about your audience and your operating environment to work in tandem with your personal or organisational intuition?  
  • Ways to ROARFrom the diversity and resilience work I identified four aspects to a leadership mindset which I want to finish by exploring with a few practical ideas as to how you can act The resilient, creative and productive organisations we looked at were characterised by four ways of working: they were reflective, open, adaptive, responsible, which very handily can be shorted to a suitable acronym: ROAR
  • Reflective: Organisations which do not reflect upon themselves and their activity become more vulnerable to change over time. Leaders can encourage a reflective mindset in their teams, taking on board data and views from diverse perspectives. (Reflection within a monoculture can become a self-fulfilling prophesy.) Reflection alone is not enough: people must take necessary actions.Organise a half day in the next two months to take time out and think about your organisation’s personality, performance and position. Do not say you are too busy to stop. If you say you are too busy you’re out. The world is too busy for you not too.Develop the habit of the quick ‘after action review’ – what did we want/expect? What actually happened? What was different and why? What have we learnt? What do we do next?
  • Open: In order to encourage genuine diversity, organisations need to become more open in their approaches, their dialogues and in their thinking. They need to avoid becoming fixed structurally or in their offer, and invite other views and voices in. A non-hierarchical mindset enhances the creative use of diversity. Open, honest dialogue characterises exemplar organisations.Identify a decision you need to take that could involve other people – and ‘give it away’ – to colleagues, audience, stakeholdersNow involve people in something even more important than that last decision.
  • Adaptive: Embracing diversity can lead to change in cultures and an adaptive mindset can encourage and manage this. Such a mindset typically makes many small changes in response to ideas and context, rather than, say, big changes every few years. It adapts itself around clear core values and a shared purpose. Sometimes, however, transformation may be what is needed.Identify 3 ways you could adapt how you work in the next year. List any barriers, and then go round/over or through them.Try something new (and cheap!) and then change your way of working based on what you learn from it. Don’t worry if it’s a flop. Worry if you learn nothing.
  • Responsible: Adaptive resilience is not simply about individual organisations but the whole cultural ecology. A mindset which actively embraces a responsibility to this ecology and a responsibility to use public investment for broad public good as well as organisational benefit can use its capacity to nurture new and diverse groups, and serve diverse artists and audiences.Think about the landscape from the point of view of someone looking at your organisation. (Maybe the most sceptical person you know?) What would they expect of you? Identify something to do you’re not currently doing.Map your networks and identify 3 things you could do for other people which would help your mission
  • Conclusion: There’s been a lot in the last 40 minutes. I hope some of it will resonate, as I think the people in this real have a real and vital leadership job to do for the cultural sector to flourish in the UK. To meet the challenges of shrinking resources and demanding times and audiences, we need to build our resilience, and you can help particularly in the areas of shared culture, relationships and leadership. You need to reflect hard, and help your organisations to do that, using the combination of data and stories – I read recently that data is stories squared which I liked – that you have at your disposal, and the understanding of audience behaviour. Add to that an understanding of artist behaviour and a sense of responsibility for affecting change and maybe even the biggest cynic will say positively of those goodly creatures arts marketers, ‘what brave new world that has such people in it’.
  • A reminder...
  • Brave new world: role of arts marketers in resilience

    1. 1.
    2. 2.
    3. 3.
    5. 5. COMMUNITYIDENTITYSTABILITY<br />from Brave New World<br />
    6. 6. ‘These’, he said gravely, ‘are unpleasant facts; I know it. But then most historical facts are unpleasant.’<br />from Brave New World<br />
    7. 7. ‘To have great poets there must be great audiences too.’Walt Whitman<br />
    8. 8. ‘The more diverse a network, the greater its ability to respond to change’The Law of Requisite Variety<br />
    9. 9.
    11. 11. Promiscuity is a citizen's duty. Everyone belongs to everyone else.<br />from Brave New World<br />
    12. 12. ORGANISATIONAL PERSONALITY<br />Continuity SpecialismPredictabilityAdaption <br />ChangeHolismRiskTransformation<br />
    14. 14. REFLECTIVE: Develop a habit of ‘after action review’  Take time out to reflect on personality and performance. <br />
    15. 15. No, you are not <br />Too Busy.<br />
    16. 16. Really,<br />you’re not.<br />
    17. 17. OPEN: Identify a decision to ‘give away’ (responsibly) Talk about the very thing you’re most nervous to talk about<br />
    18. 18. ADAPTIVE: Identify 3 ways to adapt. Note barriers. Go round/over/under them. Try something new & review it. Then change how you work a little. <br />
    19. 19. Or a lot. <br />
    20. 20. RESPONSIBLE: Do something to defy the expectations of the biggest sceptic you know Perform 3 strategic acts of kindness<br />
    21. 21. Ready to<br />ROAR?<br />
    23. 23. THANK YOU<br />@thinkinpractice<br /><br />