Roll Up! Roll Up! The Audience Dillemma

Is it just me or is the phrase “Audience Development” – so beloved of Arts Councils and Policy Makers – one of the most patronising concepts ever developed? I mean, maybe the “audience” reckons its pretty developed as it is and it really doesn’t need any help defining and acknowledging its own tastes.

Audience engagement is a different and far more challenging idea. Engagement means listening – and they just might tell you stuff you don’t want to hear.  Despite this one of the first responsibilities of artists and arts organisations is to make work for an audience. know who that audience is, and get out and find them,  and engage with them. If we are not doing this – particularly in a start-up situation – then what we are doing is a hobby.

Art without an audience is a bit like that famous tree that falls in the forest. If nobody hears or sees it fall then its just a tree that fell down that nobody saw.

The answer to the question “Who is the work for?” is key to the sustainability of any venture. For the artist – I have to admit – it can be a confusing and complex question.

The truth of the matter is that In the early days of work the audience is mostly family and friends with a little bit of help from mailing lists, maybe some press and word of mouth to bring up the numbers – all of which can be hit and miss. This is true for shows, writers, visual artists etc.

From an individual artists point of view it gets very complex because each story, each production, each series of paintings will appeal to a different group of people.  How do we make people aware of what we are doing,  how do we stimulate their interest, how do we create desire and action and – the hardest question of all – what value do we have for them.

We need to identify and define that group, find out where they live and knock on all their doors. Its that simple.

Or as they say in the text books, describe the persona, define the segments, identify the channel, develop an engagement plan and then work that plan.

Guy Kawasaki is a bit of a Guru in the start up world. He’s written some really interesting books and my favourite is ENCHANTMENT.  He says that if we are to get and keep customers then we have to enchant them “To cast a spell over; to bewitch; To attract and delight”. He’s right.

Final thought when people want to experience your work not because of the quality of the specific piece of work but because you made it then you have become a brand. That brand has value. Tend it well.

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