Audience development in the arts (part one)

12 October, 2008    

Audience Development is a special type of marketing; “a planned process which involves building a relationship between an individual and the arts.

This post is designed to provide a vocabulary and a theoretical basis for describing and considering what it is practitioners ask people to take part in when they offer them a theatre ticket. Audience development activity is central to the success of arts organisations for a number of reasons. Perhaps most importantly it is one way to ensure long term growth and sustainability for an artist or arts organisations, both artistically and financially. Secondly, and equally importantly, it directly addresses the issue that artists continually produce a ‘new products’. Art is stimulating, but similarly new art is often unfamiliar, even challenging. With each new art work arts marketers must convince the audience to come and take a chance.
Traditional new product development models would work from the definition of a market need and the creation of a strategy to meet and exploit this need. Arts products do something similar in that they satisfy a fundamental human need for meaningful communication. Art speaks directly to individuals, it provides deeply personal experiences in social contexts, it cannot be recreated, just revisited, and on every visit it is always different. Traditional marketing will consistently provide us with tools with which to shape our efforts of communicating the power of the arts. However the real strength lies in the way practitioners adapt these tools. In the dismantling and reassembling of traditional marketing tools and models practitioners can better understand the demands of arts marketing, its priorities and what makes it unique. In so doing they can shape new practices specifically equipped for the arts. To develop such a practice I believe it is necessary to work from some theoretical assumptions.

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