European Audience: 2020 and beyond. Conference 16-17 October in Brussels

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European Audience: 2020 and beyond. Conference 16-17 October in Brussels


Audience development has become increasingly fashionable as a concept and much debated in the cultural sector. A wide range of terminology and jargon abounds. Terms such as “access to culture”, “cultural education”, “cultural inclusion”, “arts marketing”, etc have become standard in dialogue with funders, both private and public. What’s the difference, where is the fine line, and above all what do we mean by it, here today? This is a conference about grassroots cultural operators, projects and practice. So let’s try and keep it simple.

Audience development: what is it and why do it?”

We recognise audience development as a multi-dimensional concept, with cultural, social and economic dimensions. It’s about both building new audiences, deepening the relationship with existing audiences, and diversifying audiences.

  • Why is the European Commission now interested?
  • Why is the cultural sector interested?
  • What is the connection between citizenship and visitor?

The pace of change with digital technology is having a profound impact on the arts, as well as the behaviour and expectations of audiences. The public is more educated than ever before, with more leisure time, creating a great opportunity for the cultural sector. However, there is also greater competition for how time and money are spent. People are increasingly demanding and critical. If they have a bad experience at a cultural event, they will vote with their feet and are unlikely to return. Against this backdrop the arts need to be increasingly relevant to people’s expectations. The cultural institution must accept the reality that it is no longer the solo gate-keeper to people’s tastes. Being and remaining relevant may require involving the public more closely in programming, in content decisions and in opportunities for feedback. How are cultural organisations dealing with this? What examples do we have of empowering people at the research and/or programming phase? What challenges does this present? Is there a risk to artistic quality, a danger of “dumbing down”, how to avoid becoming entirely “product led”? How to surprise the audience about its expectations and what it thought it wanted?

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