BtBA Day 5

I have just completed Day 5 and the end of the #BtBA. The day was focussed on Brooklyn at BAM and the Brooklyn Museum and then a final iconic visit to the Guggenheim and fortuitously the opening of the Alberto Burri exhibition. Just as the Program finished we exited the Guggenheim to see heavens open to a huge thunder storm; a dramatic end to a dramatic week.

So 5 days down and have experienced 20 visits and interactions with key cultural institutions, arts companies, and industry and community organisations. There has been a huge amount of information and not much time to process it. I must admit that adding the stress of writing the blog at the end of days and into the nights has forced me to be more analytical than what this level of activity would usually allow for. I have seen differences and similarities between NY and Australia but I will collect my overall thoughts for my last blog in this series which I will write after I get some distance from here.

This blog focuses on one of my key objectives for the Program which was to understand the nature and success of audience development for diverse markets in the New York context.

The work that I referred to in my Prologue blog The World is Your Audience provides a valuable framework for the diversity audience development analysis.

The work developed a model of audience development which requires an understanding of diversity audiences and to be able to segment these into three categories.

The first category are people and groups (the predisposed) who have a predisposition to consuming arts and cultural activities and are limited in this by not being connected to the arts information and promotion networks. This group needs to be catered to by expanding the nature of promotions and marketing to include language specific mediums and situations and making them feel welcome in their experience.

The second category is the cultural maintainers. They are interested in arts and cultural activities but this predominantly takes the form of ‘performers from home’, theatre that is specific to their stories either as home country experiences or their migration narratives, and participatory cultural activities such as dance. This group needs more than promotion; it needs to be attracted by the production and presentation of products that fit within the ‘cultural maintenance’ experience. The problem with attempts to meet this need by mainstream institutions is that they can get these audiences in but only to consume the cultural product, that is they don’t return.

The third category is one in which individuals and groups have limited cultural capital and whose arts and cultural consumption is totally within community. For labelling purposes I will call these the marginal. In ethnicity terms this should not be equated as not having culture or cultural expression, but rather that this cultural expression does not confirm to how we currently consume the arts as viewers and consumers. Audience development with these groups is more long term and requires deep and meaningful connection to be built, the development of trust and ultimately education and the enhancement of cultural capital form community to broader societal.

Overall I did not find that the arts sector had moved far enough into diversity and equity to really work within this more nuanced approach. So how did I rate them against my model?

The predisposed

Even though I have stated previously that domestic audience numbers are declining, the visitors and arts tourists deliver the critical numbers needed and can make up for the decline. In this context the attitude was, ‘why would we target ethic minorities’ with the rationale being that they are so well known and that these people spoke English. As a consequence I saw limited multicultural marketing practice, and a strong resistance to it from the big organisations and players.

The notable exception to this was the Metropolitan Museum of Arts which demonstrated high level skills and effective multicultural marketing strategies and execution.

The cultural maintainers

This was the group around which most of the access work I saw was concerned. It was really a no brainer. If the surrounding population to Queens Museum was estimated to be 95% Hispanic, then of course it would be obvious that they are not attending and that access strategies would need to be developed.

The nature and range of these access strategies were rich and extraordinary. Opening up the Museums to the community through the presentation of culturally relevant activities in situ; outreaching into the community to foster participatory work; and to proactively target minorities for individual and community development programs.

It is in this area that Australia has a lot to learn.

I have previously stated that one impact of migration is the transformation of cultural consumers in the home country to cultural maintainers in the country of migration. Our challenge now is to reverse the process to not only enhance individual access to a broader range of arts and cultural activities and through this to build social cohesion.

The marginal

Given the resistance of many cultural organisations to consider the needs of a range of ethnic minorities and the focus on big groups, smaller minorities remain invisible and out of mind. As I had stated in previous posts, population groups are more aggregations and not true descriptors of the many communities that make up New York. It is telling that while Australia accredits translators in over 60 languages, in the USA translators are only accredited in 16 languages.

Perhaps even suggesting that these smaller and new and emerging communities should be part of the frame can be considered rich, but I really feel that the access dialectic needs to include a more fine grained approach to who makes up this diversity.

Perhaps I am dreamer and need to be told to wake up, but I really believe in the cohesive value of the arts and we all need the multicultural reality to succeed.

In the first blog I acknowledged the BtBA leaders Fotis and Dorothy Kapetopoulos and Donna Walker-Kuhne. I have to thank them for the access they afforded and their generosity in sharing their deep relationships for our gain.

Pino Migliorino