2011年9月12日 星期一

Audience development: beyond the commercial mindset of “art marketing”

When a “product” is produced, be it a commercial product or an artwork, its producer feels the need to have it exposed to the largest amount of audience possible. However the reason for doing that differs fundamentally between that of a commercial product and an artwork. A commercial product needs to each a largest consumer group possible for the purpose of profit maximization, following the logic of the mass production and standardized consumption in the modern, industrialized economy. Artists, on the other hand, want to share their work with the largest amount of audience possible so as to get satisfaction out of being heard. The quantity of audience in this case need not have direct relationship with the income an artist thus generates. Yet, since the 1970’s, when Government subsidy to arts organization in many countries saw a decrease, the arts world has been highly impacted by a commercial requirement for “audience maximization”, namely to bring in profits through the sharing of an art product. Such a change of the expected outcome of audience development has posed serious challenges to arts organization in their quality of work, and in the general role of arts in the society.

The misguided expectation of the “value” of arts

The success of American business-school model of evaluating profit and shareholder values has been so overwhelmingly accepted by people all over the world, and the situation gets even more aggressive alongside extensive globalization. With Government subsidy to arts organization reducing and private enterprises getting more active in being sponsors and board of directors in arts organizations, the corporate mentality of going after bottomline has been imposed on arts organization as the raison d’etre of their existence.

Unfortunately, this situation is not limited to a particular country but is globally happening. The trend of economic model being applied to arts organization, or even a country’s art policy, takes place in many market economies: the UK, USA, Australia, and here locally in HK. The arts sponsorship strategy of multinationals across continents also has aggravated the situation.

The root problem here is equating the value of arts to the quantitative measurement of audience. Expecting arts to be distributed to a considerable mass of “consumers” in the same manner as materials goods is a conceptual error as non-material cultural products cannot be standardized. They are agents of individualized experience and the “satisfaction” need not be immediate. Today an artwork may not be well received by the audience, but the role of art is exactly to be risk-taking, to show the society perspective that otherwise may not be noticed at all. Artists can take audiences to beyond their current level by being “different”. Yet by nature of our learning process, people need time to understand and embrace difference. Art is not necessarily entertaining so that a large group of people flock to view an artwork just to obtain momentary pleasure.

When an arts organization is not contributing to the bottomline, it doesn’t immediately translate into “management problems” or “strategic error”. That is the nature of arts, an “industry” which provides alternative for a balanced society, and hence is the Government’s mandate to protect its existence. However, what is happening now in reality is that, “Instead, the “arts”, like most other government-subsidized areas, has had to provide economic reasons for continuing its government involvement……..Turning this concept on its head and funding only arts practice which is commercial and populist is certainly oppositional to the original justification for government intervention……..Governments also determined that the needs of the audience were more important in the distribution of arts funding than the needs or desires of art practitioners.”[1] 

The metropolitan audience, in the meantime, has contributed to this focus on quantitative measurement. Most of the city audiences, especially those following fine arts, are well-off, time poor middle class. They lead a well-managed, expected, and comfortable lifestyle. They lack the time and patience to appreciate unfamiliar forms of arts, and they feel insecure when exposed to artworks not immediately comprehensible. Modernism thinking also emphasizes the need to be rational and to have control over almost everything because of human’s advanced technology:
 “….that out capacity for being with unfamiliar art depends on our capacity to be comfortable with uncertainty and ambiguity…….Now “to have no goals” is anathema to us, irresponsible or wrong and with moral or monetary implications.” [2]
Arts organizations are always struggling to balance between being accepted and providing a new insight to the audiences. At the end of the day, artists would like to produce artworks that are being shared and appreciated. Jo Caust warned that “There is a real danger that this approach (focusing resources entirely to finding the audience) will lead to the production of safe, consumer-oriented arts products which, in the end, may not be what the audience either wants or needs.”[3]

Andrew McIntyre of Morris Hargreaves McIntyre Consultancy and Research, UK, also pointed out the problem of following a market economy model when developing audiences. To McIntyre, audience development is to “develop the knowledge, confidence, and taste of the audience, but not just the number of. (Its success) should be measured by the quality of experience, not the sheer number of attendees.”[4] The error of adopting the business “marketing” approach to achieve audience quantity is that “Mailing to people simply because they have been to a similar show will not work……New audience needs to be cultivated, cannot be bought (with advertising.) This is especially true for the young, the poor, the less well-educated. These groups are often times forgotten by the commercial world and they therefore need more support from museums and NGOs to expose them to art appreciation so they will become a sophisticated audience in the future.”[5]

The Hong Kong situation
Compared to countries such as the UK where there is a longer history of arts sponsorship and development, and compared to cities like Taipei where there is a Cultural Bureau, the pressure of audience development so as to contribute to the bottomline, is equally, if not much more strongly felt in HK by arts organizations. Besides the factors discussed above, there are local situations that aggravate the overall difficulty in audience development in HK:

1.      Lack of funding
-          The HKSAR Government allocates a total of $2.7 billion (about 1% of the Government's total expenditure) on culture and the arts in 2008 / 09. This figure alone is on par with the spending of many developed countries. However, Hong Kong lacks a mature corporate arts sponsorship mentality, and there is a lack of peripheral policies to encourage corporate subsidies to arts sponsorship. Corporate art sponsorships are granted out of annual budgets so it would be the interest of sponsors to see positive results, in terms of breadth of exposure in a period measured by months, in order for sponsorship budget to be available in the following budget plan.
-          The Home Affairs Bureau (HAB) provides regular subvention to nine major HK performing arts groups.[6] In 2008-09, the total funding was around $259 million. The aim of the subvention is to “enable the public to have access to quality performing arts programmes of these groups at affordable prices for the purpose of enriching the cultural life of the community at large.”[7] What is worth noticing here is the mandate to define audience as “the community at large.” The underlying objective of allocating such a large amount of Government support is for these nine groups to go after “safe” art that satisfies the expectation of the average audiences, rather than being experimental with new audience possibilities.
-          The Hong Kong Arts Development Council (HKADC) is a statutory body under HAB. It received an annual recurrent subvention of over $70 million from HAB in 2008 -09. Apart from the annual recurrent Government subvention, the HKADC also applies for funding of major projects from the Arts and Sport Development Fund (ASDF) (Arts Portion), which is administered by HAB. In February 2009, the Finance Committee of the Legislative Council approved the injection of $60 million into the Arts and Sport Development Fund (Arts Portion) to buttress support for arts development.
-          Yet this sum of HK$13 million is quite limited when distributed among small art groups of various art forms. This is particularly obvious when one considers its very small scale compared to that of the subvention to the nine major performing groups. In 2008/2009, 39 art institutions received 1-yr or 2-yr grants from HKADC. The largest grant amount for 1-yr grant is HK$700K while for 2-yr grants, it ranges from HK$70,000 to $400,000. For programs, take “October Contemporary” in 2008, only a mere HK$75,000 for this one-month, territory-wide program.[8] Such funding barely supports the daily operation of these non-profit making art groups, not to mention the resources required for program promotion and longer term audience development.
-          The HKADC grant application procedure requires art groups to provide an estimation of the number of audiences. The possibility of receiving subsequent funding depends on to what extent the projected audience number has been met. Artists and art administrators always find themselves caught between the difficult choice of presenting the artist’s vision, or the audiences’ preference.

2.      Lack of expertise in audience development
- Arts administration has not been a formal subject of studies in HK’s tertiary education system until the last 5 years. There are mixed reasons for this situation, including the mainstream value system of “desirable” occupations, the historical government policy of treating “arts” as a form of “entertainment” that provides spiritual “health” to the public, and as described in point 1, the general lack of funding in arts organizations to hire professionals. For many years “arts administration” has been handled by either, civil servants who take care of municipal services, or by artists themselves.
- Provided that art administrators play a key role of soliciting funding, bringing the artists into the community, and secure performance opportunities for the artists, such a lack of formal expertise can lead to the under-development of audience nurture and education:
w   Some artists see audience development as “commercial activities” and are unwilling to be proactive
w   Artists are not necessarily trained to possess or even understand the skills in audience development such as profiling, survey, funding allocation, organizing school tours, and the many more planning and administration work required
w   The job responsibilities of LCSD staff do not require them to be concerned with the quality of experience of the audience, or education of the ability to appreciate arts. Their mandate is to “put bumps on the seats”.
w   The Education Department, while being the provider of Hong Kong’s education policies, has not been active in arts education. This is again a result of multiple historical reasons. Besides the fact that fine arts education has not been encouraged before 1997 hand-over, HK parents are not highly positive about arts appreciation as an essential way to develop the spiritual integrity. HK parents are more concerned about training that brought tangible results (such as being accepted by a famous school) or immediate glory (such as being the champion in a music competition.)   
w   Many Hong Kong artists, in order to make ends meet, works only part-time as artists. Beyond full-time job requirement and the pressure to create new works, it is unlikely artists would have the required resources to be involved in the community and audience development efforts.
3.      Lack of commercial sponsorship that supports long term audience development: while the value of brand association to arts is more and more recognized in many developed countries, and the introduction of the balanced scorecard accounting concept has encouraged many corporations to invest more on arts sponsorship, such corporate citizenship is still at its infant stage in HK. Many commercial sponsors are not interested in sponsorships that do not bring immediate, quantifiable results.
4.      The perception of “eliteness” and distance from daily lives: the performance venues of the nine major “fine arts” performing groups receiving HAB subvention have been confined to happen only in “proper” venues such as music halls, theatres, galleries. The hurdle to audience participation in these venues is not necessarily the art form, but the hassle of getting there to start with: considering the physical distance of the performance venue from work place or home, the price of tickets, the requirement to meet certain etiquette. These considerations turn people off before even thinking about the actual performance. Even if one gets over all these hurdles, there is a lack of public involvement and discussion when arts are presented unilaterally in these venues. Art in Hong Kong lacks an “easy-goingness” that invites participation, while the availability of public space where arts can be shared and discussed is quickly diminishing due to a lot of city renewal plans.

There is an obviously vicious relationship going on between the inability to develop audience who possess high level of art appreciation and the dominance of mass, popular “entertainment” that brings in the quantity of audience required by funding sources, public and private alike. I’d like to describe this relationship as an overall lack of a risk-taking attitude among stakeholders including the funding providers, the art organizations with resources, and the education institutions. Bound by the commercial success measures, it is tempting for stakeholders to take the safe side in terms of programming because that would at least secure mainstream and recurring audience. Art groups who are willing to push the envelope for new art form development and appreciation are set up for failure by the system because there are no resources to generate the audiences’ curiosity and their desire to progress.

Audience development is not a loser’s game

The seemingly painstaking audience development process is not a result of the lack of aesthetic sense of the public. It is to me a result of misguided focus and approach. As Jo Caust, quoting the UNESCO, that “(we)…agree to promote the idea that cultural goods and services should be fully recognized and treated as being not like any other form of merchandise (UNESCO, 1998)”[9] He thus argued that, “Arts organization are NGO “….their purpose is, after all, to produce art, not profit for their shareholders. Therefore I would argue that aesthetic and cultural organizations must have greater value in performance measurement, than the financial return realized by the organization.”[10]

While we cannot change the value system and operation of a capitalist market economy over the night, some corporate governance measures help us revisit the value of arts organization and how their performance should be evaluated. The world’s increasing emphasize on environmental protection, maintaining diversity of species, and universal values, mean that globally, we are more concerned about making-up for the damage made during the fervent ages of industrialization. The “Balanced Scorecard” concept in 21st century management is widely accepted by the Wall Street as a valid approach to evaluate a company’s performance and its potential to long-term sustainability. Sponsors, by sponsoring audience development, can build related results into their P/L statement and enter as a positive entry to the triple bottomline accounting system. How should arts organizations cope with this new trend to nurture audience that are truly meaningful for their artworks?

Take museums as an example. “Unless we are to adopt some puritanical point of view that denounces as illegitimate all of a visitor’s responses to a museum beyond those narrow, didactic ones intended by its program staff, we have to acknowledge that the totality of what goes on in a museum - the myriad interactions of visitors with one another – is a far headier mixture than much of our museum literature suggests. Should museums ignore or reject those many interactions as a kind of static that interferes with the main educational messages that they are trying to send?”[11] A paradigm shift is required of today’s museum management in HK, who sees themselves as the all-knowing authority that could and should be the ultimate creator of museum experience. Instead, taking reference to Weil, the role of the museum is to encourage interaction through which the audience develops a sense of ownership and pride. This will also create relevancy between the art world and our daily lives, provide opportunities for positive changes among those who participate. 
Weil’s point is strongly echoed in the following success examples of audience development, all centered around the principle of “participation when art is developed” as the most effective way of audience development:
1.      The Khumo Chamber Music Festival, annually in July, Eastern Finland
The essence of participation is well reflected in these figures: 159 full time staff, 2051 part time, and 5632 volunteers.[12] The large number of volunteers is from the local community where the music festival takes place. The Festival organizers make hard effort to get the community involved to start with, so they feel being part of the festival and are proud of it. Their support as volunteers also means that they care for the Festival’s success and play very active role in bringing in audiences. The Khumo Festival organizer knows that just bringing in a “festival” from other parts of Finland (or overseas) will not create the same level of enthusiasm because local people will feel being imposed of something foreign, and will reject with the worry that the local situation will be destroyed. As a respect to the local community, the artists try hard to change the mentality of “artists being high up” and should be “handled with care.” Instead they demonstrate their dedication to “togetherness” by staying at average accommodation, actively involved in all administration work, and perform at close distance with the audiences. Through these efforts, the Festival also successfully delivers the message that serious art (chamber music) is not about not smiling, about boring performance. It’s about bringing more to the audience besides entertainment because there is always someone who wants to get the best in spiritual pursuit.

During the Festival, which lasts for about 1 month, there are a lot of free concerts. The Festival is therefore not only for rich people. In Finland the audiences to high arts festivals are consistently the middle class so free concerts targeting new audience source actually attracted sponsors. The Finns are well trained to appreciate across multiple art forms: music, theatre, dance, so the same population can feed into the audience base of multiple art forms, enabling the arts festival culture to flourish in a country of a population even smaller than that of HK as a city.

2.      South Bank Center, London
According to Shân Maclennan, Creative Director: Learning and Participation, Southbank Centre[13], the guiding principle of the Center’s audience development programs is “learning and participation.” The Center’s free programs do not only invite public participation but as organizers and performers. These free programs are also not only light-hearted entertainment but can go up to full-scale performance with 500 non-professional performers. Schools are invited to work on the programs together, which take over 2 years to develop. Besides the skillful management and coaching skills of the Center, its vision and patience to long-term audience development are no doubt critical success factors.

3.      Audience development, instead of a marketing activity that reaches out to “customers” who consume the art “products” as a momentous gratification, should be integrated into regular school curriculum over years. Only students who have learnt to truly embrace and appreciate art will remain loyal to art activities life-long. The Royal Albert Hall Department of Learning[14] designs “school matinees program” for school kids between 8-16 years old. Matinees, produced and performed by students, provide them new perspectives how to appreciate live performances, expand their cultural awareness and literacy, and enhance people’s confidence, presentation, speaking and listening skills (so they can develop fine ears to appreciate the professionalism of the performers). One interesting example is “Madame Butterfly Fashion Show”. To break the myth that operas are elitist and hard to comprehend, students were “challenged to devise, create and model their own fashion designs inspired by the themes of the opera. (A 2nd group of) students worked with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra to compose and perform new music to accompany the show, (a 3rd group) worked with BBC 21CC to create a VJ program to accompany the show.”[15] Working alongside a group of professionals, these students can develop a new level of sympathy to the value of creativity and will be able to appreciate art to a much deeper level.

Can similar programs be conducted in HK? With art education becoming a standard curriculum under the new 3-3-4 secondary education system, it is even more critical for HK as a society to ask ourselves what the relationship should be between art and our future generation. I believe it all comes down to our definition of “what is worthwhile.” Professional artists have to find it worthwhile to spend time with amateurs and the community, and to put education in front of his own artistic achievement. Parents have to find it worthwhile for their children to spend time on activities that do not directly contribute to examination marks. Sponsors have to find it worthwhile to invest on activities that do not necessarily bring short-term quantifiable commercial benefits. The Government has to find it worthwhile to support a society that respects the role of arts. The audiences have to find it worthwhile to contemplate instead of gulping down whatever is presented by the mass media. All in all, we should do the notion “worthiness” justice by agreeing in its neutrality instead of predisposed social values, so there is room for its individual definition to be respected.

[1] Jo Caust, “Putting the “Art” back into arts policy making: How arts policy has been “captured” by the economists and the marketers”, The International Journal of Cultural Policy, 2003 Vol. 9 (1), P.52

[2] Mary Jane Jacob, 'Making Space for Art' from Paula Marincola (ed.) What Makes a Great Exhibition (Philadelphia: Philadelphia Center for Arts and Heritage, 200 6 ), 134-141.
[3] Jo Caust, “Putting the “Art” back into arts policy making: How arts policy has been “captured” by the economists and the marketers”, The International Journal of Cultural Policy, 2003 Vol. 9 (1), P.58
[4] Notes from McIntyre’s presentation during the Audience Development Workshops, presented by the British Council in Hong Kong, 19 Nov 2009.

[5] Ditto.
[6] The nine performing art groups are the Hong Kong Chinese Orchestra, the Hong Kong Dance Company, the Hong Kong Repertory Theatre, the Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra, the Hong Kong Sinfonietta, the Hong Kong Ballet, City Contemporary Dance Company, Chung Ying Theatre Company and Zuni Icosahedron.
[7] LC Paper No. CB(2)1464/08-09(01): Legislative Council Panel on Home Affairs Governance of Major Performing Arts Groups, 8 May 2009
[8] Data from HKADC website: www.hkadc.org
[9] Originally from the UNESCO 8th Charter of Cultural Rights, 1998, quoted by Jo Caust in, “Putting the “Art” back into arts policy making: How arts policy has been “captured” by the economists and the marketers”, The International Journal of Cultural Policy, 2003 Vol. 9 (1), P.61
[10] Ditto, P.59
[11] Stephen Weil, ‘ Museums: Can And Do They Make A Difference? ’ Making Museums Matter ( Washington , D.C. : Smithsonian Institution Press, c2002 ), P.66.
[12] Data provided by Minna Pensola and Tomas DjusjÖbacka of Meta4 Quartet during the “5 million people, 100 Festivals – the Experience of Finland” symposium on 19 Feb, 2010, Hong Kong

[13] Presentation given at “Audience Development Symposium”, presented by The British Council HK, 2009

[14] Presentation given by Alistair Tallon, Head of Learning & Participation, Royal Albert Hall, at “Audience Development Symposium”, presented by The British Council, HK 2009.
[15] Ditto