house delegates’ thoughts on AMA Inclusivity & Audiences Day 2022

The focus of this year’s Arts Marketing Association Inclusivity & Audiences Day was Same World, Different Ways designed to shift the needle on how we relate to EDI (Equality, Diversity and Inclusivity). Through the house bursary scheme we were able to enable 4 marketing & comms professionals from venues across our network to attend this online training day. What was fascinating about each of these 4 people was that in their bursary applications they had each wanted to learn more about different aspects of EDI, whether it was developing their audiences with a focus on Ethnicity, Disability or LGBT or learning best practice for equality in the workplace.

Each person has written up their findings from the day and talked about how they will instigate their learnings in the organisation to make lasting practical changes.

Tess Brice, Head of Marketing and Sales, Chipping Norton Theatre

As a small Marketing Team we often find it hard to carve out time dedicated to Audience Development. Therefore most of our research and findings are gathered from Social Media Channel insights, Spektrix Reporting and Post-Show Survey analysis.

On the day I hoped to gain more information about free tools we can utilise to help with our Audience Development and also how to make the most out of the tools we have i.e. Spektrix, Audience Finder etc.

I found Raabia Hussain’s talk the most interesting. It was really inspiring and I took down so many notes during this session. I particularly liked the Manifesto poster she created with We Transfer. It has given me lots of ideas and I would like to create one for our venue.

There were a few moments when I felt uncomfortable but everyone kept saying to not resist this feeling but instead to lean in. It then made me question why I was feeling uncomfortable, and the reason was that I didn’t want to say the wrong thing. I didn’t want to offend or upset somebody by using the wrong words/phrases. Lots of people in the chat expressed the same concerns and so it was great being able to talk about these concerns with experts.

I really want to take what I learnt from the day and start a wider conversation with the team. I think sometimes we have resisted these bigger topics for fear of there being any ideological conflict between team members. However, I think it is so important that we speak openly as a team about Audience Diversity and Inclusivity and identify clear goals.

I plan to ask our Senior Management Team to update our EDI policies and make them accessible to our audience on our website. I hope that we will be speaking more openly with each other about EDI and that all members of the team will know what our goals are as an organisation. I would hope it is at the forefront of minds in everything we do within the building and that we strive to make our venue a safe and welcoming space for everybody.

Niamh Hicks, Marketing and Comms Manager, Creative Future/ Brighton People’s Theatre

We are currently working on updating our business plan for 2023-2026, and once this is finalised I’ll be drafting an audience development plan based on our revised vision/mission etc. We talk a lot about ways to engage our audiences internally, and informally we have identified gaps in our audiences. Our next step is to formalise engagement plans, and actively work towards reaching these audiences. We have identified 3 audiences each year we want to work more towards engaging in our work. We are developing specific partnerships with organisations that work with our target communities too. We understand the importance of creating a deeper partnerships with local organisations as opposed to just asking them to share our info with their networks. We need to build trust with both the organisations and their members, so it becomes a meaningful partnership.

In early 2020 we identified neighbourhoods in our City that have more people from lower socioeconomic backgrounds living in them – this was based on postcode research. Our mission is to create more opportunities to access for people who have traditionally not had them. We set up workshops in each of these neighbourhoods, and ran a regular offer for local people to engage in. These workshops were free to attend. We also offer expenses towards childcare and free bus tickets for people wanting to attend out city centre workshops (they are in the evening) but are on low incomes.

I had hoped to learn some practical tools on reaching and engaging more diverse audiences. I’d hoped to broaden my understanding of inclusivity and have some meaningful and insightful conversations with people in the sector, to improve my knowledge on the topic. I found Marcia and David’s segment on Walking the Talk so interesting and I learnt A LOT. It provided great food for thought, and something said that stuck with me was “Hearing voices from beyond our boundaries – there are aspects from history that can be censored.” This really stuck with me; we only know what we know through and by the people who have told us it. I found this conversation powerful, insightful and it offered new ideas and fresh perspectives.

One moment that fuelled a fire in my belly was the discussion with Nima Taleghani. It was so simple in its format – he just kept challenging with question after question. He made us think about our own unconscious biases and highlighted how many differences of opinion there are amongst people. We also spoke about whose responsibility it is to make change happen. I ended up with me. I am the only person whose actions I can control. But my actions can ripple to others around me. If we all make small changes in our own worlds, collectively we can make a bigger impact.

As I am already actively working on our audience development plan, I’ll be bringing a fresh perspective to this, particularly around racial privilege and how this impacts engagement/ways to engage people, which was what we mainly covered on the day. One comment that really stuck with me was from Mike in our White Affinity Group – “If it’s not messy, you’re not doing the work.” EDI is fluid and we need to keep having conversations around it and keep challenging the status quo. We need to keep talking to audiences and not making assumptions about them. I think one thing I’ll actively try to do is find specific opportunities throughout the year to talk to our members. We’re always asking for feedback through evaluation forms, but this doesn’t necessarily lead to the conversations we really want to be having.

To be really specific here, in a year’s time, I’d like to see our members reflecting the ethnic demographic of our City – we are Brighton People’s Theatre and we need to represent all stories of all the people of our City. So I’d like to at least see 20% of the people in the room at any one time are form an ethnic minority background.

 

Lissy Malt, Head of Comms, The Place Bedford

In 2018/19 we had funding for one part time member of staff who ran an audience development project to identify local communities that have not previously heard of Bedford Players Trust or The Place, or may not have attend events at The Place because of cultural barriers and seek new opportunities and partnerships with them. This project created one of arts projects such as the First Winter event, working with the Afro Caribbean Retired Nurses Association, developing lasting relationships with local universities and schools and creating the Resident Reviewers project.

The last few years (pandemic permitting) have seen us seek to continue on this work, programming a diverse range of events and developing associations with a variety of local partners and organisations. On the day I had hoped to learn how to deal with difficult situations. The hard conversations. How to celebrate success and effective relationships and keeping associations and also useful research materials and assets to share with team (of which there was a huge amount in the ‘rabbit holes’).

I really enjoyed the keynote presentation from Raabia. As a hard of hearing person, and a BSL learner myself, I found her story truly inspirational and I thought it was a great way to motivate us all right at the start. The most challenging discussion was in Acknowledging the Past. As I was using the subtitles I did not volunteer to speak; following the conversation was really interesting. It was deeply uncomfortable to listen (read) as people searched for ‘the right thing’ to say a lot of the time. The feeling of saying the wrong thing does stop many from taking action or stepping in. The sessions after lunch helped me to address that anxiety as I took more heart in the ‘lean in’ approach; being bold enough to ask questions, pausing in the difficult moments to try and think about why you might feel uncomfortable and reflecting on that.

I will continue to plan for and value the time we spend working on audience development and engagement, encouraging our programmers to continue to make the bold choices and for our comms team to remain focused on reaching new audiences, as well as cementing those associations we already have. I want to find time for our team to plan more of these activities. For example, taking part in the Bedford River Festival that sees over 200,000 people in town – using this as an opportunity to get out and meet people we might not otherwise see at the theatre. This is just one example of us at The Place taking work out into the community – the first step of getting new people involved.

I have made copious notes to share with the team at our next team meeting when our organisation might well be undergoing changes. We will hopefully go from strength to strength with our EDI policy, which is already in place, and review it regularly.

Taking this advice on reaching out to new schools in the area to establish ongoing relationships:-

“it’s hard to engage schools sometimes. Yes, they are very busy, but if they realise that what you are trying to engage them with can support the curriculum or there is some benefit to them and it’s not extra work, usually you can engage schools in that way. When they think, this is another thing I have to deal with, then it’s seen as hard work, but you just have to convince them that this is in support of what they are doing and it’s just another tool for them as well. “ Emma Callin

Remembering how important the work on relationships is:-

“You have to be resilient and stick to your resolve when you realise what decisions you have to make. But, I think it’s also about being sort of solution-focussed, because we can all talk about what is lacking in our departments or our teams or whatever. We have a habit of focusing on what we don’t have. I think in a situation like that, it perhaps helps if you think about what you do have and how you can make best use of that….” Pauline Bailey

Rebecca Lynn, Marketing and Development Manager, Wells Maltings

Digging down into white privilege and colonialism is a vital practice for those of us from white British backgrounds. The presentations and exercises during the AMA Inclusivity Day underlined this and I think helped some to acknowledge their own privilege; to me, ‘white privilege’ means never being negatively profiled based on my skin colour, name or any other racially coded characteristic. It doesn’t necessarily mean that a white person has any other form of privilege, just that we are not affected by our visible heritage. The speakers got us all thinking about our own privilege and how we might bring more inclusive practices and policies into our own workplaces.

Some very interesting points were raised; one person objected to the phrasing of the AMA acknowledgement that the UK is a colonialist power whose colonialist policies impact British culture to this day. We were asked to assess whether this statement made us feel comfortable or uncomfortable. The person’s reasoning for feeling uncomfortable was that the phrasing might be seen as too aggressive and may offend people with opposing views, rather than attempting to bring them on side. I thought this was an interesting point of view; is someone who objects to this idea ever going to change their mind due to something they’ve read? How can we really reach those who see people with different backgrounds or appearances as fundamentally “other”? I feel the answer is through exposure and connection; bringing in more diverse programming and, if possible, recruitment, to diversify our community through actions rather than words.

Another thing that really stuck for me was something one of the speakers, Dianne Greyson said. It is not for minorities to do the work in making policies more inclusive. It’s important that we as white people examine our own practices and prejudices and take steps to address those.

I would have liked more suggestions for practical solutions. There was a lot of high-level conceptual thinking, which is of course thought provoking and enlightening, but the practicality for an organisation in a small, rural town is that we do not have a diverse community on our doorstep. I still feel a little lost as to how we can help. The first stage is to review our programme and make sure we are bringing in as many diverse stories as possible. If possible I would love to work with the Wells Local History group to explore the history of people of colour in north Norfolk, to create a new display in our Heritage Centre. One thing to bear in mind though, is not to centre slavery as their sole history, as discussed by Marcia Dunkley and David Alston. It’s important not to gloss over it but it should not be the only part of the story.

In a year’s time I would like to see our programme include much more diverse work, and I will be taking steps to achieve this with the help of our Director.