Following the establishment of a new thematic network focusing on arts and culture, the EFC and members met for the first time earlier this month to discuss the importance of audience engagement in this sector. Art and culture is one of the top five areas that our members support, hence the need to create a platform that brings those involved together to pool ideas and create a strategy that can identify challenges and address them.

Recognising that audience participation is key, how can philanthropy strategise around and encourage audience engagement in arts and culture?

This is the question that was posed when, in early 2017, the EFC organised a meeting with its members working within arts and culture. As a result of this, the Arts and Culture Network was created. In identifying audience development as a key issue, the first meeting concentrated on presenting and examining knowledge and experience in this area on an international, national and local level. Following this, main challenges were identified while also recognising how to address them, with the overall aim to develop a strategy enabling audience development.

Among the key points to address were: defining the change they wanted to make and the target, working with the right partners and experts, and collecting data and evidence to support your strategy. In looking to the more practical side of things, questions raised concerned how to measure impact, adopt a holistic approach and to set realistic goals. This then led to the question of what should be examined before starting any project or strategy.

One main question addressed was ‘why undertake this project and who will benefit?’ It is then important to assess whether it is the right time to act and whether there is something similar already in place, are the right tools available and is it sustainable for the future? 

In exploring this subject and the corresponding questions and challenges, it was concluded that it is the right time address audience development, one reason being that it is an area that is rarely addressed and it is often the case that foundations take an interest in fields that are often lacking in attention. Acting collectively will also allow for a larger, more strategic impact rather than addressing the problem individually later on. Foundations have a unique role in these circumstances in that they can work on both sides, understanding what is in the best interest for the audience, while also identifying and supporting the best practices to address the highlighted challenges.

Moving forward, the next step is to start putting what has been identified into practice. This can begin with better understanding what audience development means within an organisation and exploring perspectives. From a better understanding, audience participation can be analysed and addressed while working on how to establish a methodology that can be put in place as an effective strategy.

In January 2018, the EFC will undertake a mapping of the field in an attempt to better understand the landscape. This will identify what foundations are working on and where the focus is placed among other things. This will be an important starting point for further initiatives.