Friday, 29 August 2014

Notes from Dream Big 2014

Dream Big, the Riverina's annual conference for arts and culture, returned to Narrandera in its third year.

Local Wiradjuri man Cedric Briggs provided a welcome to country which was followed by the first keynote speaker, Jacquie Riddell. Her career in marketing communications includes Australian cultural institutions SBS, Triple J and, presently, the Art Gallery of NSW.

"If you don't unerstand your audience it's like playing darts with a blindfold on," she said, outlining cheap methods of data collection such as exit surveys and website Survey Monkey, as well as listing organisations that share their data, such as Destination NSW, Australia Council and SBS.

Riddell presented that marketing is about building a community. "You need to know everyone individually. Take the relationship into your own hands. A modern cultural institution is connected to a community."

Penny Miles spoke on recent Australia Council survey findings. "85% of Australians think the arts make for a richer and more meaningful life." She enthused that attendances by regional audiences was ahead of those in cities, as well as echoing earlier comments about building a community. "To have a real relationship, you need to understand what they care about."

Hilary Glow of Deakin University's Arts Participation Incubator said that while the Australia Council's statistics were heartening, performing arts audiences were declining and for film too. "The view arts are good for us is an abstract notion. Most people don't attend regularly, aside from contemporary music."

She argued that the world is changing faster than the art community and that the role of the artistic director needed to be rethought. "They take a role like 'police' within organisations and contributed to creating a passive audience. Glow was also critical of inflating audience numbers, saying it was a short term strategy.

For the panel on the topic of capturing a community's imagination moderator Scott Howie, Regional Development Officer with Eastern Riverina Arts, drew responses from Vic McEwan, Casey Jenkins and Katherine McLean.

The opening question on whether art is a dirty word concluded resoundingly in the affirmative. Casey Jenkins opted for the term craft and Katherine McLean said her organisation CuriousWorks makes digtal media. "Males, from our experience, don't see art as something they can engage with," said Narrandera-based artist Vic McEwan. "Sometimes we hide the word" he added, acknowledging that sometimes they felt they had overstated art on their posters.

On the topic of community engagement McLean said that embracing opposing voices was important. "Articulating hate is the bed of transformation." She was critical of the announcement of cuts to ABS data on sport and the arts, "you value what you measure". Local artist McEwan estimated that his organisation The CAD Factory had contributed $250,000 to the Narrandera community in recent years.

After lunch Western Riverina Arts Communication Officer Jason Richardson outlined strategies for communicating the arts and called on the audience to help promote the benefits of engaging. He promoted the value in writing a media release as a way of storytelling, an effective method for communicating information, whether in print or via telephone or social media.

A good image will attract audience, a point reiterated by ABC Open's Riverina-based facilitator, Sonya Gee, relating the value in generating views with online video. She spoke of the value of storytelling and that "the Riverina had the most stories from any Open area screened on ABC TV."

Tim spoke on the value of experimenting with different techniques to generate interest in email newsletters. Scott Howie discussed ethical consent in arts projects.

Jeff McCann shared his experience with seeking crowdfunding via Pozible, outlining the value of both online video and making a good first impression by generating preliminary financial support from your immediate circle of friends before marketing more widely. His advice also included being clear about what you need the money to buy and offer rewards that were items as well as experiences, such as opening invites.

Bernadette Flynn from Griffith's Pioneer Park spoke on a project she'd managed online, which led her to conclude broadband was more important than running water. The experience had demonstrated that "Working in a distributed way worked better than face-to-face," although working in a coffee shop had also attracted others too. An extensive legal document had assisted in providing a statement on the seriousness of the project.

Claire Haris spoke on her work as creative producer at the Outback Theatre and how they ensure mutually beneficial relationships with councils, "often filling a big hole in their strategic plans". The value of communication was emphasised, particularly the potential of turning partners into advocates when a genuine partnership allows them to play a role.

Maz McGann introduced Creating Australia, the new national body for community arts and cultural development. Their website encourages artists to update their projects as a means of attracting resources to advocate for the arts and cultural development.

Brett Naseby spoke on developing an art gallery in Griffith and the impact it's had in promoting local artists. One artist "was literally in tears, thanking me for the opportunity to share his work". He later wrote "thanks for the opportunity, this has really given me wings". Naseby echoed Vic McEwan's earlier comment that the arts need more men involved.

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