This is a quick response to a series of comments on Twitter about a piece of print we’ve just produced at Warwick Arts Centre. Yesterday (Sat 7 Jul) there was a bunch of people talking about it (and also about how organisations and individuals respond online, to the new demands of social media, to engage effectively and quickly to comments or questions). I want to give a bit of background, the who, what and why of the preview magazine.
I’ve written this quickly on the train, after a late night at BE Festival (which is superb, you should come next year), en route to the Avignon Festival. By midnight tonight I will have seen 18 shows this week. My head is somewhat fried, shattered (in a good way), full of theatre energy though. I love my job. Enough preamble.
A quick intro for those who don’t know me. My name is Matt Burman and I started work at Warwick Arts Centre in January 2012. My post, Head of Programme & Audiences, is a newly reframed role, that combines programming responsibilities with the management and definition of both programming and marketing teams, essentially leading on programme and audience development, ensuring we’re thinking about programme and audiences, at the same time, in all our curatorial and marketing decision-making. Have I said programme and audiences enough? That’s (obviously) what it’s all about.
Over my first six months, we, as a team, have looked at all aspects of how we work as an organisation, how we see ourselves now and in the future. We’ve worked to learn more about our audiences. We want to keep our loyal audiences happy, develop trust, take them on new journeys, as well as working to bring new people to the building and taking our work out into the city and county in different ways.
We’ve done some work on our brand, what our brand values are and what our brand message might be. We need to be clear about who we are, so we can all have a sense of ownership over our vision, that we can communicate that to people in a straightforward way. A simple message that we feel can work well across a diverse programme is ‘it’s easy to get closer to the art at Warwick Arts Centre’. To us this encapsulates the relative intimacy of the venues (for their size you feel closer to the artists, and companies comment on this from an artists viewpoint too), the fact that everything’s under one roof, that we wanted to remind people that we’re not far from them. In doing this we won’t lose the intelligence and integrity that underpins the programme, or qualities of newness and discovery, and we want to find new ways of telling people about us and the work, the artists and companies we support and present.
So, in advance of our usual season brochure, which comes out at the beginning of September, we decided to publish a preview magazine which would be sent to local audiences and friends of Warwick Arts Centre. In style we wanted it to look and feel more like a piece of print a mainland European venue might produce, in tone we wanted it to be friendly and accessible, we wanted it to be image and editorial led rather than replicate the more detailed listings both online and in the brochure. We wanted it to show that the organisation was made up of people and to give them faces and names. We wanted it to appeal to a broad readership, as it would be distributed with Coventry’s free weekly newspaper. We wanted it to contain calls to action to book tickets, to enter competitions, to book for shows.
We want to talk to audiences in different ways (and we’re meeting groups of our audience regularly, face to face, as well as engaging online), we want to create different layers of interpretation and critical thinking around the work and find ways of maintaining integrity and telling people about what we do in ways which remove barriers. We will take work to people (in hospitals, in community and day care centres, in pubs, in empty city centre shops, in different ways) as well as inviting them into our (shared) spaces. Learning and participation is at the core of what we do, working annually with 18,000 children and young people from Coventry and Warwickshire (and further afield) and we want to broaden the range of people we’re working with in this way.
I am, obviously, we are as an organisation, passionate about the moment of connection between audiences and art/artists, about the heat and dynamic of those moments, about creating high quality journeys for audiences and artists to and through our building, and we’ve distributed this pilot issue of the magazine as a way of saying hello, welcome, come on over (again), try something new, come more, look at this great stuff we’ve got for you.
The response hasn’t been quite what I was expecting, but also, so far, only from core-bookers and theatre people, not from the target readership for the magazine. In fact I’ve never known a piece of print to elicit such a strong reaction from some. We’ll be doing evaluation off the back of this print, both about the mag itself but more importantly about the message. I am genuinely interested in feedback on this print and talking to people about our programme and communications.
I’m looking forward to talking more with you about how we might go on some journeys together. I, personally, and, as an organisation, we listen, even to hard truths. We’ll stick with our objectives. We’re committed. We’re in a transformational mode, a generational process of radical evolution. See you down the road.
This is an edited version of Matt’s blog – read the full version here
Follow Matt Burman on Twitter @MysterB