Keep it relevant
Nobody was prepared for something like coronavirus, not just in arts and culture, but across the board, in all walks of life, we were taken off guard. Your audience is understanding of the situation and for those that paused to take stock, rather than rushing in out of fear of being lost in the shuffle, they were able to respond more effectively to the needs of their audiences, engaging audiences appropriately.
It is hard enough for arts and culture to get the attention which we would like to see online – especially if you are a smaller organisation with limited reach. People are still probably more concerned with getting their supermarket order than they are about their favourite cultural organisation pumping out content.
Even a few months into the pandemic, it’s worth taking the time to see what resources you have already and how you can use them. There is a higher risk of losing followers and goodwill from your audience by throwing anything at the wall than there is by saying nothing. Keep it relevant.
You won’t become a YouTube sensation overnight, so don’t kill yourself trying to! Be realistic in your expectations and work on a content plan that you can actually deliver and is relevant to your audience – like you would in normal times.
All organisations are not equal and your digital archive will only be as big as your funding. It’s easy for the National Theatre to stream world-class performances captured on the highest budget to everyone with an internet connection, we’ve similar examples from the likes of the Berlina Philharmoika who have switched their paid service to a free one. This is great stuff, but it’s not something many can achieve.
That said, we’ve seen some excellent examples here in Manchester, in particular, the work of Manchester Collective has stood out. A comparative minnow, but also incredibly agile and forward-thinking, Manchester Collective seemed to switch onto digital overnight. Again, they were already digitising their content so found themselves in a better position than some. Another ace up their sleeve is that they suit the online space better than most classical organisations – they are not a BBC Philharmonic or Hallé who rely on scores of players and a concert hall, they all about intimacy and performing in found spaces and the sense of occasion isn’t lost too much over a broadband connection.
It didn’t just happen though – they branded what they were doing, Isolation Broadcasts, and put together a schedule of performances alongside a proper marketing campaign. They engaged publishers like our own consumer-facing website, creativetourist.com, to promote their programme, and found trusted voices like BBC Radio 3’s Elizabeth Alker and their own star violinist and Music Director Rakhi Singh who have big profiles to help extend their reach engaging audiences.
“Our work has always been about forging an arresting, personal connection with our audiences, and we knew that we had to continue in this vein throughout this wild and woolly time” says Adam Szabo, Manchester Collective’s Chief Executive. “As a small, relatively new organisation, we’ve never had huge reserves or an endowment to fall back on. Any measure of success that we’ve had in this period has been due to the authentic and high-quality way that our artists and collaborators have communicated with our audiences. In times of crisis, audiences and stakeholders will not respond to “woe is me” messaging – arts lovers have always been attracted to passion and vision. Right now, part of that vision has to be about how to work effectively and inspirationally in a totally digital landscape.”
It is the way they have used their artists and collaborators, not falling back solely on recorded concerts, but engaging audiences across their social platforms to create interactive content. If anything, it feels like Manchester Collective has raised their profile in the past few months.
We’ve seen similar examples from Band on the Wall who were the first to make an event and schedule around re-watching their archive concerts, and the Old Bank Residency – a twelve-month creative occupation of a disused bank in Manchester – who has shifted their entire schedule of tutorials and workshops online, even moving the focus of their sessions to cover things like mask-making and improving the lighting on your Zoom calls – all the more relevant than ever in this new normal.