Improved engagement with local communities is the way ahead for heritage and cultural attractions
Recognising the pressures put on public sector budgets museums, heritage and cultural attractions are particularly vulnerable to cuts. In my view such attractions need to engage more fully with their communities, be more customer focused and prove their worth. Rural schemes such as ‘The Pub is the Hub’ show how pubs can become community hubs providing catering and a small shop offering locally sourced food, local events bringing people together during the day and evening, hosted by the landlord. Similarly it is in the interests of heritage and cultural attractions such as museums and local arts centres to reach out to their communities and organise events to draw them in. A town museum for example needs to connect with community members of all ages, show its range of exhibits and events and demonstrate how it will be disastrous if the facility is closed as a result of budget cuts.
Bristol Museum and Art Gallery in 2009 succeeded in attracting 300K visitors by organising a one off exhibition for Bristol artist Banksy (see picture). Many were introduced to the museum for the first time. Visitors contributed £45K to museum funds during the 12 week period.
An article in Guardian Culture gives some examples of how provincial centres are extending their reach and improving their engagement with their communities. Annabel Turpin, chief executive of The ARC, Stockton insists that “arts centres have a much bigger part to play in the lives of local people”. It’s her aim to open up the organisation as much as possible to its community: “giving people permission to come in and use the building.” Alongside its artistic programme, the ARC hosts activities that cover all demographics, from children’s dance classes to an extensive programme for older people. “It’s a very broad spectrum, and that allows us to attract people from right across the community,” Turpin explains.
Matt Fenton is a passionate advocate for involving audiences in programming, an idea that he first tried out at the Nuffield Theatre in Lancaster and has now taken to Contact Manchester, where a group of young people from the area have a key role in how the venue is run. He argues that audiences today expect more of a “two way conversation” and that the best way to target new, more diverse audiences is to represent their voice from within an organisation’s decision making structures. “If arts organisations are genuine about a desire not just to reach more people but more broadly across the spectrum of their communities, then they’re going to need to think about how open they are, how engaged they are, as organisations,” Fenton insists.