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Failing Fast in the Arts: Lessons from The Crescent Arts Centre

Gail Jones
22 February 2024
Failing Fast in the Arts: Lessons from The Crescent Arts Centre

The arts and cultural sector faces immense challenges, from budget constraints to rapidly evolving audience tastes. To stay resilient, organizations must be willing to take risks, embrace failure as part of growth, and collaborate with others.

The Crescent Arts Centre, a community-focused arts hub in Belfast, offers valuable lessons in failing fast. Over on the podcast, our very own Lucy spoke with Gail Jones, Communications Manager at The Crescent, about their innovative approaches.

You can listen to the full podcast episode here, and discover some of the key take aways below 👇

You Can’t Be an Expert in Everything

With limited capacity, it’s impossible for small arts organizations to be experts in every area. Instead of trying to do it all, the Crescent Arts Centre has created an “associate model” where they bring in outside freelancers to provide expertise and fresh ideas in specific areas. These associates help curate parts of their programming, from creative learning courses to their annual book festival. This model provides access to current trends the core staff likely wouldn’t know themselves. It also builds valuable networks between The Crescent and creative professionals.

Give New Initiatives Adequate Time Before Deeming Them Failures

When trying out a new approach, it’s important not to jump to conclusions too quickly. The Crescent tested out a radical “pay what you decide” pricing model over 3 years for their book festival, rather than abandoning it after the first try. While revenue decreased, audience engagement increased. By tracking clear outcomes over time, they could fully gauge the impact and determine that the model was achieving their core goals, if not financial ones. Organizations must give experiments sufficient time to play out before labelling them “failures.”

Focus on Core Outcomes to Determine What’s Working

With new initiatives, organizations need to be very clear on what outcomes they are trying to achieve. The Crescent looks at levels of community engagement, not just revenue, to determine the success of programs. When analysing their pay what you decide model after year two, they saw increased event participation despite lower income. Because community involvement aligns closely with their mission, they viewed the model as working well for their purposes. Tracking both financial and other pre-defined outcomes helps organizations ascertain what is truly working or failing.

"Sharing Risk" Through Collaboration

The Crescent  was able to take the risk of trying out their pay what you decide experiment because they collaborated with resident arts organizations to co-create it. Working with others in your community spreads the risk - failure stings less when it’s shared. It also expands the pool of ideas for new approaches worth testing out.

Be Open to Critique from Others

A fail fast mentality means willingly accepting feedback and critique from outsiders, even when it’s difficult to hear. Bringing in “associates” has allowed the Crescent Arts Centre to get valuable constructive criticism on their programming - feedback the core staff likely would not have received otherwise. Identifying weaknesses you weren’t fully aware of can only help you improve.

To discover more of Gail's wisdom, listen to the full episode 👇


The Crescent Arts Centre’s fail fast approach shows that fostering creativity sometimes means embracing failure along the way. Collaborating with others and staying adaptable builds resilience. What lessons can you apply to your arts organization?

About The Crescent 
The Crescent is vibrant community arts centre provideing opportunities for people to meet, be inspired, experience and participate in a wide range of art forms.

About Gail Jones
Gail is Communications Manager at The Crescent. She has extensive experience developing brands and creating and delivering successful marketing campaigns, including multiplatform communication and campaign management, as well as customer segmentation strategy.

Image credit: Thrive 

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