We are delighted to share with you news about a new development for Ticketsolve. Over the next three years, we’ll be focusing on a massive knowledge-exchange project that aims to share new learnings for the sector. Starting from this September, we are looking to create and inspire transformative change for arts, culture and heritage organisations through innovation.
Let me ask you a quick question: over the past 18 months, how many times did you tell yourself that you would never go back to working the way things were done before?
How accurate is that statement now?
(As difficult as it might - or might not - be to answer) This is not a trick question.
Arts professionals have been under immense pressure for nearly two years now. While we might have assumed that it would all get easier with the easing of lockdown, we are more aware of the current challenges impacting creative teams and feel pretty certain that we’ll be facing more as we move into the next stages of recovery. When our cultural institutions first closed, I didn’t pay too much attention to questioning the ‘hows’ around reopening. My focus and concerns remained solely thinking about ‘when’.
📸 Anastasiia Chepinska
Your organisation’s response to the pandemic can be segmented into two approaches depending on an array of considerations your team needed to take. Community artist, writer and researcher Francois Matarasso will argue that your response was either ‘defensive’, you had to fight a fire in order to save your organisation and your team as you might have experienced drastic changes with furlough and mothballing, or your response was ‘expansive’ meaning that your organisation had the means to maintain your offering but the extreme changes you experienced included pivoting overnight to online programming or community projects such as food banks (2020 available here).
Very early on in the period of closure (and reclosers), we saw arts & culture take to online streaming and provide content on-demand. The introduction of online programming strategies opened different avenues for organisations to respond to the crisis. However, a recent study conducted by the University of Kent and Loughborough University is already calling digital programming a ‘reversed trend’. 56% of funded theatres in the UK had at least one online performance during the pandemic and have no digital offering scheduled for this Autumn (2021 available here). The initial findings of this research highlight that as a sector, we have little motivation towards entrepreneurship and innovation without first understanding and having the ability to guarantee financial gain and witnessing similar practices succeed by peers first. And who can blame us? Risk-taking is not a game anyone wants to play when teams are already spread thin and dividing out scarce resources.
You may be for or against the debate that digitalisation is erosive to in-person experiences of arts and culture and engaging with culture digitally is not a cure for when culture can’t be experienced in person. However, digital provides more than just an opportunity to generate additional donations and income and we need to start thinking of it beyond an avenue for monetisation. The National History Museum has just attempted to quantify the potential economic benefit of digitising its entire collection—the first study of its kind! (Available here). Economists have measured that providing online access to the 80 million objects in the museum’s possession could contribute 2 billion to the global economy. While this particular project is entirely bespoke in its size and nature, it’s a good example of the ambitious drive proven by going digital.
Digital also offers access to sources that generate important data which can help to instruct decision making across an entire organisation. The implementation of digital skills within organisations can help to manage large quantities of information, enhance better communication by widening reach, ensure additional revenue through e-commerce and online transactions, as well as offer better guidance around critical problem-solving and creating. Arts organisations taking the decision to neglect a hybrid offering are potentially at risk of being left behind in the gap created through a digital divide. (Our friends at Digital Culture Network hosted a really great webinar covering the digital divide from an audience perspective. You can rewatch it here!).
This is about the stage in the article where it’s time to start asking so what! (And this is the gap which we're hoping our research will soon fill).
Innovation means something different to everyone but if we strip it back to a simple concept, my favourite definition I found is from a scholar named Schumpeter, who defines it as “the doing of new things, or the doing of things that are already being done in a new way”. This study poses questions on how your organisations can better utilise your data to inform your strategies, encourage innovation and support your response to societal challenges. It’s all about your practices and supporting you in your mission to create an impact and inspire communities.
We’re diving straight into an iterative process of research. It’s practitioner-led through a method called action research. Action research is a broad concept, but the methodology is best known to make something better than it was before. The point of Action Research is not to understand a topic just for the sake of understanding. Its objective is to improve the lives of people living in society. The value of this approach to our project is its ability to affect positive change (you can find more information on The Action Research Podcast).
Reacting to the aftershock of the virus, arts & cultural organisations need to ask tough decisions and critically reflect on whether they have stayed informed of the tastes and interests of their communities. Our research looks at how we can utilise data as a translation of what is and has happened and as a navigation tool to inform strategies moving forward.
📱 Ticketsolve Box Office
Throughout the next three years, we’ll be generating more information around best practices for innovation. We’ll share insights into our learnings regularly and open them up for further critical reflection. These insights and nuggets of knowledge are there to be challenged, and we need your help to make sure what we are doing is robust! The pressure you feel to make tough decisions won’t go away unless we can find better solutions to problem-solving and critically reflect on how we inform our organisational strategies, and the solutions need to be heavily trialled and tested.
My name is Lucy Costelloe, I’ve been working with Ticketsolve since March 2018, and I am excited to take the lead on this vital project. Since first joining the team, I’ve spoken with hundreds of arts professionals in the box office, marketing, fundraising, development and management roles all over the UK and Ireland. Over the past four years, I’ve watched organisations grow their operations successfully, create meaningful experiences for audience members, and create access to culture through community outreach projects. Since March, I’ve watched them strive and maintain their impact through a global pandemic with very little certainty for the future. These insights combined have helped me in my roles from Business Development Executive to Head of Marketing. They will further help inform my integrity towards this research and fuel my passion for making a meaningful contribution to the sector.
📸 Ticketsolve Forum, Dublin 2019
Funded by the Irish Research Council, it is a massive priority that we are not working in a vacuum. We are and will be actively working with your peers, members of the Ticketsolve Community, policy-makers, and other industry agents. Your involvement is key to creating these changes. Throughout the process, we’ll be building a network and this is your invite. Stay in touch and keep updated. Starting today, you’ll see more information on our blog; updates are available through our newsletter; you’ll see us on Twitter and regular episodes on our podcast, the Arts & Everything in Between.