Building Arts Audiences Collaboratively not Competitively
Space Theatre, 19 May 2011, Presented by Adelaide Festival Centre
In the second of Adelaide Festival Centre's In Conversation With sessions, Fenella Kernabone is back to ask the question “can the arts community build audiences collaboratively rather than competitively?”
Gathering another full house of industry leaders, creators and arts attendees, this debate delved into the thorny issue facing countless theatre companies and arts festivals today: how best to grow attendance numbers without cutting anyone else’s lunch?
On hand to supply an informed take on the question was an impressive and well-positioned panel compromising of John Frost (Musical Theatre Executive Producer; Wicked, The King and I, The Sound of Music, The Phantom of the Opera), Kate Gould (Chief Executive and Associate Artistic Director, Adelaide Festival), Pamela Foulkes (Chief Executive Officer, State Theatre Company of South Australia ) and Ian Scobie (Director, Arts Projects Australia).
All four contributed much to the discussion, with the focus of 90-minute session organically centring on the panel rather than bouncing off audience interaction as the first tended to. The more observatory audience reflected both the quality of the panel and the complexity of the topic, with the pertinent questions being neither succinct nor obvious.
A straight forward proposition on the surface, the discussion continually found its way back to the complicated and much larger topics of an “every one for themself” attitude within the industry coupled with minimal state funding and plummeting community interest. These depressingly far-reaching and deep-rooted issues have no easy answers. The audience feedback that did emerge was frustrated commentary more than enquiry. Many voiced dissatisfaction with their experiences of an almost non-existent level of collaboration from state government and industry big-wigs.
The panel did well to respond effectively, and was a highly successful composition. Foulkes pitched the position of the State Theatre Company and its limitations, while also offering insight as someone who has worked throughout Australia in the capacity of an arts director and advisor. Frost and Gauld provided a view from the industry’s greener pastures, giving their opinions on how the success of large and well-attended presentations such as the Adelaide Festival and Wicked: The Musical can be filtered down into the rest of the community.
Gauld’s honest opinions regarding the possibility of collaboration outside of the peak Festival times were revealing, while Frost provided an unpopular, but refreshingly blunt appraisal of Adelaide’s demise from a cradle of talent to an arts backwater over three short decades. While hard to hear, coming to terms with such cold, hard realities may be the secret to reviving the city’s once fertile and vibrant industry.
Probably the most interesting and hopeful input came from Scobie. His firm belief that the up-and-coming digital generations aren’t a lost artistic cause resonated with the audience, and he made a good case for believing that there is cross-over potential to be exploited in the masses flocking to international theatre events.
One might argue the spark that inspires an everyday citizen to see a performance of Wicked is a far cry from that which draws a devotee to the Arts Theatre for an amateur production of Miss Saigon. But is it really an insurmountable chasm? Is there no room for capturing some of the thousands thronging to a newly luminescent green Festival Theatre and luring them to a State Theatre performance or a local production?
Perhaps with adequate support from the State Government and an overhaul of Adelaide’s tired and facility-poor venues and institutions, anything is possible. Scobie achieved something similar with Womadelaide, taking it from a boutique festival attended by a small but dedicated repeat crowd, to a hugely successful annual event drawing 80,000+ over four days. It would have been good to hear more from his experiences in achieving this, and how he thought this could be translated into other struggling art platforms.
Following strongly from its inaugural predecessor, this second instalment of In Conversation With provided a value-packed night of discussion and insight. This concept is sheer brilliance, and we await the next session with interest and enthusiasm.
Avoid missing out on the next session, scheduled for July - book in now!
19 July Tuesday 6pm
The significance of Indigenous art.
Wesley Enoch - Artistic Director, Queensland Theatre Company.
Nici Cumptson - Assistant Curator of Australian Paintings, Sculpture and Indigenous Art, Art Gallery of South Australia
Lou Bennett – Indigenous Performer, Black Arm Band and Tiddas
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