Culture: 'A new wind is blowing in Europe'
By Philip Ebels
Faced with a continued fall in ticket sales, cultural institutions in Europe should be looking for ways to reach new audiences and for new ways to reach restless existing audiences.
“A change of paradigm is occurring,” Ann Branch, a top EU culture official, said during a recent conference on audience development organised by the European Commission.
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“We’re going from a world where cultural organisations decided: Okay, this is what you’re going to see. But the world is changing. The digital shift is changing how people engage with the arts. We’re moving toward a world where people want to engage more,” she added.
Androulla Vassiliou, the EU commissioner for culture, says that the union’s new seven-year subsidy programme, to come into force in 2014, will give particular importance to how proposals take this trend into account.
“Audiences [...] need to be reached and engaged with in new ways, through an understanding of their needs, attitudes and motivation,” she told the conference.
In 2006, according to the EU’s latest figures, less than half of Europeans participated in cultural activities “such as going to the cinema, attending live performances [or] visiting cultural sites.”
That number is likely to be even smaller for the more formal outings such as ballet, classical music, or even museums. And, experts say, it has been falling fast.
“We are currently facing one of the biggest cultural crises that the modern, Western socio-economic model has ever been through,” according to Culture Action Europe, a network of European culture organisations.
Culture workers attending the conference agreed that for their institutions to survive, something needs to happen.
“I think the challenges all performing arts organisations in Europe are facing are demographic - the ageing of the audience - and how to diversify the audience,” said Vivien Arnold, director of communications at the Stuttgart Ballet.
“And we have to find creative solutions to answer to those challenges,” she added.
One example came from the UK’s Artichoke, a company that specialises in bringing art into the public space, “thereby removing one huge barrier between the audience and the work,” according Nicky Webb, the company’s representative at the conference.
She showed videos of a giant mechanical spider roaming the streets of London, a creation of France’s Royal de Luxe, followed by a giant mechanical elephant and even a giant mechanical girl.
“We tried to reach everybody: the young, the old, the socially excluded, people who have money, people who don’t have money, people who go to the arts, and people who don’t,” said Webb.
It is the kind of initiative that has made Chris Torch, a Swedish culture worker and moderator for part of the conference, believe that there is “a new wind blowing.”
“Do you feel the wind?” he asked the conference. “There is something going on in Europe.”