The Challenge

The challenge for arts organisation is how to compete for consumer dollars – yet art has a competitive advantage – at least in Australia, art exhibitions and events draw more visitors than football games, and this is a sports mad country! What is it that draws people to visit an art event? Do the want to be entertained, learn something, be a part of something unique, see something they may never get to see again? The list of consumer motivations is endless.

Museums and galleries are being forced to reconsider how they present art to their audience. Those that persist with a perspective that viewing art is a passive experience risk alienating their audience and driving people into the arms of other entertainment.

Businesses such as Apple and McDonalds understand this. They make shopping and dining an experience. Public events that draw audiences into the street and in and out of different venues understand that while the art is important, it is only viewed by those that enjoy the experience.

There will always be a place for the quiet, reflective viewing of art. Just as there will always be a place for the artistic snobbery which says all art should be viewed in a gallery. The risk is those audiences are small and unlikely to grow. The business of art is about how to create an experience where the audience not only appreciate art but want to return for another visit, or the next exhibition.

Often, when visiting an art exhibition the only information available is a small card alongise each piece, containing a technical description, and maybe a photocopied list with the same description. Sometimes there is an artists bio – and usually they are pretty, damned boring. Where is the artists story? How did the artist get to this point? Where is the video showing the artists process of creation? The average art visitor doesnt know their Matisse from their Monet. They are art lovers, not art scholars. They want to take away a story that they can share over dinner with friends, to start a conversation with.

By nature art exhibitions are traditional, staid affairs. Row upon row, wall after wall. In the most popular events, visitors are channeled along in a queue, at a discreet distance from valuable masterpieces. Everyone understands the need for security and protection from grubby fingers, yet somehow we have to make a visit to an art event something more memorable.

Don’t be complacent because the number of people attending an art event remains consistently high. Yes arts sector events attract more than 10 million visitors each year and generate $1.5B in revenue. The sports sector may attract less people however it generates more than $13B in revenue.

I know I’m not strictly comparing apples with apples; however I’m hardly comparing apples with oranges either. The point is that revenues are generated by customers that come back to an event, time and time again. That is something to think about.

The arts sector gives away a lot of its product, in the form of free entry to exhibitions. This is a necessary evil. Yet the local sports club imposes a $2 entrance fee me to watch some pretty ordinary football! This suggests that if people are being entertained they don’t mind paying a small fee. (Leaving aside parents that have no choice)

Competition to the arts sector comes from several directions. Galleries are not just competing against other galleries, they also compete against sports events, retail, family holidays and digital entertainment. Consider how a trip to the movies, or the retail experience has changed in the past decade or so. Movie theatres have become integrated entertainment complex’s, as have top retail malls. Visitors don’t go there just to view a movie or to purchase clothes. They go there for the experience, and that experience keeps drawing them back.

As in any business. It comes back to the customer experience. How well do you understand the customer experience at your arts organisation?

The article written by John Coxon, founder of art4u.australia. We help arts organisations to operate in a viable and sustainable way.

Image by Barni1 on Pixabay

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