Raise The Curtain

Galleries, museums and arts organisations can return to work and open to the public. Social distancing rules will be in place however the scene has been set for to commence generating revenue and earning income. The sector needs a rallying call. Our suggestion. It is time to Raise the Curtain.

While closed down, management will have begun to take stock and start making decisions. They will have looked at your artistic program, decide which programs will continue, which will be placed on hold and, depending upon when a restart date is set, what the artistic program will look like for the remainder of 2020. The important question is how do we best support our artists and our employees by generating revenue? Equally as important you should be asking why your audience will come and visit your exhibition or event?

Top of most agendas will be discussions about financial viability. How do we pay our bills, cover ongoing costs and pay for an artistic program on restricted income? Now is the time to be brutal. It is important to cut or reduce every non-essential cost that isn’t directly contributing to your artistic program. Every item in your budget should be analysed and discarded, and then returned only if it is deemed necessary to enable you to raise the curtain.

Many costs including rent, utilities, insurances are fixed administrative costs that have to be paid regardless of whether the doors are open or shut. Where possible renegotiate those costs. Look for ways to delay or redistribute expenditure and align costs with revenue. Do you actually need all the space you currently occupy, or is it possible to sub-let some of the space? Impose strict routines around use of utilities. The simple acts of turning off lights, heating, water can help reduce your expenses. Is it possible to eliminate a cost for the moment, or ask your employees to do something that might have been done by a contractor in the past?

Some costs may increase before you can raise the curtain. Cleaning is an example. As an entity your organisation, and its management, have a legal responsibility for the occupational safety of everyone. Covid-19 safety may require additional, intensive cleaning and hygiene measures. Those additional costs may have to be offset by reducing or eliminating a cost someplace else.

Employee costs, including salaries are the single largest cost item on your budget – and the hardest to trim. Gather your artists and employees together. Be open, honest and transparent with them. Lay out the figures, the scenarios and potential impact to enable them to be a part of the solution. Seek and encourage their input into how you move forward.

Your employees will be very creative at finding ways to ensure they remain employed as much as possible. Some will identify ways they can move to part-time, others will choose the opportunity to take annual leave or long service leave, some will identify opportunities for job sharing and one or two may decide its time to retire or move onto something else.

So you have the artistic program underway and you have the budget under control. Now it is time to spend some money. Yes I just heard a collective gasp. You must now invest in your artistic program. The single most important thing to do, that will give you a return on your investment is to spend money on marketing.

Every arts organisation, gallery, museum or event is reopening at the same time. Audiences will be inundated with options. You have to give them a reason to visit your event. Do not assume it will happen just because they love you. Audiences love everyone! When your audience are presented with two seemingly equal options, often their default decision is to do nothing. Give them a reason to visit you.

Your organisation needs as many people as it can physically manage to attend your event, to wander into your shop, to purchase a ticket. You need people to be talking about you. How can you make this happen? You do this by starting the conversation.

The majority of arts organisations spend little on marketing. Often they misunderstand the role of marketing. It is not an expense, it is an investment. Your marketing contains the messages you want your family of supporters to hear or read. This is the stuff you want them talking about and sharing with others. If you don’t provide the messages, your supporters will have nothing to say. If you don’t tell them who you are, where to find you, what to visit and why; they will not turn up.

Marketing does not need to be expensive. A scan of social media pages of many arts organisations is revealing. Posts to social media are irregular, there is little information on future events and there is almost no information on how your organisation changes the world.

Social media marketing is not free, however it can be low cost when it involves people that you have already paid for. Social media posts must be frequent, varied and interesting. Put in place social media content guidelines and enable people within your organisation to post content. This spreads the time involved without increasing the cost. It leads to more frequent and more interesting content.

Take time to review your organisations website and blog content. If you haven’t taken time to learn about search engine optimisation now is the time to do so. Done well it works and will help people find out about you. It will help ensure your messages are spread far and wide.

Get your marketing materials out into the community. You likely already have brochures, invitations and posters. Ensure they have been distributed to every public place that allow them to be on display.

Gather you employees, board member and volunteers. Explain to them the importance of them talking to everyone, all the time about your artistic program – especially what you will have on offer in 3 months, 6 months and 12 month time. Build anticipation among your family of supporters.

Host an open day, invite your family of supporters to come along, see art in progress, share a cuppa and let them leave with a supporters kit of information (and maybe an inexpensive freebie) that you want them to share with others.

There are many ways to market both your organisation and your artistic program without spending a lot of money.

Now, get out there and Raise The Curtain.

John Coxon is founder of art4u.australia, a consulting agency helping arts organisations to become viable and sustainable through application of The Cycle a proven model for arts organsiations. Shout out to John as you prepare to Raise the Curtain.

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