Event | AMA 2016 Daily Blogs - Penny

Penny Mills journals her thoughts from day one of the conference...

Wednesday 13 July

I had an early start on a sunny Edinburgh morning for The Audience Agency’s breakfast briefing in this fine city. I realised, this is possibly my third AMA conference in Edinburgh – whilst not a track record rivalling Roger Tomlinson’s, I think it shows a certain longevity (or maybe just long in the tooth).

This of all years, Edinburgh seems a fitting city for the conference, as the political world whirls around us, Scotland offers a bit of a rock and common sense, but most importantly forward thinking (although this is obviously my own bruised English perspective). My hopes for the day are how we in the cultural sector can show strength and resilience with the people we serve at the heart…

So, enough eulogising… to work…on a mission to matter.

There are a few themes for the day - storytelling, plot-lines, internally and externally empowering people, generating transparency and giving things relevance. Everyone needs something to get behind which speaks to them without them putting too much effort in.

Thanks to Nina Simon and Royal Danish Theatre for reminding us it is all about people. Both organisations were talking about change and how you bring people along with you in a brilliant way. As ‘Not for the Likes of You’ taught us many years ago, model internally the way you would like others to see you.

Collaboration – if you can do it across a multi-faceted organisation – Oxford Museums or Danish Theatre – it’s not a big step to do it externally. Finally, be agile, agile, agile, prototype, test and keep on learning (I feel like I’ve been in beta mode my whole life).

My only fear is that while ‘moving your centre’ is the kind of change that that makes sense and is simple itself, are we creating activities for different communities and groups (which is great), which don’t necessarily speak of integration, inter-group dialogue and learning from each other – I am sure this is happening, but I’d like to hear more on this.

My other thought is about culture (and Sport #ThisGirlCan) and ‘instrumentalism’ (ie ‘using’ culture for community and social impacts, not for its intrinsic impacts) and the pendulum is definitely swinging that way at the moment. So how do we ensure that our engagement of different and new groups has integrity not tokenism and is grounded in what we do best while being open to new ideas and responsive? And how can we evaluate the impacts in a meaningful way?

What about the people we want to engage? Most people would rather belong to the club, but we’re encouraged to be individual – beware being a hotdog or wearing active wear – you may or may not be being true to yourself, but either way make sure you look good doing it… and record it…get Lily.

But how do we make sure that we expose people to new and different things, rather than only shaping an offer based on what they have viewed before or what their social media says about them? Realistically, we might be doing all this trending digital engagement in our non-cultural lives, but it is still an uphill struggle for the vast majority of cultural organisations to engage the widest range of audiences on social media. How do we genuinely encourage them to get ‘creative with our creativity’? An open and agile approach is vital. From this and various other talks I have seen the future, but I’ve also experienced the time lag within the cultural sector and why – a lack of ‘millions of dollars’? So, how can we collaborate beyond our sector to make it reality?

From #ThisGirlCan they didn’t focus on the barriers, but looked at people who just get on with it and here we come back to people telling their stories (which helps when you have a modest budget).

It’s important to tap into different moods…and I’m now in the mood for a cocktail.

Follow Penny's AMA 2016 conference tweeting @penelopemills