Event Blog | The Future of Small Scale Touring #fsst Symposium

In many respects the touring eco-system is out of balance – where should subsidy sensibly go and what should its impacts be?

How do we even out the finances so that artists are paid appropriately, the money goes where it is most needed and audiences value what they pay for? Penny Mills reflects on discussions from the Future of Small Scale Touring Symposium.

Thank you to Paines Plough for getting the ‘Future of Small Scale Touring’ event together. It was great to see so many artists, companies and venues gathered together at the Royal Exchange Manchester on 31 January 2014. While the day was divided into new models of touring, audiences and data and collaboration – the conversations and examples from the great speakers were all wide-ranging. My small contribution was about bringing meaning to the information and some data we use all the time in order to inform audience development plans.

Solutions and ideas were proposed and discussed, taboo subjects aired and new friends made. Some touring needs subsidy, some thrives without. Learning together will make the sector stronger. Rural touring gets to the parts no one else can. The future for some types of touring is beyond venues. Collaborations are effective. Big should support smaller (or well-resourced and experienced should support the lean and the learning).

In many respects the eco-system is out of balance – where should subsidy sensibly go and what should its impacts be? How do we even out the finances so that artists are paid appropriately, the money goes where it is most needed and audiences value what they pay for? Should touring be more strongly led by venues, presenters and localities? Is there more touring product out there than venues and presenters can programme? How do we sustainably and sensibly engage those not fully engaged with the arts? And how should companies and artists be expressing their value in ways that are meaningful?

Throughout the day the mood of the room fluctuated like the British weather – bright and breezy to begin with as new approaches to touring from organisations like Fuel, Fevered Sleep, Highlands and Islands were shared, followed by a bit of gathering clouds as we moved on to audiences and data and finishing up with rays of sunshine coming through the cloud as we talked collaborations between artists and organisations –Contact, Warwick Arts Centre, Marine Theatre Lyme Regis (my personal favourite).

Everyone was talking about audiences, but maybe we need to collect together interesting and inspiring ideas about how organisations are working and engaging audiences effectively. For me, it is more what you do and what offer you make to people to engage and involve them – if you can get this right, marketing is just the final icing on the cake. This is where the Audience Finder Touring Cluster can help – by writing up and signposting examples and case studies and making them available to everyone.

If networks and collaborations are the future I would also suggest more discussions amongst those that exist – a network of networks – so that learnings can be shared. And as part of this identify the gaps – geographically, scale, type – and see how those gaps could be filled if possible.

The next event might also take an Open Space approach so that some concrete proposals for action can be posed to move the initiative on. I would also like to hear more from the venues and presenters so that they can air their challenges and successes which would hopefully help touring companies in how they work.

Penny Mills is the Regional Director – London at The Audience Agency.