Cultural leadership symposium taps into appetite for change

Cultural leaders from across England took part in a national debate about the role of cultural organisations and their audiences.

Hosted by The Arts Marketing Association (AMA) in partnership with The Audience Agency and supported by Arts Council England, the From ‘Them’ to ‘Us’ Leadership Symposium challenged cultural leaders to generate new ideas, questions and opportunities around how to place their audiences at the heart of their organisation in order to move towards a more sustainable and relevant cultural sector.

Russell Willis Taylor, formerly President and CEO of National Arts Strategies in the United States, opened with a keynote about the characteristics that made cultural leadership unique and the need for arts organisations to change more rapidly to respond to changes in society.

Key themes centred on questions of value, the need for cultural organisations to have authentic, two-way conversations with their audiences and communities, as well as the benefits and behaviours shared amongst organisations that were truly considered audience focused. Attendees also signed up to a series of next steps that included offering case studies, sharing best practice and registering their interest in leadership peer groups.

Anne Torreggiani, Executive Director at The Audience Agency explains:

“The Symposium was an opportunity to have a national debate about twenty-first century leadership and whether or not that means adopting a more porous, audience focused way of running cultural organisations. What has become evident is that the organisations that are leading this field are not afraid to authentically listen and respond to their audiences. They take an active role in building communities and placemaking. We hope this is just the start of something that will effect change around the thinking of how we run our organisations and what 21st cultural leadership looks like.

Julie Aldridge, Executive Director at the Arts Marketing Association, says:

”The Symposium invited cultural leaders to come together for a national conversation about the role of arts organisations and their audiences. It shared ideas, raised questions and sparked debate about how to hold true to our purpose and artistic vision, while also expanding to embrace new opportunities, to respond to audience contributions, and to adapt to remain relevant for the future.”

The day also included leadership case studies about adapting your organisations to become more audience focused from industry experts, including Fiona Reynolds (Master; Member of the College Council, University of Cambridge, formerly Director-General of National Trust), Kully Thiarai (Director of Cast in Doncaster) and Bruce Coppock (President and CEO of the St Paul Chamber Orchestra).

A written From Them To Us Symposium report will be shared later this year including further information on next steps and how to sign up.