International work | Understanding visual arts audiences in Palestine
Who is the audience of the visual arts scene in Palestine? What do we know about it and how do we develop our relationship with it?
News piece published by the A M Qattan Foundation, 12 December 2018
The A. M. Qattan Foundation recently organised a workshop in Ramallah on visual art audience development as part of the “Visual Art: A Flourishing Field” (VAFF) project. Jonathan Goodacre and Jacqui Fortnum, senior researchers and trainers from The Audience Agency, a British charity, delivered the workshop between 25–28 November 2018. The workshop was attended by a number of representatives from different art and culture organisations and collectives from the visual art scene, including Tamer Institute for Community Education, A. M. Qattan Foundation, Palestinian Art Court (Al Hoash), Khalil Sakakini Cultural Centre, Visual Arts Forum, Birzeit University, the Palestinian Museum, Dar Yusuf Nasri Jacir for Art and Research (Bethlehem), and Sakiya Art/Science/Agriculture (Ein Qinya). From the Gaza Strip, Shababeek Studio for Contemporary Art (representing the General Union of Cultural Centres) and the Eltiqa Group also took part via video-conference.
The workshop aimed to help organisations develop their work with their audiences. The training sessions revolved around several themes, such as clarifying the relationship between the organisations’ visions and objectives and the audience and society, and clarifying the concept of actual and potential audiences. The workshop also created a space for learning and for exchanging experiences of working in the arts and cultural sector, for creating new collaboration opportunities and for discussing similar cases and examples that could propose and/or inspire solutions to the problems and challenges that face cultural organisations. It also aimed to explain the principles related to audience research and the methods used to evaluate the impact of working with them.In order to help in developing a training programme suitable for the Palestinian context, for two days prior to the training sessions Jonathan Goodacre visited most of the organisations and met with a number of actors in the art scene.
The first day of the workshop was held in the A. M. Qattan Foundation’s offices and was dedicated to the Foundation’s staff, with the aim of developing the audience relationship, especially during the current period of transition to the new building.The second and third days took place at the Palestinian Red Crescent Society, with the participation of the above-mentioned organisations. The sessions discussed the basic principles of working with the audience, which may range from the need to build new audiences and introduce new programmes, to encouraging organisations to adopt new approaches for deepening and strengthening their relationships with the audience, based on understanding their needs.
The workshop included a presentation of successful audience strategies that the researchers have developed for relevant international organisations. There were also several group discussions around questions such as: What do we know about the audiences of our organisations? What kind of impact would we like to have on this audience, based on their abilities and situations, and on a global level in general?
The sessions on the second day divided the audiences into different categories based on geography, behaviour, political orientations, and access to information. These sessions focused on community groups that do not usually participate in cultural activities, particularly in the field of visual art, and discussed the causes and motives behind their absence – which may include preconceptions, negative previous experiences and challenges related to the Palestinian political situation. In light of this, several ideas were proposed for attracting these categories of audience.The researchers also presented examples of changes some theatres and art organisations have made on multiple levels in order to reach a more diverse audience – for example, altering their programmes and their ways of communicating and interacting with the audience. The training also discussed the importance of studying audiences in order to understand them, and to assist in making the necessary changes to develop the relationship with them. Alhareth Rayyan, Programme Manager at Khalil Sakakini Cultural Centre, and a participant in the workshop, observed:
“We need to start with understanding and studying our audience, because this helps us in communicating with them and making the content more relevant and relatable. We need to understand the audience’s motives in the cultural scene”
On the last day of the training, the trainees discussed within three groups the most important challenges in their work with the audience, and presented their questions and impressions to the trainers. They also proposed implementing joint activities to garner a broader audience in the near future. Obour Hashash, Public Engagement and Production Manager at the Palestinian Museum, mentioned one of these activities:
“As a result of this training, we are considering developing an annual programme for the arts in collaboration with the Visual Arts Forum, to target the forum’s existing audience as well as a new audience through new joint programmes.”
Hashash explained how this training had enabled her to see the texts that are being produced to address the audience in a new perspective, since she has the tools now to adapt the language and approaches of those texts to be more relatable to the audience.
This training and discussion showed that significant opportunities are available to deepen our relationship with the audience. This becomes more possible when we develop audience plans and goals for guiding our work with them, at the same time as we start designing our programmes. And since our organisations are founded for our audiences we have to find ways to maintain our cultural offerings that are balanced between our creative aspirations and the needs of our audiences. In addition, investing in collecting their feedback on our programmes and activities will surely inform our programming and messaging and develop our relationship with them.” (Yara Odeh, VAFF Project Manager and a participant in the training said.)
Jonathan Goodacre noted that:
“they really appreciated being able to share some of our knowledge and experience, which we hope will help to bring visual art to a wider public in Palestine. There are so many fascinating projects that deserve to reach an audience, and I'm sure they will, as there is so much energy, enthusiasm and commitment in the cultural organisations. Apart from anything else, it was also invaluable to learn about the practices of the Palestinian visual arts sector and to be inspired with some new approaches.”
Jacqui Fortnum said:
“I feel very privileged to have shared this intense learning experience with such a passionate bunch of talented, creative and fun people. Hearing about the audiences you reach, and want to reach, to encourage them to find meaning, self-realisation, and enjoyment through your cultural engagement programmes was truly inspiring. I hope the work we did together will help all of you to continue to develop and realise your hopes and ambitions.”
The “Visual Arts: A Flourishing Field “ (VAFF) project is funded by the Consulate General of Sweden.