Arts and Audiences in the Nordic Countries – "BIGGER THAN THE INDIVIDUAL PIPELINE"

This article was originally published on 21 August 2014 by Arts Management Network: Read article on Art Management Network website

Arts and Audiences is a series of Nordic conferences on audience development and arts collaboration. In this sense it is a meeting point for cultural professionals who want to find new ways to extend audience engagement. We have talked to Camara Christina Lundestad Joof who is coordinating and co-producing this year's conference.

Leonie Krutzinna: Arts and Audiences (AaA) has been taken place since 2011 as a Nordic meeting point for cultural leaders, artists, artistic directors, curators, producers, learning managers, communication managers, cultural architects and strategists who want to find new ways to extend audience engagement. What is special about this set-up?

Camara Christina Lundestad Joof: First of all, there are not many conferences in our Nordic countries that, in an informed and qualified way, explore the challenges and needs when it comes to audience relations and audience engagement. The connection between the audience and the institution whats really being programmed and how do we work long term to develop lasting relationships with the audience we seek to include? Thats one part of it. The other part is anchored in already existing pipelines between identical institutions and different types of institutions. Meaning to say that museums, to a certain degree, face the same challenges as other museums, and you can make the same statement about i.e. theatre. But our conference is interdisciplinary, including a larger part of the cultural field, so we try to ask questions that are bigger than the individual pipeline, and facilitate an opportunity to learn and to be inspired by something outside of ourselves. When given a larger picture of the cultural sector, the heads of museums can learn a lot from the theatre producers, and a theatre producer can learn a lot from a computer game programmer and vice versa, so its crucial for us to get a clear overview of whats happening in all the fields. Its important to make the level of quality so high that it scales what you get and expect from a national conference. We try to use AaA to reflect the development in the Nordic countries, but also to introduce what is happening in the rest of Europe, and outside of Europe. It quickly becomes an arena to be inspired and motivated by each others brilliant projects, but also to learn from each others missteps, frictions and faults. We try to make it bigger than a meeting where we pat each other on our backs as a confirmation of how well we are doing, because we still have a lot to learn and a long way to go.

Which challenges have been occurred when cooperating between the Nordic countries?

The language barrier may have been the most challenging. The Scandinavian countries, Norway, Denmark and Sweden have few problems understanding each other because of our similar languages, but Icelandic and Finnish are quite different, which makes it a necessity to have our conversations and emails in English, and when were all working in a language thats not our own, its understandable that some things get lost in translation. Though it is more often noted in a European perspective, we all have different definitions and experience with terms like Audience engagement, diversity, and development, so we spend a lot of time making sure that were all on the same page.

Which changes and development has AaA been gone through? In which way have the discussions between the participants changed and developed?

You can say that AaA, while still keeping the Nordic perspective, is getting a bigger and bigger buzz from the rest of Europe and outside of Europe each year that its hosted. That, of course, will give the conference a more diverse and nuanced picture of the culture sector, helping the Nordic countries to reflect and see our own projects in light of other development and vice versa. That, and the fact that there has been done a lot of research and ground breaking art pieces in the audience engagement perspective means that the discussions get both wider, i.e. this year including EVE Online, a MMOG (Massive Multiplayer Online Game), and narrower, as we in an international context still are working out the terminology and definitions of this particular field.

In which way can the Nordic countries serve as best practices in questions of arts education and audience development to the rest of the world?

First, we have to acknowledge that there are quite a lot of differences in the cultural sector just among the Nordic countries themselves. For example, where Copenhagen is a very visibly diverse city, Reykjavik is perceived as much more homogenous. But what we all have in common is a long history of one type of democracy that is easily noted in our subsidised culture sector. And since our institutions are heavily financed by the people, it comes with a commitment and a responsibility of reaching out and being part of that democratisation. Access to art is by many seen as one of the fundamental bricks of our society. And we are still exploring the line between state driven policy and artistic integrity, and figuring out how you can maintain both. The results of that give us an interesting perspective in a global context, especially in the field of audience engagement. That is not to say that the Nordic countries have mastered this field, and therefore are just awaiting to impart our wisdom, but it does impart something else into a broader European discussion that we hope to have on Iceland.

What is to expect from the 2014 conference in Reykjavik?

It is worth to note that in this years conference it will be possible to participate even if you dont have a budget for traveling to Iceland. Weve been working closely with PCM Creative, a British company that specialises in digital audience development, and we are creating a web based streaming and social media kit that will allow participants to follow, comment and interact with our keynote speakers, our debates, our breakout sessions and all our guests. If all goes well, you can expect to interact with a quite wide spectrum of participants, all with their own expertise and curiosity.

You can also expect high quality speakers and facilitators that have co-created and co-produced a detailed program that will encourage participation and a very open debate. You will get diverse cases and speakers, and this year, even though we present case studies from all of the Nordic countries, the perspective will be more global than the past years. And you can expect us to thoroughly follow up on the title for this years conference, Arts and Audiences - Digital at the Arts.