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Arts West launches using ethnic media to find new audiences

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What I like to think of as a unique ‘evolution’ in arts management and marketing was recently launched with the announcement of Arts West — an alliance of nine community arts organisations in Melbourne’s west that are pooling resources, staffing and expertise to create what is hoped will be a model for the rest of the country.

Arts publicist Ben Starick and I helped shape what is, as we claim, Australia’s only cooperative arts marketing body. We played good cop and bad cop, spin-doctor and agony aunt, Batman and Robin. We were coordinators, marketers, development managers, analysts and facilitators, as we worked to ensure that nine arts organisations gel. These were, Footscray Community Arts Centre Arts Centre, 100 Story Building, Cohealth Arts Generator, Snuff Puppets, The Substation, Western Edge Youth Theatre, Ausdance Victoria, Big West Festival, and the Women’s Circus.

The Victorian government’s Arts Victoria, realised that budget constraints and the need to generate new audiences, meant that the most rational route to back companies in one of Victoria’s fastest growing and culturally diverse regions was to pool marketing, research and professional development. I’m now trying to reflect without falling into spin and rhetoric. I’ll do my best.

Arts West, was launched a couple of weeks ago as an attempt to come to speed with the dramatic demographic changes occurring in Melbourne’s metropolitan west. The area’s largest council, the City of Maribyrnong, takes in about ten suburbs and measured its estimated population in 2012 as at 76,703.

An example is the shared Customer Relationship Management, or CRM, that will manage interactions with constituents, donors and audiences, as it mines for demographic and psychographic data. It aims to assist Arts West organisations create the base of new ‘audience development strategies’.

The CRM is not meant to annoy people. The idea is to use the CRM to find out who comes, who doesn’t, and if they do, or don’t, why? No one will receive content about the Women’s Circus if they’re only interested in Co-health Arts Generator shows. Jade Lillie, the director of the Footscray Community Arts Centre  (FCAC) the largest company in the group is adamant that the information will be “specific and targeted.”

“We will not be sending everything to everyone — those that are interested have the option to indicate which information they would like to receive,” she says.

Arts West has the potential to be replicated around the country if local arts companies learn to work with each other rather than compete. I say this ‘modestly’ as one of the consultants that Arts Victoria employed to work out a way of making little bit of marketing money go a long way.

“It is vital for organisations in the area to share their resources and expertise in order to keep pace with that growth,” Victorian arts minister, Heidi Victoria said at the launch of Arts West.

“Arts West is a blueprint for cooperation and sustainability in the arts and is a model that could be applied right across our arts sector — and beyond.”

While there are already regional tourism co-ops, networks and committees there are no concrete community engaged arts organisations aimed at sharing databases, marketing and income generation.

A real issue for us is how nine different sized organisations, prevent the biggest organisation in the Arts West group from receiving the lion’s share of marketing simply because it has the biggest budget?

Arts West requires investment in time, money, ideas, and leadership and each organisation needs to invest an equal financial amount.

As Lillie says: “The opportunity is open to sharing resources equally and the buy in is reasonable.”  Yet she’s “conscious of capacity and FCAC would hold the bulk of the work”, but not the bulk of the marketing.

Arts West organisations’ marketing budgets vary — some have $5000 and some have $50 000 — but it is relative to the levels of activity delivered by them.  The aim is to share services and be more effective in developing new business models.

Jeremy Gaden the Director of the Substation in Newport says: “We are all under resourced in our marketing and communications and Arts West is aims to trying to address some of this.”

In Melbourne’s West the potential arts and entertainment audiences is largely untapped by many of the funded arts organisations. Gentrification, cultural diversity, aspiration, poverty, marginalisation, political tension, outer-suburban growth, new transport and hub industries, growth in services, tertiary education, high-rise apartment developments, and new shopping and entertainment centers are generating flux. Melbourne’s West is experiencing urban and demographic change that has not seen or felt since the 1950s and 1960s.

According to the 2011 ABS Census, 27.3 percent of Maribyrnong City’s employed were managers or professionals compared to only 24 per cent in greater Melbourne. The number of managers, community, service workers and educators has risen from six per cent to 14 per cent since 2006. The most significant age groups are between 35 years and 55 years of age. Over 7.3 percent of Maribyrnong city’s population attends a university compared to 5.4 percent in greater Melbourne.

These are arts and entertainment audiences according to Arts Victoria’s recently commissioned research, ‘Audience Atlas’. Those between 45 and 59 are the biggest spenders on culture and the arts according to the Audience Atlas.

In Footscray alone the population has grown by 10,000 since 2006 to over 13,000. While population growth across the West has been mainly from overseas migration, Melbournians –many Anglo-Australian and professional, are choosing to shift to the West. Footscray’s hip new coffee houses charging the same prices as those in Melbourne’s more affluent areas are an indication of this influx.

People born overseas constitute 37 per cent to 51 percent of the west’s population while the national average sits around 25 per cent. The largest groups outside the Anglo-Celtic are Vietnamese, South Asian, Chinese, Italian, Greek, Turkish, Maltese and Arabic. There are clusters of Filipino, Thai, and Spanish speakers who constitute serious markets for Arts West.

The most annoying and repetitive argument coming from me at Arts West meeting over the last 12 months was: “If a Vietnamese pop star, or a Latin American music group can fill out venues without a cent of state subsidy, why can’t those audiences fill the venues of Arts West organisations as well?”

The Substation’s director Jeremy Gaden recognises this. “We see tremendous economic growth across the west driven by migrant and other population settlements, academic and industry growth and we need to be able to meet that cultural demand,” he says.

The first time I visited the Substation was for my cousin George’s wedding. George is a marketer for a major supermarket chain and his wife, of Italian heritage, is an accomplished educator. They dropped a bundle on that wedding, but have they dropped cash to see gigs at any Arts West gig?  Not sure – but one gets the argument.

All well and good, but how do you get nine very independent organisations around the table as equals? Each has diverse capacity, ranging from the large and established FCAC to the three-person powered Western Edge Youth Theatre. How to keep them from gouging each others’ eyes out — in an artsy passive aggressive sort of way of course — and get them to love each other and work as allies?

We worked hard with the Arts West brains trust to secure unity, maintain the drive, and to get the outcomes we have to date. The objectives were simple; enhance income, new audiences and new publicity. Without the intelligence, skill and general love of the Arts West organisations, Ben and I would have been largely irrelevant except to each other, (lots of bro-love).

The biggest coup for Arts West to date was securing $100,000 from Gandel Philanthropy and the Lord Mayor’s Charitable Trust (LMCF). The two philanthropic trusts’ funding then saw $50,000 added from Arts Victoria.

Fear of cannibalising each other’s funding sources was always an issue when it came to pitching for collective funding. These organisations have at times secured funding from the same sources, but there aren’t that many wells for funding.

These organisations are anxious that if one of them a philanthropic, funding, or sponsorship body they might be told: “We already funded Arts West.” There’s no definitive answer to this potential problem — it is a mater of faith.

Jade Lillie emphasises that in coming together there was a “collective decision… and however difficult this partnership can be, it means sharing funding.”

There can never be a guarantee those situations will not arise, but why speculate? Speculation can lead to paralysis. Paralysis leads to more committees, working groups, consultation, more mistrust, and fewer outcomes.

As Lillie puts it: “We simply agreed that for progress and productivity sharing and collaboration is the best bet. We are trying to break down the notion of competition that seems entrenched in the arts especially in the small to medium sector”.

Arts West did something at its launch that few arts organisations do. It ignored the mainstream media and focused on local and ethnic media. Ethnic media in all its forms is growing. Advertising in it is relatively cheap, it is direct and tailored and generates advocacy. The English Edition of the 60-year-old Greek paper, Neos Kosmos (which I once edited) has over 100,000 monthly unique users on-line and 35,000 readers of the paper each week. That’s about ten per cent of all Greek-Australians. It also talks to Greek Australians who are tertiary educated, run businesses, or work as professionals. Most of the readers are between 25 and 60 and interested in the arts, entertainment, lifestyle, politics and community. More importantly they are interested in each other. It’s easier to talk to filmmaker George Miller, (Miliotis), at the AFI Awards if you’re from Neos Kosmos than from Channel 9 or The Herald Sun.

The Africa Media Australia on-line video site talks to the diaspora of African-Australians from Somalia, Ethiopia, Sudan, South West Africa and so on.  Over 20 Indian titles and websites compete for the attention for more than 117,000 Indians in Victoria who are young, professional, articulate and aspirational. The Indian Film Festival of Melbourne was not born as a response to visual arts students’ love of Bollywood as a quirky and kitsch form full of irony. The Festival is for a large Indian-Australian audience.

The Chinese newspaper Sing Tao, the Chinese Melbourne Daily, 3CR Radio, and more Chinese papers, radio stations, on-line sites and TV stations connect to hundreds of thousands of Chinese Victorians, as well as the burgeoning in-bound Chinese tourism market. SBS Radio broadcasts in over 130 languages. Recent arrivals and established immigrants listen to respected journalists in the Arabic, Amharic, Punjabi and Chinese communities who validate arts and cultural programs for their audiences.

Promoting art and culture to Victoria’s diverse communities is direct and cheap through these ethnic media organisations. Those members of the 35 to 50 percent of residents in the west that do not come from an Anglo backgrounds use their media on mobile devices, print, radio and TV, and have an instinctive and historical connection to the arts which many Anglo-Australians do not.

There is a reason why mainstream political parties, insurance companies, independent and select state high schools, banks, government departments and community impresarios use multicultural media, and it’s not charity or love of multi-culturalism. Australia is no longer beige.

Talking to multicultural media for the two main parties is a reality, not a wish: it’s about numbers. Aspiration drives immigrants and it’s obvious in the ads for mathematics, grammar and music tutoring and after hours language schools in its media.

“We want to link with established and emerging culturally diverse audiences, they are essential to the survival of the arts across Australia and specifically in Melbourne’s west,” says Lillie.

A new ‘narrative’ is emerging and it’s one most arts organisations are not listening to. Arts West is a concrete step towards being part of that new story. Let’s see what happens.

[box]Main image by Carla Gottgens: Big West opening concert 2011. Source: Big West Festival.[/box]

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