A great new audiences initiative in Barcelona

By Johan Moerman, managing director Rotterdam Festivals and chairman of Audiences Europe Network

Last month CCCB, the centre for contemporary culture in Barcelona, launched a new international innovation prize and made an important statement by connecting this first prize to the theme of ‘Audiences’.  It showed again that the relation between cultural organisations and their audiences is a crucial theme in the debate about the future of the cultural sector. I was asked to be part of the international jury and join the discussions and workshops around the award ceremony.

150 projects from 25 countries were summited, good plans and very good plans, plans that were innovative or not so innovative, plans that were realistic or extremely ambitious. But all were driven by the belief that the gap between institutions and audiences can be made smaller than it is.

Overseeing all the plans showed that “Audience” is a complex word. It was approached from many points of view, all of which have their own value, but are hard to compare. For that reason the jury chose two winners. One that engages directly with audiences  and  another proposal that challenges organizations to rethink their impact on audiences. *)

The huge amount of projects, the quality of the plans and the geographic spread made it possible and interesting to analyze what’s going on in the Audiences debate today.  CCCB wrote an excellent article that can be read – and is worth reading.

In short the plans showed a degree of consensus that audiences have been ‘neglected’ too long by cultural institutions, that the audience of today is no longer passive and that they want to participate and not only consume.  I don’t know if ‘the’ audience has ever existed, but today it seems fragmented more then ever into many sub-groups, even among individual persons. The cultural omnivor that not only likes both Bach and Lady Gaga, Tarkovski and American B Movies, but also find them relevant and meaningful, seems to be the biggest audience group today.
To make it even more complex, genres and formats seem to blur and the loyalty of audiences to cultural institutions is fading away. Audiences want special experiences, events, and every project has to win its own audience again and again.

The award project made clear that there is work to do for our cultural institutions. For the way we programme, for the way we organise  and use and invest in (flexible!) cultural buildings. The award made also clear that there is a growing group that care about the relation between cultural institutions and their audiences.

There were 150 people that sent plans to Barcelona. They were often thought provoking and inspiring, were made with ambition and an open mind for the future. At the workshops and debates there were artists, students and leaders of cultural institutions, from small upcoming to large organisations with a huge reputation.
Of course one final answer was not found, but there was a great group together that was eager to make the cultural sector ready for the next generation. And that in itself is a wonderful sign.

June 2015, Johan Moerman

*) The winners were CULTIME by Christine Burger,  Eleonora Cantini and Paloma Mateos González and ESDEVENIR PUBLUC (BECOMING PUBLIC) by Oriol Fondevilla. The full jury report can be found here.

Website CCCB, Centra de Cultura Contemporania de Barcelona

Website AEN, Audiences Europe Network


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