Tag Archives: culture

The Arts: rejuvenating the county

I’m reminded anew of this article in the Guardian some months ago about the impact culture and the arts are having in East Kent.

Writing last year, the Director of the Turner Contemporary Gallery, Victoria Pomeroy, states that

the arts are leading the way in raising the profile of the area as a desirable destination. From Whitstable to Folkestone, Canterbury to Dover, arts and culture are making a significant contribution to the tourism offer.

east_kentWith the tourist industry bringing in ‘£3.2bn’ to the area annually, the partnership between the arts, heritage and the tourist industry is rejuvenating the county’s economic development, bringing visitors to historic and cultural attractions throughout the region.

Last year’s bid for East Kent as ‘City of Culture,’ drawn up by collaboration across venues and organisations across East Kent. may not have been successful, it’s true, but it does reflect a changing mentality across the county, triangulated in investment in iconic venues such as the recently-refurbished Marlowe Theatre and Beaney House of Art and Knowledge, the Turner Contemporary in Margate, and the University’s own award-winning Colyer-Fergusson Building. Since 2011, Revelation St Mary‘s has been developing an exciting series of events at the heart of Ashford town, and there are festivals such as the Canterbury Festival,  Deal Festival, Lounge on the Farm, and Sounds New attracting major performers to the area; this year, in May, the new Whitstable Literary Festival will be launched.

There’s a sense that professionals across these industries locally are starting to forge working relationships, building on the sense nascent in the City of Culture bid that there is a vibrant county-wide cultural presence that can make a significant contribution towards supporting regional economic growth. We’ve certainly noticed an increased cultural vibrancy both here and next door in the Gulbenkian Theatre, with its developing partner-groups and youth theatre projects, and the number of local, regional and national performers coming into the music building; Kent really does have a lively artistic scene, one that engages the community across the age-range and brings them a high standard of artistic experience The recent high-speed rail link means Canterbury, Ashford and Margate are within easy reach of London, and are now more readily accessible. Notwithstanding the impact the Colyer-Fergusson building is having on the student experience and music-making provision on the campus, it’s exciting to see it forming a part of the cultural landscape developing across Kent.

Read the article online here.

I don’t have the power: cultural consumers and their wallets

As consumers, we should have a lot of power. It’s our money that companies want, that marketing strategies are devised for, to help us to part with our cash for things we either want, or didn’t realise we wanted. Audiences are turned into commodities, entities with profiles and habits towards which companies can tailor their marketing campaigns to achieve maximum efficiency, which supermarkets can index and target with specific adverts for products relevant to particular consumer groups. Products are matched with relevant consumers, with advertising crafted to appeal specifically to them alone.

A tool of power ?

The culture industries are no exception to this: as consumers of culture, we are also labelled, profiled and targeted: how often have you been asked to fill out a questionnaire that came with a CD, or sign up for promotional features by an arts organisation’s website, or been confronted by a pop-up survey on a website saying ‘your views are important to us ?’

The cost of producing a cultural commodity for popular consumption is balanced against consumer group spending power: cost-effectiveness is key.  Ticket prices for concerts and exhibitions, the number of dates on a performing tour, number of nights’ run on a show: all these are factors in off-setting production costs against income recovered. Competition for audiences in the cultural sector must be huge.

If, as consumers, we are so important to arts industries, if companies and organisations are so desperate to attract our custom, and hence our cash, why aren’t we wielding more power ? Why aren’t promoters offering us things that we do want to visit, to see or to hear ? Why isn’t competition for audiences and for ticket-sales translating into a Golden Age of Artistic Production and consumption ?

The loyalty-card schemes run by supermarkets are a tool for helping them define customers in terms of the products they purchase regularly. A person who buys nappies and powdered formula milk is probably a good target for money-off vouchers for baby food and clothing; but it’s getting harder to divide consumers so easily across the wider spectrum when looking at their cultural consumption.It’s easier to run a list of products someone purchases from a supermarket, and ascertain what they purchase regularly and what related products might be of interest. It’s perhaps less easy to do this with someone’s cultural predilections (unless companies can access one’s browsing history, and assuming one does most of one’s reading and listening on-line).

As Nicholas Garnham writes, ‘’What analysis of the cultural industries does bring home to us is the need to take the question […] of cultural resources seriously, together with the question of audiences – who they are, how they are formed, and how they can best be served’ (my italics) (from ‘Concepts of Culture – public policy and the cultural industries’, printed in Gray and McGuigan, Studying Culture, 1993: 60-61). That last part is crucial: as far as dis-empowering the spending power of cultural audiences is concerned, companies are more likely to prefer ‘how they can best be manipulated.’

Why are we often dissatisfied with what we are offered ? One only has to read the critics’ columns in the papers to read of another disappointing exhibition, an artist’s newly-released album that’s a let-down or another mindless summer action blockbuster film.

Perhaps it’s complicated by the plurality of society, both in terms of consumer group identities as well as the multiple streams by which culture can be created and consumed. Society is too diverse in its interests to be formed into meaningful or significant groups, easily able to be defined. With everything from medieval music to Muse, Botticelli to Bacon, Chaucer to Chomsky, it’s difficult to define individual consumer bases as having a specific taste that makes them a marketing consultant’s dream: the intellectual who reads Schopenhauer, listens to Slipknot and Webern, is vegetarian, likes Studio Ghibli films and paintings by Monet would be a marketing nightmare. Television schedules of course have to please as wide a spectrum of viewers as they can, and what is enjoyable to one is dross to another.

I don’t have a simple answer to the question of why we, as cultural consumers, don’t have more power in our wallets. Perhaps the realisation that we ought to is enough to start with. It’s time to start using our power more effectively. How we begin to do that is another question.