#AMAconf Day 1 – My Session Notes

Today was the first day of the Arts Marketing Association Conference. After some networking and socialising time last night, people from arts and heritage organisations across the UK and beyond have been in various sessions, workshops and speeches in the ACC Liverpool. I made a LOT of notes today, so here’s all the things I learned at AMA day 1. (Note, there were literally dozens of sessions today, but sadly I am not yet able to time travel, so I could only pick a few to go to!)

AMA Session 1 – ‘Art Happens with Art Fund’

Artfund is a specialised crowdfunding platform for museums and galleries that aims to bring together art organisations, curators, visitors and current donors for funding initiatives such as acquiring new art, funding exhibition tours etc., including personally managing national campaigns to save artworks for the nation, or highlight the work of a particular institution.

They had discovered that 90% of visitors give to charity, but only 40% of those people give to galleries and museums – most of that via ‘tip’ style donations that are seen by the public as added value rather than the regular giving that supports an organisation. People don’t automatically see museums/galleries as charities in need of their money.

Art fund created Art Happens as a crowdfunding platform, unlike other platforms they also provide advice and help on marketing/comms and the design of a campaigns, reward ideas etc. Campaigns usually run for 30 days to create a sense of urgency, and museums can provide updates etc. like many other crowdfunding platforms. Campaigns are usually for a specific project focus, or for the last few thousand pounds of a part-funded large-scale campaign – achievable goals.

Since 2014, they have had a 94% success rate (wonder how this compares to other platforms? It is certainly incredibly high due to the niche nature of the campaigns.) They credit it to having a dedicated team for advice and building on past campaign experience.

41% of donors are already known to Artfund, so they have a lot of repeat funders across the country.

Why Crowdfund?

  • Can fund a risky venture – it provides funding outside your usual channels.
  • Way to test audience reaction and enthusiasm for a new product.
  • Profile raising, and gives audiences a real sense of the cost involved in producing art projects.
  • Way to engage low-level donors – people who can only give a small amount can still feel their donation counts towards something tangible.

Challenges Involved

  • Very intense period of work
  • One barrier can be lack of access to technology – some of your current supporters may not like to do online giving. One idea may be to engage donors face-to-face and lead them through the process while making it less scary and making them feel involved – for example, the Fan Museum began their crowdfunding campaign with a launch party for supporters where people could use tablets during the event to donate, with staff on hand to help them.
  • People need to feel they have a personal connection to the project.
  • Involvement – people are becoming a stakeholder in your campaign, so they need the behind-the-scenes details etc.
  • The project needs to be exciting to people outside of your org/industry.
  • You need a tangible goal that people can see happening

Example – York Art Gallery

York Art Gallery had opened up a new outdoor space as a place for art installations and open-air theatre. This needed a high profile, general interest exhibition to bring people in. They chose Doug Fishbone’s Leisure Land Golf installation, and needed to raise £10,000 to bring it to York, with the marketing campaign ‘Art for the Course’.

This was a new marketing campaign unlike their usual work, which allowed the marketing team and the entire gallery staff to be playful and involved – golf puns, costumed staff etc.

Other heritage organisations in York such as Jorvik came on board to promote the idea, as well as more unexpected sources such as mini-golf enthusiasts. Plus, Artfund has it’s own massive social media following and email database to promote the campaign even before York Art Gallery had started their own work.

Regular thank yous to donators is hugely important – creates goodwill both for the organisation and further Artfund campaigns. This makes sure people feel that their investment was worthwhile and fosters a sense of ownership.

Summary points

  • Get the whole team on board – everyone needs to be able to talk about it
  • Be totally transparent – break down how the money is being used
  • Tell the story
  • What’s in it for the audience – why should they make it happen
  • Timing – the campaign is going to need your full attention, so don’t schedule it during busy times.

Morning Keynote Speeches ‘Power of Play’

Notes from speech by the Executive Director of New Zealand Festival

Play – it means action, collaboration, it means fun

The New Zealand festival ethos is about taking action – if things aren’t working right, being proactive about it.

They used to run a festival membership, which slowly declined despite best efforts with marketing, consultancies, offers etc. So instead, they looked at what they wanted from the membership, and also what audiences wanted (both those in and not in the membership). They created a whole new scheme from this – a rolling £5/month arts ‘community’ rather than the traditional members/friends scheme. They realised many people weren’t interested in discounts and booking offers as they were engaged in the arts anyway. Instead they created a digital magazine with a round-up of arts stories, and commissioned content from freelance arts journalists.

Think about what you want from ideas – it’s about learning through doing and making mistakes. When they changed the scheme, some previous members didn’t want to move to the new scheme but they still supported what the festival was doing as an idea.

Notes from keynote speech – Alice Proctor – Uncomfortable Art Gallery Tours

Communities – what do we mean by that? When we talk about needing to engage communities, it shouldn’t be just a token box tick, or a basic attempt to increase visitors. There will always be someone who doesn’t feel comfortable in your space, so what needs to change about the space. When you bring change, someone will always be annoyed, so choose who you’re going to annoy and who you are going to stand by. Commit to a change – change has to be meaningful and genuine. Be prepared to have conversations and have people ask awkward questions, and let them ask those questions about those organisations.

(This section was a very useful prologue to the session on Colston Hall and handling a PR Crisis – further down.)

Notes from keynote speech – Director of the Africa Centre – Kenneth Olumuyiwa Tharp CBE

Arts and Education: ‘Creativity is a great way to break the rules without getting put in detention’. Children take play very seriously – they are fully invested in it. We like to think of ourselves as creatives, but for people working behind the scenes in the arts, ‘play’ is for outside the workplace. Remember that creativity isn’t just the prerogative of artists – creative choices can bring about new ways of thinking or doing.

AMA Session 2 – Colston Hall Name Change – How to handle a PR Crisis

How to deal with a difficult, controversial situation which has national interest and threatens a negative public view – strategic approach to crisis management.

Context – Colston Hall is a South West- based concert hall in Bristol, a city which is one of the UK’s most diverse, but also most unequal. The legacy of the trans-Atlantic slave trade is very much a political and social elephant in the room, particularly through the places named after prominent slave trader and philanthropist Edward Colston. The hall was not built with his money but the city council chose to name it after him. This had become an issue in recent years. Local businesses and individuals refused to be associated with the venue, and local artists such as Massive Attack refused to play there. It placed barriers between the organisation and diverse communities.

Their capital build, starting in 2017 and running until 2020, seemed like an opportunity for change, but they knew that current audiences had an attachment to the name and the personal emotional histories that it had for them. The hall team feel that in hindsight they should have been more proactive in a public desire for change, but they were unprepared in how to tackle the situation.

After opinion pieces in the Guardian, things came to a head with public protests at the hall in early 2017, resulting in national press and negative social media attention.

In April 2017, the Hall’s Chief Executive announced that the name Colston Hall did not reflect their values and that they intended to change the name. However, after this the negative attention increased, with regular attenders declaring that they would stop coming, and a negative impact on fundraisers who had previously agreed to give to the capital build campaign.

Strategic Decisions Taken

The biggest short-term decision was when to announce the change. By February 2017 there were regular protests at the building, and serious reputation damage was on the horizon. Also, they were about to announce a fundraising drive, and didn’t want that to be caught up in the any other press stories. Even so, at that point it looked like the announcement would be seen as caving in to protesters rather than a freely made decision – but it was crunch time for them.

Another decision, with both short- and long-term implications, was to programming. In the short term, they collaborated with Bristol Old Vic for historical tours that would address the issues of the city’s past. More long term, they will be focusing on diverse programming, including working with St. Paul’s Carnival, and looking into how the Hall can be more welcoming to audiences of different backgrounds.

They had to be clear about the reasons for the change – particularly that as the Hall was being rebuilt and developed with public money, they couldn’t continue under the Colston banner.

They worked up key messages and an online FAQ for staff to use to direct people to. They were clear about the Hall’s wider place in Bristol’s controversial history.

Timing – they made sure it was announced when there wasn’t any other press stories to put out, e.g. programme-based announcements.

They put a digital strategy in place so that when negative social media started to roll in they wouldn’t be overwhelmed, though they admit that they very much were, and learned to only respond to messages when it was clear that a measured conversation could happen.

What They Learned

  • Critical voices are the loudest, but don’t necessarily reflect the majority opinion
  • Caution about the news, primarily about it not leaking before they were ready, mean they didn’t take enough time beforehand to seek allies in Bristol who could have been ready to support their message, and this left them isolated
  • They needed support networks for staff, and staff needed all the facts. Not telling them everything at once was seen as a way to protect staff, but in reality they were being constantly asked about the name change in both their professional and personal lives.
  • Spreading the load of speaking for the organisation across both senior management and board meant they could be ready to put out proactive supporting statements where needed.

Now, they are in a unique opportunity to make change, and work with communities to choose a new name.


  • It’s the place of the arts to challenge, and this is okay
  • They were slow to follow up on their initial announcement, and this was due to shock at the negative reactions
  • They need to look for the missing voices in the conversation – who disagreed with their decisions and why? For example, some came from white working-class people in Bristol so they need to be more engaging in those communities
  • Be bold in a difficult situation, make the decision
  • Have an organisation-wide position attitude to back up your choice.

AMA Session 3 – Playing with Fear – By bystander to ally

This was a session from Museum Detox, a BAME network for the museums, galleries and heritage sector, looking at how to shift conversations about racial issues in the sectors, even if it is tricky or awkward, and how to influence change at infrastructure level, not just through small community projects that any organisation can do.

They demonstrated a ‘playful way to challenge perception’ through their White Privilege Clinic test, which works to challenge people not only on unconscious privilege and bias, but also to show them what immediate positive action they could take, rather than feeling defensive. You can find the details and take the White Privilege test here – and I really do recommend looking at the stuff on that link.

AMA Session 4 – Creative Fundraising in the North West

This was a panel session, with representatives from FACT, MIF and People’s History Museum. My notes for this one are a little all over the place and I apologise if they seem disjointed – perhaps I was getting tired?

  • Looking into creative ways to fundraise
  • In the North, organisations have slightly lower levels of donated income, compared to the national average.
  • You need to look at the intrinsic value of your product, and frame it in difference ways as they need to – educational purpose, value to society etc.

FACT – they wanted to fund a massive new exhibition, and rather than breaking it down into different funds, they took the idea and the needed sum of £750k to the city council and the Arts Council to say, here’s our big ambitious idea, what can you do for us?

MIF – Their festival is based on asking artists what they want to do that is new, innovative, and they wouldn’t be able to do elsewhere. These aren’t easy, small or inexpensive works, and they only happen over eighteen days every two years. So they have a real focus on special works to engage corporate partners, such as a year-round initiative for artists making work as responses to the festival events.

Some corporate sponsors can only offer a small amount of money, but they can offer other things – for example, a firm that built staging for a MIF event.

In individual giving, they have levels for people who want to be heavily involved in the planning and behind-the-scenes parts of the festival, but others just want to give them money and remain hands-off – it’s important to have places for both.

PHM – In 2014 they developed a new campaign called ‘Join the Right Cause’. They hadn’t focused on individual giving before, so they started by connecting it strongly with they organisational values, and people who cared about the museum’s ideals as a place for political and social history. The campaign was started in a crisis moment for the museum as they had just lost some significant funding. They aimed to create a starting list of 100 sponsors who would sponsor their 100 ‘radical heroes’ – various political and activist figures from history, and the idea was that this could turn into a multi-level membership scheme.

People pledged for three years, but it has been harder to retain people over longer periods – perhaps they had had too much focus of the survival of the museum and to enough on the long term plan, so their current messaging is being changed and worked on. Also, they realised that it is a lot of work to maintain relationships, but they don’t necessarily need to offer much in return to donors as these are people who have pledged ‘from the heart’ – because they care about the museum, not because they need added value.

It’s important to get over an initial fear of asking for money, but the representatives from MIF and PHM agreed that in Manchester, at least, people donate out of a sense of civic pride in the city and it’s culture attractions.

At FACT, a high percentage of their audience is under 35 so they have less focus on individual giving, but in their work with businesses it is important to ask – if they can’t give money, can they help in others ways, or perhaps pass opportunities on to other business contacts, and to always make sure that rather than presenting it as ‘can you donate, yes or no?’ give a sliding scale of packages and opportunities to give people an idea of the possibilities at all levels.

…And after all that

We had a final keynote speech from theatre director Emma Rice on ‘Play and the Oxygenation of the Workplace’, and after I’ve got this up and posted, I’ll be heading off for a tour, food and networking at the lovely Liverpool Philharmonic. Tomorrow, I’ve got plenty more sessions (as listed here) so plenty more notes to write up…



3 thoughts on “#AMAconf Day 1 – My Session Notes

  1. Pingback: #AMAConf Day 2 – Session Notes | Clare@Blog
  2. Pingback: FutureLearn – Museums as a Source for Learning Part 1 – Visitor Profiles | Clare@Blog
  3. Pingback: #TEC2018 – Takeaways from the Tessitura European Conference | Clare@Blog

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