Being remote but moving closer: Building audience-centered resilience models for arts and cultural organizations in acute crises

Ganter, Sarah Anne-Sophie | $24,965

British Columbia Simon Fraser University 2021 SSHRC

CHALLENGES: COVID‑19 has posed unprecedented challenges for cultural industries in Canada, with the performing arts sector being one of the most acutely hit. In tandem with rapid digital transformations, major questions and uncertainties around the future of cultural organizations and their operational resilience remain. This project aims to respond to these challenges by addressing several knowledge gaps: 1) the lack of local and international literature discussing “audience-making” through the lens of arts organizations; 2) the lack of Canadian data-based research on recent digital accelerations within arts and cultural organizations; 3) the lack of contemporary research on the impacts of the crisis on the creative sector in Canada, from the perspective of cultural organizations facing increasing pressure to digitalize cultural content; and 4) the lack of a supporting policy framework addressing these uncertain times.

OBJECTIVES; We will bridge this gap by examining the intersection of acute crisis, digitalization, and changing organization-audience relationships, through the perspective of a performing arts organization, the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra (VSO). While economic impacts are often the focus of crisis discourse and cultural policy, this project will make a critical contribution to identifying models of resilience that help sustain the socio-cultural and democratic functions of cultural organisations during and beyond times of acute crisis. We identify strategies, related challenges, risks and opportunities in audience-making at the VSO by asking: (1) how has the VSO envisioned and related to their audiences during Covid-19?; (2) What role have digital platforms played in audience-making at the VSO?; (3) What role do governmental initiatives play in shaping audience-making in the context of the VSO?; (4) What are challenges and opportunities experienced by the VSO in the new ways that audiences are reached that have been established in the pandemic?; (5) What are (positive or negative) consequences that we can identify in the case of the VSO in terms of accessibility for marginalized and precarious audiences?; and (6) How can this case-study be of benefit for different arts and cultural organizations? We will address those questions through a mixed methods design including survey, semi-structured interviews and focus groups. We will then work with the VSO and collaborate with insiders working in the sector in two workshops through in depth discussions of the findings towards identifying key components for a toolkit for building community-based models of resilience in arts and cultural organizations.

PARTNERSHIP: The proposal teams the VSO represented by president and CEO Angela Elster and Education Manager Jodi Mason, and the Cultural Industries in Acute Crisis research team, directed by Dr. Sarah Ganter (Simon Fraser University, School of Communication). The VSO has taken a leadership role with their digital innovations through the pandemic, creating a streaming service for digital presentations and a robust platform of resources through their music school. These innovations show surprising signs of an increase in audience-engagement numbers, suggesting a meaningful example of community-based organizational resilience. The VSO will be the organizational case study, in which we will collect in-depth data. We aim at generating broader relevancy of this study for the sector, as we collaborate with Nina Horvarth (Coastal Jazz and Blues Society) and Susanna Fong (BC Alliance for Arts and Culture) who will provide their insights from other arts and cultural organizations for critically contextualizing the research findings towards building audience-centred resilience models for arts and cultural organizations.

With funding from the Government of Canada

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