Last week I was at the Arts Marketing Conference in lovely Birmingham – the first in-person conference they’ve been able to run since 2019. And wow, you could tell we had all been impatient to get back to it! Sian Booth over on Twitter described it as ‘Freshers meets first day of nursery vibes’ which pretty much nails it.

The first day’s keynote, given by Anna Starkey, Trina Haldar, and Anita Morridadi, was an amazingly inspiring start – all focused on how we can regain a sense of adventure and joy in our work. Anna Starkey addressed the discomfort we all often feel about not-knowing or uncertainty, but pointed out that no adventure story would work if the hero knew everything ahead of time. So, how can we see not-knowing as powerful?

Shift not-knowing from the handbrake to the engine.

Anna Starkey

Trina Haldar spoke of the power of remembering, under lockdown, “this is not our time” – taking a step back, accepting what we can and cannot do, and gathering strength for the right moment when it comes. We need to give ourselves permission to be in the wilderness. So how can we rewild ourselves, not just our lands? Time for a new adventure, says Anisa Morridadi!

Suitably full of the spirit of adventure, the rest of the weekend was full of insights (and many of them came outside the booked sessions – absolutely everyone I spoke to had some really interesting wisdom and experiences to share). There were actionable thoughts on supporting and developing meaningfully diverse audiences through outreach and (surprise surprise) really genuinely listening, done to amazing effect by Wolverhampton Grand; tips from Supercool on how to reduce your digital carbon footprint with a useful shout-out to; fascinating insights on creating and supporting online performance experiences from Original Theatre, and Berlin Philharmonie (two excellent points made by both: great digital performance isn’t just filming a live performance and putting it online, it’s an art form in itself; and, your customer service will make a huge difference in how well your audiences can engage with digital programming); powerful insights from Phil Batty talking about Unboxed, including the most effective way to deal with a project with elements of controversy (step into it, be clear, address the questions head-on, be transparent, and communicate values above all else); and a workshop from Holly Adomah Thompson on balance and self-care in arts marketing, how we can best support intellectual creativity and true collaboration, and how to make our next campaign even more powerful:

Are we allowing ourselves the time and kindness to address the limitations of our previous campaigns in order to make the next one successful?

Holly Adomah Thompson

I was, of course, particularly interested in the session from Royal Museums Greenwich about their rocket-powered success with the Save Solebay campaign on Art Happens, flying past their £15k funding target in the first few hours! They spoke about how their key campaign objective was not just funding, but also reaching out to a new audience – because the project had such a clear public outcome, they wanted to offer a chance for the public to fully engage as well as to raise the profile of their funding needs, the collections, the artists, and the venues. You can see these aims run through the whole campaign – in the rewards they chose to offer, in the partners they chose to work with, in the range of campaign-supporting content they created (and continue to create), and in the amazing work of their press team resulting in enormous national coverage for their launch day, which most likely drove the majority of their launch day success.

They also said (which fits with what many of the people I’ve worked with have found) that what surprised them about the campaign was the level of support and connection they got from audiences – not just in terms of money, but the positivity and excited feedback was far far greater than they’d ever expected. Many people have said that after a crowdfunding campaign, the money was actually of secondary importance, after the ability to make such a powerful and meaningful community connection.

And none of this has even touched on all the fascinating, funny, helpful, inspiring conversations I had in the queues, over cheesecake, or waiting for tea and coffee. We were thinking about accessibility, changing audience needs, changing organisational expectations, balancing pandemic-programming with ‘post-pandemic’ (I know, far from it) programming, letting one brand lead or letting sub-brands shine, updating funding strategies to fit with new audience expectations, exploring what people genuinely find valuable or powerful about our work (and how it might not be what we’ve always expected), offering meaningful connection, and so so much more.

The theme of the conference may have been adventure – but the most powerful thought I walked away with was the importance of community. None of us can do what we do alone; we need each other, to drive our creativity, our joy, our sense of fun, our care, our compassion, our bravery. Welcome people in to your work – listen to what they have to share, listen to what they need, and let that connection drive your next adventure. And, with thanks to Anna Starkey again whose words stuck with me:

Be the generous, mischievous, outstretched hand.

Anna Starkey