Changing The Conversation

Over the last two years I’ve been lucky through my role as CEO of Lincoln Drill Hall to take part in a leadership development programme – Leadership For The Future.  It’s run by the DeVos Institute for Arts Management and as mentioned in earlier blogs has challenged leaders from a range of East Midlands arts organisations to think about how we develop our organisation’s artistic, marketing and fundraising models.

Last week we had the final seminar of the programme and our final face to face meeting with the programme’s team.  And from this one thing became clear as we seek to change the focus of how we attract support to the organisation.

We have always operated a mixed funding model in our six years as a charity, but more acutely than ever we need to be proactive in an approach that sees the sources of that funding change dramatically.  One thing that is really clear now to me and my team is that we have to change the platform upon which we communicate our value to our place and people.

This change narrative is focussed on three areas for us – how our organisation changes lives, affects change to the place we inhabit and how we change perception – both in terms of how people view us, but also in how the work we do can alter the perception of those who see it to their own lives or the world around them.

And I do believe we change lives. This may be for the 1100 young disabled people who visit us each year to have a safe, welcoming place in which to have party nights for example.  Or maybe the 1500 plus 7-17 year olds who attend our youth theatre and reap all of the additional benefits that we know through a range of evidence engagement with the arts brings.

We have a positive influence on our place.  We generate close to £2million per year in economic activity in the city through our work, with an impact from those who come from outside the city on the local economy of £1.3million.  Over 90% of people tell us that we make a positive contribution to Lincoln’s image and that we enhance the sense of community in the city.  The discussion with business is also changing. There is new emphasis on how our cultural organisations can help to attract clients and visitors to the city as well as helping them to attract and retain their workforce. Arts and culture is good for business.

And we do change perception. Along with colleagues in the Lincolnshire One Venues network we have provided some commissioning funding for the creation of a new piece of performance Getting Better Slowly. The piece has been made by our own Artistic Programme Manager Adam Pownall and is a personal story of illness and recovery.  In addition to the commission funds, Lincoln Drill Hall provided a great deal of in kind support to the project – space to rehearse, production facilities and staff to get the show ready for tour and we premiered the full production two weeks ago. Practically my team worked incredibly hard alongside the creative team to support the making of this production and that hard work has led to perceptions being changed.

The venue has been seen by funders and emerging theatre makers locally as more than just a receiving house for individual performances, but as an organisation that is committed to seeing work made in our city. The aim is that this perception change leads to more investment into making work here and us supporting more new work in the future.  Audiences perceptions were changed – one clinician wrote publicly about how seeing the show would have a changing affect on how they worked with families affected by themes contained in the piece. And our role as a co-commissioner is carried by the show around the country on tour – on flyers, posters, press releases and programmes.  All these little interventions we hope will help change perception of us and our city.

And the venue continues to change the perception of those who visit. Over the last two nights we have hosted the Nottingham Playhouse production of Tony’s Last Tape.  On both nights we invited guests from a range of places to see the work.  For some they were regular visitors, but for others, and this is something that happens quite regularly they hadn’t been inside the building since the 1980’s and remembered a completely different venue that presented wrestling and raves.  The response to their new experience was incredibly positive and uplifting. ‘I had no idea you did all this’ is a regular refrain.

We still need to get people in to see the shows we programme or to take part in workshops, classes and other activity we offer.  That will never change, but in order to become truly resilient, really sustainable for the future we need to be loved by the communities we serve and I believe that this change narrative can be the catalyst that drives the investment we seek.

One by one if we have to, we will change the perception of our wonderful venue, what we do and how we contribute to our fabulous city. That’s where our real value lies.