The Clay Studio, the Sydney Symphony and Googong School: Lessons for audience development in archaeology in Australia

On the face of it the Clay Studio, a ceramic studio established in Philadelphia in 1974; the Sydney Symphony Orchestra; and the archaeological remains of Googong School, east of Canberra and abandoned since the early 20th century would seem to have little in common.

But dig a bit deeper and the connections are there.

Within the arts the concept of audience development is not a new one. It is developing patterns of broad community participation. Good audience development uses technological and cultural participation opportunities to overcome perceptual and practical barriers to participation.

Identifying ways to build your audience and building the level of engagement is a business imperative for the arts in Australia. The Australian Major Performing Arts Group (AMPAG) reported that the number of initiatives to target specific audience segments has doubled and in some cases trebled over the last seven years (http://www.ampag.com.au/article/audience-development). Increases in audience numbers, school and education programs and workshops are having direct flow on benefits for the major performing arts in Australia.

The Clay Studio (http://www.theclaystudio.org/) has a goal of promoting access to the ceramic arts, at all levels of interest and proficiency. This is being achieved through one basic idea: making it easier for people to get to know you. Rather than just running 10-week courses, this organisation saw that introducing different class formats to accommodate different skills, financial resources and interests was a way to develop their wider audience. These measures increased enrolments and revenue. This success only coming through developing multiple ways for people to ‘get to know them’.

Recent archaeological excavations at an 1880s schoolhouse at Googong, outside of Canberra, reflect the same audience development principles. Through providing a way for primary students to engage and interact with this site over 100 students from three local schools are getting to know archaeology in Australia (http://www.anu.edu.au/news/all-news/anu-archaeologists-to-unearth-lost-19th-century-googong-school).

The Western Sydney Audience Development Strategy, prepared for Arts NSW states the following on page 23:

The challenge for the arts is to extend programming and audience reach beyond the loyal audience base and to engage with new audiences seeking [to] understand and to take part in community cultural life.

I believe that right now in Australia there is a need to rewrite this sentence as follows:

The challenge for archaeology is to extend audience reach and to engage with new audiences seeking to understand and experience the way that our archaeology is discovered and interpreted.

Archaeologists must start to explore innovative ways of providing a way to allow the wider community to ‘get to know them’. This must include different forms of engagement, changing mindsets on who should be allowed to actively be involved in archaeology and ultimately understanding that archaeology is more than just a practice. It is a way to connect people with their past, their heritage. Developing an audience is the first step to a allowing the wider community a greater understanding of archaeology and the role it can play in our society.

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