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Demand is not a dirty word

What do we mean by demand? Stephen Clark starts the conversation…

It may not be so well understood but …the arts are part of that gi-normous area of business known as the ‘services sector’. There will be those who may want to debate this but as soon as an artist shows or presents their work in the public arena – they are in the services business. They are offering a service, an experience, an idea to an audience or a customer – a reciprocal service relationship. Whether they meet that audience’s or customer’s needs or interests or not will certainly have some bearing on a sustainable creative future.

Flying Arts, as an arts and cultural facilitating and coordinating entity, is certainly in the services sector. Our business is to meet the needs and interests of our diverse stakeholders – and our sustainability, nay survival, depends on this focus. A few years ago we revived our business model and, amongst other things, spent some time clarifying what business we were in, identifying our various stakeholders and what they wanted and/or expected from us and then reframed our programs and services to suit. All this of course had to be done within the context in which we worked. It became (and still is) quite a balancing act between the influences in the business environment, the prevailing policy expectations, our charter and the interests of our customers and stakeholders.

Some may call this a demand focus but there are too many factors at play for us to be totally demand driven. We are not selling petrol, electricity or tissues. I call it demand orientated. The nature of arts business is such that sometimes the social, cultural, educational or health values of an activity or project outweigh demand considerations. Sometimes in pushing the boundaries of art form development or arts practice we can’t be too constrained by perceived demand. Sometimes it’s drought, small communities or economic conditions. For me, demand orientation doesn’t mean being slave to the economics of supply and demand. It’s just part of the balancing act. And the reality for us is that in our business we have to be relevant and appealing enough to help balance the budget. If we do not listen, adapt, flex or evolve according to the needs and interests of our many clients, participants, audiences and members’ et al, then our arts business would be in difficulty – in more ways than one.

How do we keep track? Well one good sign is the health of the business. Are there sufficient clients/customers/audiences wanting our services? Are they satisfied with what we offer? In consideration of all the factors that might affect demand in the arts, if business is good and you are meeting your targets then that’s a pretty good sign.  We try to be in front of any possible change in stakeholder needs or interests (and the quality of our services) by incorporating pretty rigorous evaluation into all our activities. Being vigilant and having informed peripheral vision can help identify a trouble spot before trouble occurs and help us stay in front of the game. One of our motto’s here (and we have a few) is, if we stand still, we become sitting ducks.

Being demand orientated doesn’t mean there’s no fun left. We actually get immense joy out of knowing that our services are wanted and appreciated. There is creativity in designing the right programs and activities to fit and there is always some creative problem solving to be done. Based on the feedback we receive our program continuously improves and evolves. Sometimes ‘tho we like to take a punt. Try something new. But the things we try are based on an understanding of our audience/s. We take an educated punt. Usually we do well and if the ideas we develop and implement succeed they often become part of our annual program or lead to other creative projects. Being demand oriented is not a fetter of our creativity. For us it is the essence because we want to make a difference. It keeps us motivated ….and viable.

Stephen Clark, Executive Officer, Flying Arts Alliance Inc: From a successful performing arts background based interstate, Stephen has worked in the Queensland arts sector since 1985. He has worked across Queensland in arts management and touring, event & festival production, cultural development and tourism destination marketing. He has worked extensively with local communities and local governments to enhance sense of place and identity, promote creative enterprise and advance professional development in the arts sector.




Feature image: Brisbane Festival 2012 – Argentine Music Concert suburban performance by Atmosphere Photography