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Culture Counts - Brisbane Writers Festival and UPLIT

Cassandra Ramsay and Edwin Parra share insights gained in using Culture Counts in surveying audiences for UPLIT’s two events – INSPIRE Festival and Brisbane Writers Festival 2016.

In 2016 UPLIT participated in the Arts Queensland Culture Counts pilot to evaluate two of our biggest annual events, INSPIRE Festival in June and Brisbane Writers Festival (BWF) in September. 

It was a pivotal year for our organisation. Following a period of strategic review, and in articulating our ability to design vibrant and unique literary-based cultural experiences year-round, we became UPLIT. 

Measuring our artistic value was crucial during our transition year, and in alignment with our 2016-2020 strategic plan, we identified as a business priority, the need to develop meaningful audience insights through innovative data projects. 

We were interested in learning more about how our audiences valued INSPIRE Festival compared to BWF. INSPIRE Festival was created out of a popular stream of programming at BWF. For it to continue as a separate entity, and to inform our programming choices outside of BWF, we needed more information about how our audience engaged with the experience. 

We selected seven Culture Counts dimensions as a basis for our surveying: Connection, Relevance, Local Impact, Captivation, Meaning, Rigour and Presentation. We learned that the average audience rating for all seven Culture Counts dimensions were nearly identical for both Festivals. The biggest variance was for ‘Connection’ (‘It helped me feel connected to people in the community’) where INSPIRE came in at 77 percent and BWF at 70 percent. 

While our gender ratios for both festivals were almost identical (INSPIRE had 1% more women and BWF had 1% who wished to be identified in another way), we found age demographics more interesting. While BWF attendees had stronger representation among those aged 40 to 59 (BWF at 51%, INSPIRE at 40%), INSPIRE Festival spiked in the 20 to 39 age brackets (BWF at 27%, INSPIRE at 41%). We can now use this information in our strategic planning and in positioning INSPIRE Festival. It will inform how we present programmed content and develop future audience development strategies.

We were also interested in using Culture Counts as a tool to track and test how we value both our festivals internally compared to our how our audience values them. After BWF, we found that our self- assessments aligned closely with the public assessments, with self- assessments scoring only slightly higher across all seven dimensions. 

We were successfully able to achieve our goals as outlined in the pre-festival self- assessment, or the Artistic Intention Realisation (AIR). With the information about the self, peer and public assessment, and with a high AIR score, we learned that there is room for improvement in how we talk about our work in the public sphere, and that we can afford to implement stronger, value-based language within our marketing and development campaigns. 

While we are committed to continuous improvement of our business model, it was a challenge to select the most suitable Culture Counts key dimensions to be tested, and still be useful within the context of our other audience development research. If we were to engage with Culture Counts again we would reconsider the customised questions in relation to our other development projects, and perhaps use one of these custom type question called ‘email’ to capture email addresses for follow up at a later date.

Although the Culture Counts platform is highly customisable, the standard demographic questions gave us only a small amount of this type of data about our audiences. We collaborated with the Culture Counts team and made some amendments in this area, but would consider other ways to do more in-depth demographic analysis in future. 

During such a crucial year for UPLIT, we were fortunate enough to use Culture Counts at INSPIRE Festival and BWF. The scope of the 2016 pilot project was of great value, and opens a window of opportunity for UPLIT in our future audience development projects. 

Read more about the experiences of other organisations with Culture Counts including Creative Regions, Red Ridge and Cairns Indigenous Arts Fair.



Cassandra RamsayCassandra Ramsay, Marketing Coordinator
Cassandra has worked in marketing with various organisations, including the Judith Wright Centre of Contemporary Arts, Brisbane Powerhouse and Crack Theatre Festival (TiNA). Cassandra has also worked independently as a playwright, performer and producer, and is currently a Creative Producer of Ipswich-based theatre company THAT Production Company. Cassandra has a Bachelor of Education (Secondary) and a Bachelor of Applied Theatre. 



Edwin ParraEdwin Parra, Patron Services Coordinator
Edwin has worked in Project Management in companies such as the Chamber of Commerce, and industry events including the Australian Performing Arts Marketing presented by the Brisbane Powerhouse. Edwin is currently a partner with Spread Australia Creative Studio in Brisbane, and holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Industrial Engineering and a Masters of Creative Industries in Creative Production and Arts Management.