How to…embrace uncertainty and change. Blog: Amy Firth


AMA’s Head of Marketing, Amy Firth, kicks off our ‘How to…’ series of blogs with some tips on how to manage change and come out smiling.

As the old Chinese curse goes, “May you live in interesting times”. Working in the arts and cultural sector is never boring – which is one of the things that makes it so rewarding – but the pace of change, and the uncertainty of the political and economic environment in which we find ourselves, can add even more stress and challenge to roles that are already demanding. 

In my role as Head of Marketing – Membership at the AMA, I know that reaching and engaging audiences is what our members do, day in, day out. But the detail of what they do, day in, day out, has changed dramatically over the past 25 years. 

The pace of change has never been so fast – and our members have borne the brunt of much of that change. We’ve seen what our members do simultaneously diversify and specialise. Social Media Manager was a role that didn’t exist 15 years ago. Yet while this has become a discipline in its own right, we also see responsibility for social media being rolled in with countless other duties for those working in organisations where there may well be just one person working on the full gamut of communications and audience development responsibilities.

However specialised or generalised, however large or small your team, it can be tough to keep up with change, and it is easy to feel overwhelmed. AMA’s been supporting our members for a quarter of a century, and weathered our own fair share of change, and here we share some of our tips to get you through. S

  • Stay focused on your audience

Audiences are key to so many aspects of arts and culture: key to the bottom line, key to resilience and sustainability, key to achieving the potential for the benefits of art and culture to be realised, through shared experiences, provoking thought, supporting mental wellbeing and more. This is why we do what we do. 

If you stay close to your audiences, you stay tuned in to what they want, what they respond to, and challenge your own assumptions and thinking. Don’t assume that what they wanted, or what worked last year, is the same this year. Don’t assume that groups you haven’t engaged successfully with are impossible to engage. Talk to them. Try new things. Stay focused on your audiences, and keep an eye to the big, longer-term picture in the relationships you build with them.

We provide a range of support in making sure that you are audience-focused in both your short and long-term activity, which you can find at our website.

  • Find the opportunity in change 

If the circumstances change, then it’s a good time to take a risk and try something new. Why keep doing things the same way, if the situation is no longer the same? It’s easy to get stuck in a rut with your thinking – particularly when it can feel like you are just churning away to keep on top of things. 

Investing in some training can be a good way to reinvigorate your thinking and help you keep up with change. Even if you don’t have the budget or time to get out of the office, change is an opportunity to review your approach and try new things. Things like reading up on what’s worked for others can also help – and if you want some inspiration, you can find case studies on AMACultureHive online. Whether it’s relatively simple things like mixing up your pricing, or more complex community ambassador programmes, someone will have tried it and be able to share their learning.

  • Value the people around you 

Our people are our greatest resource. The sector in which we work is not one renowned for its high salaries, and what generally attracts people is a passion for arts and culture. That bond of shared belief in what would be called “the product” in other industries, is quite possibly unique. As such, there is a capacity people to go above and beyond, which can be taken for granted. 

In tough times, it’s important to make the people you work with feel valued, and also make sure that the demands placed on them are reasonable. If you are in a leadership or line-management role, it might seem easier to do this – but often it’s something overlooked in the “busyness”. Even if you’re not in a line management role, passing on a compliment to a colleague or acknowledging the contribution they have made can really help boost positivity and a sense of team spirit. It can be a little thing, but it can make a real difference to the tone of the workplace. Our recent member benchmarking survey included how valued people feel as a measure of sector health, and we’re looking forward to tracking this over time.

  • Take time for yourself

It’s easy to get stuck on the hamster wheel. It’s easy to get ground down, to become cynical, to burn yourself out. Look after your own wellbeing – there will never be more than 24 hours in a day, however much we might wish otherwise, and if you don’t make time for yourself, you’ll never find it. This might be a case of something as simple as building a walk around the block into your day, to get some fresh air and clear your head, or taking a 10- minute mindfulness break. As one of our AMA Conference 2018 delegates said following our closing keynote “embracing the ‘flow of slow’ is not only essential for us to think clearly and strategically in arts marketing”. It’s important to create space if we are to do our best work, and also manage our own mental health.

It can feel like the arts and cultural sector is not an easy one to work in, but even in tough times, we can look at the difference we make, and feel proud of our work. A healthy cultural sector is one which is resilient and sustainable, and a key part of that is making sure that we look after ourselves and our colleagues. While times might be tough, we can still keep faith with the importance of what we do. Our current political, economic and social challenges mean that arts and cultural organisations have a clear and crucial role to play in our communities – local and national – and that the work we do has never been more vital. I am proud that AMA remains here to support our members, and the wider sector, in that work.


Harnessing support for fundraisers. Blog: Rosario Bellolio


RAISE logo

Funding cuts and an uncertain economic landscape are challenges familiar to every small charitable organisation but, similar to those within the wider sector, arts, culture and heritage fundraisers continue to demonstrate a great capacity for resilience.

Arts focussed organisations offer great examples of how creativity, flexibility and strong belief in the cause are vital to help ensure success in tough times, but we need to work more closely together.

While working as a fundraiser in small arts charities, I have experienced the challenges that small organisations face on daily basis such as relying on project-based income and the lack of staff resource dedicated to fundraising. Fundraising expertise, working with volunteers and confidence levels connected to asking for money are issues I see shared with the wider sector.

Within the arts, a particular challenge is that individuals with creative leadership roles have to juggle operational matters alongside creative direction. Another challenge is raising awareness of the actual and very real need for a charitable case for culture. Reduced time on the artistic development can lead to internal and external tensions, fundraising activities may not always be a preferred first choice and sparks of inspiration and energy are welcomed.

In this context, it’s vital for all small charities to harness the support and knowledge available in the sector. That’s why in 2018 the Institute of Fundraising launched a new programme ‘RAISE: Arts, Culture & Heritage’ with support from the Arts Council England.

The four-year programme is supporting organisations and individuals that raise funds within the arts, cultural and heritage sector in England. In recognition of the vital role small organisations play, RAISE activities have a particular focus on supporting individuals working within small charities. We are also working specifically to support sole fundraisers and to help towards increasing access and diversity offering early career fundraisers and those that self-identify as BAME opportunities to engage with us through our activities, which include bursaries and running events outside Great London.

We’re working in partnership with the IoF’s volunteer-led group network including the culture sector network, blackfundraisers UK (BFUK), sole fundraisers, IoF regional groups and young arts fundraisers. Together we’re delivering a programme that includes networking events, peer-learning opportunities, access to onward education opportunities, and mentoring. The latter launched in early February 2019 – the year-long mentoring schemematching early career fundraisers with senior or director level development professionals from a wide range of organisations in the arts and cultural sector across England. The application window is open and we welcome entries from art sector professionals from across England to apply for either mentor or mentee roles.

Mentor applications are open from 6 February 2019 and close on 1 March 2019. Mentee applications are open from 12 March 2019 and close on 3 April 2019.


A strong and financially sustainable cultural sector creates a society in which all can flourish, with all the economic and social benefits that the cultural industries provide. Working with the Arts Council, the Institute of Fundraising are committed to helping spread the word that #culturematters.

Read more about the RAISE: Arts, Culture & Heritage programme

Apply for the 2019/20 RAISE mentoring programme.


RAISE: Arts, Culture & Heritage is the national rollout of the Institute of Fundraising Culture Sector Network, funded by the Arts Council England. The 4-year programme aims to support arts and cultural fundraisers based in England through peer to peer learning, bursaries opportunities, networking events and access to onward education.

Led by the Institute of Fundraising, RAISE was founded to support professional development across England, fly the flag for the charitable case for culture, empower arts and cultural sector fundraisers to achieve higher levels of fundraising practice, and to support the drive for greater inclusivity, diversity and representation within the sector.


Family Audiences – making a difference. Blog: Clair Donnelly


Clair Donnelly takes us through top resources that make a difference when working with families 

As we move further into the New Year, many of us will be planning ahead to decipher how we can become even more inclusive, engaging and welcoming to our audiences. For many organisations, families will be at the heart of that work; they are the audiences of the future as well as the audiences of now, however, they are the audience whose planning needs and access to prior information is greatest. With multiple varying factors to consider, the family audience can often be the most difficult audience to please but arguably the most rewarding when we get it right.

Families are not just good for our audience development goals; they’re good for business and can contribute to our organisation financially. But if families are going to part with their hard-earned cash, how can we ensure value for all family members? It’s a key theme at this year’s Family Arts Conference, which will explore the value of arts, culture and creativity for families.

Our conference will consider what value means in today’s family arts sector in terms of the benefits engagement with arts and culture can bring and how we can communicate and capitalise on that value through our evaluation, fundraising, income generation or data gathering.

A not to be missed session with Baker Richards consultancy service will talk us through how to create commercial value in your family offer, and lead on from their excellent existing resource on Pricing your Family Events.

And what about older family members? Research has shown that older adults are more likely to be visiting as part of a larger family group than they are to attend alone.  We also know that older generations may be more likely to experience barriers to engagement than younger family members. The Age-Friendly Standards provide specific guidance on welcoming older audiences and can help your organisation become more inclusive for older generations who may have access or additional needs.

At this year’s conference, we’ll explore the value of intergenerational experiences that bring older and younger audiences together with a key note presentation from Dr. Zoe Wyrko, the brains behind the channel 4 documentary Old People’s Home for Four Year Olds.

Once you have your family offer in place, how can you ensure that you’re doing the very best you can do for your family audience? Evaluation, however small-scale, can provide you with insights about the effectiveness of your activities and help you to plan events in the future. The Family Arts Evaluation and Audience Research Toolkit built by evaluators Catherine Rose’s Office, has been designed to support evaluation of your family events. At next month’s Conference, the Big Lottery Fund will run a workshop on the implications of carrying out evaluation in the context of family audiences, along with recent examples and online tools to aid your evaluation processes.

If it’s data you’re after, there are lots of tools that can help you drill down into the dos and don’ts of family audiences. All arts and cultural organisers are entitled to use the free Audience Finder survey tool, which can help you collect data on your family audiences. Once complete, you can profile your audiences using Audience Spectrum to show you which types of families are attending your events. You can then compare this with data for your region to find out who your potential new audiences could be. Make sure you select ‘families’ when requesting your survey, so that it can be personalised to include a range of specially selected Family Participation questions.

So what’s next for the future of family arts? Digital engagement is of course on the rise, but so is outdoor art and culture, which is valued for its interaction with diverse community groups. Last year’s Outdoor Arts Audience Report found that outdoor cultural events tend to be representative of the demographic in their area. They can be a great way to have fun as a family and are successfully attracting similar proportions of first-time and repeat visitors. It’s a topic we’ll be exploring further at the Conference, joined by Outdoor Arts UK and other experts in the field.


The Family Arts Conference takes place 12thFebruary at the Everyman Theatre, Liverpool.Tickets are available for £175+VAT. The full programme and booking can be found here.

Unlimited: The Symposium. Blog One: Equality – Disability, intersectional identities and the arts.


The first of a series of blogs where session Chairs at Unlimited: The Symposium share their responses with the aim to inspire others. 

Unlimited: The Symposium was a disabled-led, two-day discussion event, held at the Unicorn Theatre on 4 and 5 September 2018. It was aimed at both a national and international audience across the cultural sector, with people attending in or engaging in the discussion and debate online.


Equality: Disability, Intersectional Identities and the Arts Symposium – a personal response by the Chair of this session, Sonya Dyer.

One of the most important lessons I learned during the Unlimited Symposium was quite a simple one, but it was something I had, in all honesty, never thought of before.

We were setting up the A/V in advance of the ‘Intersectionality’ panel, in the main auditorium. Lapel mic pinned on my top, I did something I presume I always do – I asked the technician, ‘Can you hear me?’. I did so without thinking, as I imagine most people do, most of the time, when setting up for events.

This lesson was taught by one of the panellists, Chun-Shan (Sandie) Yi. Sandie taught by doing – when it was her turn to check her mic, she asked this simple question, ‘Is the mic working?’. Sandie later explained the purpose of framing the question in this way, namely that asking ‘Can you hear me?’ implies that everyone can hear, or indeed should be able to hear. We all know this is not the case.

This stopped me in my tracks. I strive to be a better ally to D/deaf and disabled people. However, I have always asked, ‘Can you hear me?’ without seriously considering the implications of those words.

For me this was a necessary reminder of the importance of unpicking certain seemingly benign behaviours I perform everyday. Learning to be a better ally is a life long practice.

I was grateful to Sandie for handling the situation in the way that she did, by just doing better and sharing her knowledge and understanding with all of us. I don’t imagine I was the only person who needed this lesson.

This is something I will take with me, and change about myself moving forward. In fact, shortly after the Unlimited Symposium, I ran another daylong event with an organisation outside the disability-led sector. As we were setting up the A/V I heard myself asking, ‘Is the mic working?’.

Sonya Dyer, October 2018


About Unlimited

Unlimited supports ambitious, creative projects by outstanding disabled artists and companies. The projects include theatre, dance, music, literature, performance, painting, sculpture, public artworks, photography, digital artworks, installations, films and more.

Unlimited wants to change perceptions of disabled people by commissioning disabled artists in the UK and internationally to make new, groundbreaking and high quality work.

We also do this by building a community of Unlimited Allies who help us to embed the work of disabled artists in the mainstream cultural sector and improve access for artists and audiences.

Unlimited is a commissioning programme, not an organisation. It is run by two different organisations:

  • Shape Arts, a disability-led organisation which works with disabled artists and has an office in Kentish Town, London
  • Artsadmin, which supports artists to create work without boundaries and has an office at Aldgate East, London.

Unlimited works with disabled artists from all over the UK
– England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland – and offers funding for research and development, to make small and large-scale projects happen in the UK and around the world, and awards for emerging artistswho are new to art, early-career or haven’t had reached large audiences yet. We also fund full commissions (from an artist’s idea through to its realisation and touring) and commissions created through international collaborations.

From 2013-2016 Unlimited supported more than 2,300 days of performances and exhibitions by disabled artists, which were seen by over 130,000 people.

Connected resources: The Accessible Marketing Guide

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