Egypt's stocks mixed on Tuesday as main gauge EGX 30 falls 0.63%    IMF upgrades Egypt's real GDP growth 2022 forecasts to 5.6%    Al Khair River starts trading on Egypt's stock exchange today    Egypt works on charting cooperation strategies with international institutions for 5 years: Al-Mashat    Maha karara joins AAIB as Head of Corporate Communications, Sustainability    Over 2.4 million newborns examined for hearing impairment: Health Ministry    Netflix releases trailer of Arab adaption of 'Perfect Strangers' film    Balqees to headline concert celebrating launch of streaming giant LIVENow in MENA    Sawsan Badr to be honoured at Aswan Women Film Festival    Al-Sisi follows up on 'Great Transfiguration Project' in St. Catherine    Cairo, London stress need to strengthen cooperation to face climate change    Foreigners account for 22.6% of Egypt's T-bills issuances in 1H 2021: CBE    MP Abdel Hady Al-Qasby calls government to facilitate and support NGOs    Egypt's ambassador to Italy passes away    Egypt confirms readiness to help African countries face terrorism and extremism    An estimated 235 million people needed humanitarian assistance and protection in 2021, an increase of 40% compared to 2020: IOM Egypt    Egypt, DRC discuss water cooperation during WYF    Egypt, DR Congo discuss boosting bilateral cooperation during WYF    Cameroonian police probe assault on three Algerian journalists covering AFCON    Pharaohs start AFCON 2021 campaign with fierce clash against Nigeria    Foreign Ministry opens capacity building course for French-speaking African diplomats    BRICS development bank admits Egypt as new member    Nermien Ismail Schools opens a new campus in O'West    Netherlands Embassy, E7kky Magazine celebrate success of 21 Egyptian women    Women make up 45% of Egyptian Atomic Energy Authority staff    Yas Island hosts travel partners at Formula 1 Etihad Airways Abu Dhabi Grand Prix 2021    Olaf Scholz becomes Germany's new leader, ending Merkel 16-year historic era    Egypt's trade with Nile basin countries climbs 26% y-o-y in 9 months    The unvaccinated prohibited from entry to Egypt state institutions starting December 1    Egypt's iron and steel exports jump 197% in 8 months    Ethiopia halts work at its embassy in Egypt for 'economic reasons'    It's a bit frustrating to draw at home: Real Madrid keeper after Villarreal game    Russia says it's in sync with US, China, Pakistan on Taliban    Shoukry reviews with Guterres Egypt's efforts to achieve SDGs, promote human rights    Sudan says countries must cooperate on vaccines    Johnson & Johnson: Second shot boosts antibodies and protection against COVID-19    Egypt to tax bloggers, YouTubers    Egypt's FM asserts importance of stability in Libya, holding elections as scheduled    Brazil calls up 8 EPL players for World Cup qualifying    We mustn't lose touch: Muller after Bayern win in Bundesliga    Egypt records 36 new deaths from Covid-19, highest since mid June    Egypt sells $3 bln US-dollar dominated eurobonds    Sisi calls on House, Senate to commence second legislative sessions on 3, 5 October    Gamal Hanafy's ceramic exhibition at Gezira Arts Centre is a must go    Italian Institute Director Davide Scalmani presents activities of the Cairo Institute for ITALIANA.IT platform    Qa'a play showing at Lycee El Horreya Theatre, Alexandria is a must go    On International Museum Day, Egypt opens two new museums at Cairo Airport    Old Cairo's Al-Fustat will be revamped on Egyptian President's directives    







Thank you for reporting!
This image will be automatically disabled when it gets reported by several people.



Reaching in
Published in Al-Ahram Weekly on 09 - 02 - 2012

While the Cairo Opera House suspends all activities until 25 February, Ati Metwaly raises the difficult issue of audience development
We live in a world that struggles to safeguard the splendour of art. Social, political and economic challenges cast a dark shadow on that splendour. In Egypt, the revolution, the ongoing killing of young Egyptians, make it hard for classical music to position itself within the broader scene.
Western classical music is not as popular as other genres; it faces a much greater cultural challenge here than in Western societies. Moreover the isolation of this art form in the past has only widened the gap between audiences and concert halls. Yet it is not the political struggle that pulls the rug from under the feet of classical music, whose position was no better prior to the revolution. Over the past years, the concert halls have failed to reach out to potential audiences while actual music lovers struggled to find information about events. Such administrative neglect is what generates the most pressing.
And since political factors make it even harder for classical music to surface, it is perhaps time for the the management to study the problems at hand. The purpose of this procedure is not to forcefully promote music and turn a blind eye to the country's bleeding revolution. This is rather the time for tactical thinking to help ensure that art forms which hold power over shaping future minds do not vanish from Egypt's social arena.
As we have seen over the past years, the term Audience Development is hardly ever heard in any institution promoting classical music in Cairo. The Cairo Opera House's promotional techniques are handicapped or nonexistent. Monthly valuable concerts held at the International Music Centre depend mostly on the same set of returning listeners, many of them devoted followers of Ramzi Yassa, the internationally renowned Egyptian pianist, who is the centre's artistic director and its main dynamo. The American University in Cairo's sporadic classical music events should benefit from the widespread advertising campaigns in which the university excels but only when promoting commercial, market-oriented activities. Moreover, with its ambitious musical education programmes, the AUC should use its tools in tailoring interesting musical activities and as such drawing large audience to musical events. El Sawy Culturewheel (El Sakia) seems to be managing its own promotion of music, lectures and other activities addressing a mainly young audience well enough, with El Sakia String Orchestra, the only classical music outlet in this location, benefiting from the same channels of advertisement. Though on the right track, the centre still needs to go a step further and add creative ideas to promoting classical music, however.
Egypt is not the only country challenged by lack of interest in classical music. Europe, the USA and Australia face severe difficulties in filling the museums, galleries or concert halls as well. The problem became a worldwide phenomenon and grew even more serious in the last decade, when consumerism and the rule of money took over many aspects of the arts scene. Along parallel lines, most art forms are accessible through the internet; digital solutions allow viewers and listeners to indulge in a high-quality artistic experience; a number of world renowned museums have already launched virtual tours, while music is shared through illegal file-sharing websites which include all the classical music recordings one would dream of. Those whose appetite for refined music was not yet killed by the consumerist monopoly on the music scene are equally tempted by many tools allowing them to listen to their favourite compositions without stepping out of the house.
Egypt is no different from the rest of the world in facing that challenge, whether it is cultural, educational or economic. The only difference is that Egypt's classical music scene refuses to take action and work on audience development. Cairo's problem is to find 1,200 people on a weekly basis to fill the seats of a single opera house in the city, or 300 people to attend the International Music Centre's concert once a month or a few hundred for sporadic events at the AUC premises. Does it not sound easy enough considering that Cairo's population reaches 20 million? The challenge faced by hundreds of the concert halls and orchestras in each major city around the globe -- London, Paris, Vienna, Sidney, New York seems much harder. Yet we always envy those cities for having their classical music events sold out, often months prior to the concert. This fact cannot be a result of the Western audience's specific culture; it rather testifies to clear audience development techniques deployed by creative professionals working in each and every artistic institution around the world. Today, Audience Development became one of the most popular terms used by such bodies. Arts managers are a pillar of the success of any institution, something that still so underestimated in Egypt at the best of times it turns into the amateurish efforts of desperate musicians looking for an audience.
But for those interested in knowledge and knowhow, the arts management scene gives glimpses into the professional approach. One of the core educational activities of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington DC is related to arts management. In 2007, Michael M. Kaiser, the president of the Kennedy Center, held the Arab Art Symposium in Cairo. The symposium revolved around arts management and offered numerous clues for artistic institutions and individual artists on how to increase visibility and attract audiences. The Cultural Resource (Al Mawred Al Thakafy) offers free access to the Arabic translation of Strategic Planning in the Arts: A Practical Guide, by Michael Kaiser, on their web site. Al Mawred also gives access to several other publications about arts management; it organises dynamic workshops aiming to enhance skills not only in management but also in planning, marketing, fundraising, attracting audiences etc. Should we be worried about whether US- or European-devised methods will work on Egyptians? Al Mawred offers material tailored specifically to the region. In July 2011, with support from the British Council in Cairo and the European Cultural Foundation, Al Mawred invited Sarah Boiling, the Deputy Chief Executive at Audiences London, to hold a Cultural Management Training workshop in Alexandria.
Audiences London supports dozens of cultural institutions there: theatres, museums, galleries and orchestras, helping them build and broaden an audience base. Much of their expertise is accessible for free on the London Audiences web site. One of the protégées of Audiences London is the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment. Founded in 1986, the orchestra's repertoire ranges from Renaissance all the way to 20th-century composers. With professional help, the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment has managed to attract a large number of young audiences to their concerts.
During my short visit to London in December 2010, I had the chance to meet -- and to be deeply impressed by the hard work and dedication of -- both Sarah Boiling and William Norris, from the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment. Boiling stressed the alarming diminishment of classical music audiences in London. She doesn't feel that the cultural aspect of Egyptian audiences should make for unsold tickets in Cairo. According to her, the audiences' preferences and the funding situation in the UK and Egypt might differ, but the solutions remain the same. The crucial element of reaching to audiences lies in recognizing the audience, understanding the reasons people have for not attending, and then bolstering up the relationship with potential attendees.
Audiences London is not unaware that classical music audiences worldwide are growing old. William Norris revealed that a large percentage of UK classical music audiences is 60+ years old, while people in their 20s might have difficulties naming five classical composers. Hence more evidence that the lack of audience in Egypt's concert halls cannot be blamed on the cultural elements, since UK orchestras are already struggling to find audiences that is theoretically Western. In Audience Development Resources and Research, Denise Montgomery wraps up the most important elements in the field and directs the reader to many resources and institutions that can help.
Should we blame it on Egypt's lack of musical education at schools? Here, let us not forget that the situation is no brighter in the Western world. Though the presence of musical education in public schools is more solid in the West, its existence and efficiency has more holes than Swiss cheese -- and from the European governments' perspective, the situation will not improve any time soon. Budget for education is being reduced in many European countries and understandably arts education is its first victim. In UK people are sounding are sounding alarms about the decline in musical education over the past years. In a report done by the University of Oulu in Finland, in 2000, we read, "The problem was that while contents of music education at the comprehensive school have become considerably wider, the number of lessons has decreased."
In 2005, the Australian Government web site published a long research paper evaluating music education in the country. This lengthy report, the National Review of School Music Education, has a self-explanatory subtitle: "Augmenting the Diminished." In it, several pitfalls are recognised and the solutions still wait to be implemented. Those and dozens of other examples highlight the fact that formal musical education, whether almost non- existent in Egypt or diminishing in the Western world, is not the main reason behind the erosion of the musical audiences. Of course today Egyptian realities are more challenging and more complex; yet blaming the culture or the educational system consists of escaping from responsibility. Can it be possible that in Egypt's capital of 20 million inhabitants, the lack of an audience in the concert halls results from a simple professional incompetence?
Arts Management and Audience Development strategies provide many valuable solutions to this problem, regardless of their reasons. Apart of the formal concerts, the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment uses some great strategies such as the project called The Night Shift, a groundbreaking concert series attracting a new and growing audience. Music is performed in a friendly environment, concerts are preceded by a short introduction to the composer and the composition, and aspects of formal concert hall etiquette elements are relaxed. In all Western cultures, open rehearsals, classical music appreciation workshops, educational concerts, dynamic TV and radio programmes, concerts tailored to the youngest audience are among the dozens of easy solutions. If the virtual world is one of the platforms connecting young people, orchestras use that very same platform creatively to attract an audience.
Egypt used to practice some reliable concert marketing methods years ago, and apparently they were bringing about results. The question is why were those practices abandoned? What happened to the transmittals of the Cairo Symphony Orchestra's weekly concerts on national TV? What happened to the radio and TV programmes developing awareness of Western classical music, presenting symphonic, ballet or operatic material in an easy manner? Why did the concerts tailored to the young disappear? Why are students no longer invited to the orchestra's dress rehearsals? What happened to the advertisements of opera events on national radio and TV? What is the reason behind the total paralysis of the whole advertising mechanism of the Cairo Opera or the decade-old International Music Centre? One cannot help but wonder what is happening on the desks of the overpopulated marketing and public relations offices of those institutions. Today, Egypt has reached the stage at which musicians use personal channels to promote their concerts, advertising them on Facebook, relying on word of mouth or going so far as printing flyers at their own expense to distribute around the city. Where is the personnel responsible for those tasks?
Most importantly, is the management aware of who the Egyptian classical music audience is? No studies have been conducted to find out and no reliable statistics exist. Kaiser, Boiling and many other arts management professionals warn against such neglect. Boling says that that making assumptions about the audiences is a deadly trap -- and Egypt proves to be one of the victims of that trap. If Egyptian institutions do not know who their audience is, how can they develop any short- or long-term plans of sustainable development? A concrete database, realistic and measurable goals, long- term strategies, short-term solutions, crisis management, an active and sustainable relationship with the audience, reliability and commitment, creative outreach plans, engagement and involvement, networking, understanding and finding ways of benefitting from Egypt's cultural diversity are all keys to gaining audiences regardless of their cultural preferences or educational backgrounds.
Egypt is going through many changes and the arts scene needs to parallel them. Many 21st-century academics, researchers and dedicated business-minded art lovers have developed manuals and provide workshops to share knowledge, often for free. Many of the aforementioned tools are in fact available in Egypt. What else can we ask for?
Sadly, Egypt's problem is not in cultural, educational or economic obstacles. It does not result from a lack of resources. What Egypt lacks is the capacity to study strategies and implement them. Over the past years, this status quo was silently approved by the management of a number of artistic institutions. Today, there is a need for a revolution of the mindsets and priorities, as well as for a reorganisation of the whole skeleton of the support team on the payrolls of artistic institutions.
As Heather Maitland, an arts consultant providing audience development and strategic marketing support, writes in The Marketing Manual, "Audience development is a planned process which involves building a relationship between an individual and the arts. This takes time and cannot happen by itself. Arts organisations must work to develop these relationships."


Clic here to read the story from its source.