Comment: What Makes a Successful Venue?


What makes a successful venue?
Managing a regional venue brings with it a number of complicated challenges: diverse markets, limited funding, venue equipment and infrastructure found lacking, a venue owner with a range of competing priorities (e.g., sewerage, garbage and IT) and often with no experience or understanding of arts and culture. There is lots of competition for recreation attention from digital entertainment available at home, through to pubs, sporting clubs, cinemas, and other events & festivals which all pull money and attention. Sound familiar?

A recent tour around many regional WA venues confirms this is far more ‘normal’ than anyone would like. But don’t despair as there are solutions. Start little and build from there.
Success is about knowledge, planning and education, all of which equal direction. It’s also about equipping the venue appropriately and having the right people to man those pumps. With this all in place the challenge is to buy or create content, market it and produce shows that engage audiences and make money.
If these things aren’t clear, then the task is to work on putting them in place. It may take some experimentation and research.
Here are five things that will make getting on with the show more streamlined:

1. Venue status plan
It is almost impossible to step forward without a suitable, known and relatively solid place to step from. That is, knowing what your venue has, its condition, what is required to bring things up to a suitable standard, and to make it fit for purpose. These are key starting points.

Technology changes, audience expectations change, production requirements change, trends rise and fall and venue owners’ priorities change. Your plan must be adjusted with these movements.
Having a regular survey and report done by someone outside the venue and who has a wide knowledge will assist in chunking it down, provide innovation, be cost effective and providing added credibility. This should be done about every 5 years in line with business plan updates and more often if there are major changes in things.

2. Good dialogue with venue owner
With the report in hand it is much easier to talk through what is required and why. Also what is and is not possible with the current systems and proposed upgrades. Plan to have many discussions, often. The more times you present big and small ideas the more they are learning about your world. This is crucial to growing their support.

3. Staff training and systems upgrades
There is little point having a great venue if there isn’t anyone who can support those trying to use it. Having good staff and volunteers, well supported and trained helps bring interesting and challenging productions into the venue and keeps morale high when there are challenges. If the town is small then look to cooperate with other venues to build a crew between you.

4. Networking and information resource support
Being regional means being remote. That makes having someone to talk to very important. Necessarily you will have to be a jack of all trades. That means you’ll often find yourself out of your depth. Find networks of people who know more than you in areas that you need support, or who are having similar challenges. Ask for funding to travel to trade shows and conferences to broaden your knowledge and build that support network.

5. Work smart not hard
The show must go on! This is a proud declaration steeped in tradition. But it is also a justification for doing too much and not working within reasonable boundaries. Make sure you are working a reasonable number of hours, enjoying your work and have a team to delegate things to. In this day and age we have lots of options including changing the goal posts to make things manageable and enjoyable for all concerned. You can’t be innovative if you are flat out on the pumps all the time.

Written by Peter Jago