Changing how the arts industry measures success

Arts organisations often forget to innovate, argues La Boite's Zohar Spatz, but they must if we're to achieve true equity in the sector.

What does it mean to be successful in the arts industry? If you’d asked a year ago, the answers would likely include sold-out seasons, box office records to critical acclaim, and audience praise. Then COVID delivered a sucker punch to the arts industry – both here and overseas – and the sector is still reeling. Our world was turned upside down and with it, any past metrics we had for success.

The next few years will be extremely challenging, both in the arts sector and in the broader global community. What COVID has created, however, is a rare opportunity for the sector to revisit what success looks like and how we measure it. 

It starts with innovation.

Arts organisations often forget to innovate. They fall into a pattern of delivering programs that were previously successful, programs that are a safe financial bet and programs that get bums on seats.

Artists are the exception – they never forget to innovate.

They are the heart and soul of the sector, driving revolution and creative thinking, and it is from them we must take our cues. On an organisational level, arts leaders must shed their administrative fear and become thoughtful risk-takers who guide their companies, organisations and collectives to think outside the box.

For me, post-COVID success at La Boite is measured by how we engage our community, the access points and pathways we provide to local artists, the new collaborations and partnerships that emerge from this topsy-turvy year, and how we meet our commitment to becoming Australia’s most diverse theatre company.

Equity is vital to driving innovation and genuine change. We will measure success by the variety of voices, stories, artforms and experiences we present now and into the future.

To set this train in motion, artists need pathways and platforms, they need resources and champions and, most importantly, they need freedom and support to tell their stories in their own ways.

Artists can translate information and present it in a way most experts and authorities simply cannot.

Read: Why ‘COVID comms’ need more artists and less jargon

Artists can spark conversations, challenge beliefs, stir reactions and reflect the real impacts and challenges facing society.

Crucial to their success is an arts company willing to step aside and trust them to bring their stories to a stage. Not necessarily the most popular or profitable stories but the ones people most need to hear.

Success will come to  arts organisations who embrace a hyper-local focus and cultivate talent with an outward-facing awareness.

Arts organisations that continue to only look inwards, that turn a blind eye to their influential position in the broader community and their responsibility as a storyteller and social commentator, will suffer.

If they don’t embark on this necessary reinvention, they run the risk of becoming irrelevant. Now is the time to figure out how we can give voice to more people and create a pipeline for new and innovative work for artists, creatives and, ultimately, audiences.

Our industry will not bounce back unchanged but I am filled with optimism.

Brisbane’s arts sector is collaborative, generous and collegiate and there’s a sense that we’re all in this together. We are working tirelessly on this road to recovery, helping artists succeed and audiences engage.

It feels like there’s a change happening, industry-wide, and while no one truly knows where we’ll end up, this unknowingness is not a terrible thing. By staying outward looking and fiercely local at the same time, by committing to a future of equity and justice and by understanding how important it is to integrate artists and creatives, I know we can succeed.

La Boite is the longest continuously running theatre company in Australia, celebrating 95 years in 2021. It will stagger its 2021 season announcement over three acts, keeping its program flexible, current and vital. Act 1 (January to April 2021) was launched on Thursday 19 November 2020. 

Zohar Spatz
About the Author
Zohar Spatz is the Executive Director of La Boite Theatre.