Cupar Arts Festival’s AmbITion Approach
Cupar Arts are an arts organisation based in the Northeast Fife market town of Cupar. Our main focus is a biannual contemporary visual arts festival which takes place for twelve days in October. We offer artists the opportunity to work with ourselves and our community partners in a curated programme where they can create exciting and challenging work. Many of the projects respond directly to the built environment and heritage of the town and enhance interesting and sometimes overlooked sites and venues. Our programme also includes music, artists’ talks, workshops and family events.
Due to the fact that our festival is made up of artworks and events spread out across the length and breadth of the town, with many of those taking place at sites and venues which are not obvious or easy for our visitors to find, seeking new ways to enhance accessibility to the event and increase audience engagement and enjoyment is very important.
With this in mind, Cupar Arts originally applied to the Organisational Development fund with a view to developing a festival app which would include an interactive map, give notifications of daily events and so on. We also included in our application a proposal for CSS training for members of our organisation so that we could make some necessary, and hopefully a little more advanced, improvements to our website in house, and in turn give training in this to other committee members. Our project did change somewhat from its original starting point however, as through discussion with the AmbITion team, we were advised instead to undergo a consultation process to firstly measure our digital capacity, and then to better plan our needs and how to achieve them. This was to be under the auspices of the AmbITion Approach Award rather than Organisational Development. We agreed that this seemed like a good way forward for us, and still seemed to fit with our core mission.
At an initial meeting with Roanne Dods, the consultant we were recommended to work with, we provided her with an overview of all aspects of our organisation and underwent the digital audit. A further meeting with members of our organisation comprised of more lengthy and in depth discussion. The result was a Consultant’s Report which summarised the work with Roanne and provided us with:
- An overview of our organisation and its aims along with some suggested areas to focus on for development.
- A comprehensive list of specific recommendations
- A timeline for action
- A recommendation of how best to spend our budget
In particular we found the timeline very useful as this gave us achieveable goals for each month in the period prior to our upcoming festival (which was at that point about eight months away). With a major event on the horizon, we needed to set short and long term goals. Realistic digital development would assist us in the short term with our goals for the 2013 event, and potential longer-term development could be considered further once the festival was over and there was time to reflect on our progress. Our main priorities for 2013 were therefore (1) Building our online profile in and beyond the event in 2013 (2) Using technology to save/manage our time The work we undertook with regards to those areas was as follows:
- Events Management We researched Eventbrite and Events Managerment plugins and then installed the Events Manager plug in on our website. Managing our ticketing had always been a difficult and onerous task in previous festivals and so this was a very welcome improvement indeed. Shortly afterwards, we held a fundraiser and had the opportunity to pilot the Events Manager system which worked really well, so we had no qualms about using it for the upcoming
- Social Media Roanne had also stressed the importance of social media and in her timeline she had gone into great detail with regards to using this. As we had already planned to work with a publicist this year for the first time, we underwent a short training session with publicist Martha Bryce to brush up on our skills and also to implement the suggestions of using Hootsuite to programme tweets and posts close to the time of events. By the time the festival was upon us we had all of our tweets and posts scheduled a month in advance, a huge relief during what is always a totally crazy time. We also spent much more time following and interacting with our festival artists on social media this year which was very successful in raising the profile of their individual projects and that of our overall event. Another recommendation was to integrate our website with social media, and so we used a NextScripts plug in for this, which meant that anything we posted in our News/Blog section appeared automatically on Facebook and Twitter.
- Mapping Following up on the recommendation that we hire a WordPress Consultant to enhance the functionality of our website, and still keen to enhance the festival experience for visitors, we worked with Colin Usher of Coffee With A Lid to create an interactive map. Using a plugin called Maps Marker Pro, Colin was able to recreate the look for our print map on our website. With many artworks close together in certain parts of town he also showed us a cool “clustering” feature where one spot would break apart into many when touched. We loved the flexibility of this plugin and the the way in which it was possible to include full descriptions and images of projects which would pop up when each numbered spot was clicked.
- Analysis Installing Google Analytics was another priority. We also decided to host an AmbITion workshop in Cupar on SEO, which would allow us to both provide training for other arts orgs and creative individuals as well as to get some pointers on how to use this ourselves. It has been an incredibly useful tool in measuring how traffic comes to our site, from where, and how long people spend there.
- Time Management We began to use various efficiency tools including Mailchimp to send out regular Newsletters and Dropbox for sharing files. Roanne had provided us with a schedule and pointers for sending e-Newsletters and in following this we managed to get into a good rhythm in the run up to the event. It was also much quicker to send information out in this way, and again, we could analyse the results of each mailing through the statistics provided other.
- Hardware With a lot of the hard graft being donated in kind with regards to implementing all of the above, Roanne recommended that we use buy some much needed equipment which she had identified as part of our digital audit. Our projector was an embarrassment and we desperately needed a new one, along with monitors media players, and a new computer, all things which would make our lives so much easier when programming talks and events, and showing video work.
Probably the only thing which Roanne recommended and which we did not implement in the end was Basecamp or another group management tool. Since we are currently without funding for core staff, our committee are all rather overstretched when the festival is approaching. It became apparent that since such tools require people to actually take the time to use them and to input data to share, this was unlikely to happen in the short term. Perhaps it is something to consider going forward however, at a quieter time when we have more emphasis on the development of the organisation, in order for people to become used to using it.
It has not been long since the festival ended and the feedback on our website, digital presence and mapping has been really excellent this year. A recent visitor survey showed that many people had used the interactive map with our website registering 641 hits on the day of our festival launch alone (source: Google Analytics). The number of Likes on our Facebook page has also increased by 200 in the lead in to the event and it seems that every day we have new Followers on Twitter. Working with a consultant to hone our digital focus was a valuable experience and having a timeline for achievable digital development in the run up to a major event was very useful indeed. We have many aspects of our ongoing and longer term digital development to consider now, but first we must all catch our breath after this year’s very successful Cupar Arts Festival.
With much thanks to Ashley, Ela and everyone at getambITion.
1. Cupar Arts Festival Guidebook. Image Credit: Gayle Nelson
2. Kirsty Whiten, ‘The Three Fates’. Image Credit: Kirstin Scheuerl
3. Panini 2 Life performing ‘Don’t Walk WALK’ at Cupar Railway Station. Image Credit: Gill Mair
4. The David Latto band. Image Credit: Gill Mair
5. Two screenshots of facebook and news feed. Courtesy of Gayle Nelson and Cupar Arts.
6. Cupar Arts Festival Map, designed by Graham Pullin, and recreated on our website as an interactive map by Colin Usher.
7. Screenshot of Cupar Arts Newsletter sent using Mailchimp. Courtesy of Gayle Nelson and Cupar Arts.
8. Panini 2 Life performance with large-scale projection. Image Credit: Gill Mair.
9. Kenny Bean, ‘Tempting Fate: The Fate of Water’. Image Credit: Gill Mair.