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Igniting intelligence & innovation

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Director’s note

Julie Tait, Culture Sparks Director, sums up the past year and casts an eye to the future.

“A cultural leader whom I admire enormously, once said to me about my role within his organisation, “Change: get used to it or get out”. Although there was a gleam in his eye, his words stuck. Crowded by the pressures of meeting social need, articulating value, defining new markets and of course the very real, mind-concentrating imperative of meeting revenue targets, the publicly funded arts sector is not always a comfortable place to be – however, it’s the area we work best in and know most about.

“This year we have made significant strides forward in the digital arena, both in terms of how we run our own business, and through the initiatives we’ve set up or taken part in: securing a second stage of the £1M AmbITion programme; taking on and developing new project ideas such as WhiteNOISE; and developing new collaborations and partnerships with software engineers and developers. We have extended our role online, analysing the behaviour of arts organisations and their virtual audiences, gathering intelligence about the visual arts or gallery-going audience, and indeed about audiences for whom no data previously existed. Through finding new ways to present intelligence to our members, we’re helping organisations to visualise their audiences and what stimulates them. We’re opening up conversations, fresh thinking and new partnerships to share and develop new practice. A key challenge in our digital work and our use of data has been in determining how best to deploy data as a tool, not just to benchmark performance dryly but as a resource to interrogate, inspire and influence. And there is no shortage of demand.

“The challenge of turning theory into practice is common to the whole sector, and that’s where our alchemy comes in. It is the mix of members, project ideas, research intelligence and vision that combine to grow audiences. Not just research, but practice and partnership too. The role the staff at Culture Sparks play in that mix is unique, and I thank each and every one of them, current or alumni, for their passion, creativity and sheer hard work on behalf of members and partners during 2011-12. Culture Sparks could not realise its ambitions without the dedication and contribution of all who work with us, including our accomplished Board of Directors and all of our specialist partners and associates.

“Next year, though, our plans extend much further. Interest in how to develop audiences from our colleagues across the whole country; the evolution of new tools to reach out and share information; and the pressure to demonstrate results in the current, highly charged political and economic arena all mean that the imperative to work together is even greater. Therefore, we have begun conversations with our audience development colleagues across Scotland to come together in a new company to offer arts and cultural organisations greater access to our services and a much stronger voice in the debate about cultural engagement and participation. We urge you to join in as we embrace change and meet the future head-on.”