Building a festival #2 - Audience

In part one, I covered the idea, aims and first steps of starting to build Peckham Digital. Let's dive in to one of the biggest challenges - finding an audience.


If a festival happens in Peckham but nobody sees it, did it really happen?

A festival starts with an audience, because it’s for them. They are the ones who get excited, come along and experience it, talk about it and share their experience with others.

So, who are they?

Starting from the problem

A festival is more of a vitamin than a painkiller, but it’s still essential to start from your audiences problems, and how you are helping.

So what problems does a creative computing festival solve?

For creative computing communities, such as generative artists, some of the main problems (from my perspective) are:

  • Digital artworks not seen as on par with physical
  • Niche fields with lack of awareness
  • Lack of gallery/museum/event representation (i.e. chance to see them in real life)
  • Communities are disparate, primarily online, with limited opportunities to meet
  • High technical and perceptual barrier to entry

The festival tackles these by providing a chance to celebrate their artform, experience it in real life, meet up with their communities and expand awareness and access to their genres.

As a creative coder, I knew that I was very keen on this, but I didn’t know if others would be. So let’s validate that assumption.

The creative coding core

I started by focusing on creative coders because, hey, it’s a creative coding festival. If they weren’t interested, the idea was already dead.

I spoke to the organisers of the London Creative Coding (LCC) and Algorithmic Art meetup groups, who were very positive and, crucially, helped introduce me to other contacts in the field, who were also very keen.

This was a great sign, as they took a personal risk in doing that. Their regular meet-ups averaged around 100-200 people, which also suggested a potential further audience. A shoutout at one of these (a LCC zoom) also raised a decent amount of interest, with 5 people contacting me afterwards, including my soon-to-be co-founder.

Following up, I contacted a bunch of artists, with a very high success rate of positive replies and a load of people pencilling themselves in to do workshops and talks, and/or showing their artwork.

So I had strong validation from the (mainly London based) creative coding community. But was that enough?

Audience profiles

I’d put in a speculative Arts Council project grant bid in late Oct 2020, which came back rejected in mid Dec, primarily on grounds of lack of clarity on audience and artist fees (which I’ll cover separately).

This prompted a deeper dive into the intended audience. Who was in the area? Who would be interested in a new, small festival based around niche art forms? And who could I realistically get the message out to, using scarce resources?

I came across the Audience Spectrum tool from the Audience Agency, via the Arts Council, which breaks down the UK wide population into 10 detailed categories, based on their attitude and activity towards culture.

Selecting segments

As the festival will presumably be subject to Covid restrictions (i.e. out of lockdown, but still with social distancing etc), it’s essential that the target audience is willing and able to get there (full Covid safety measures will be in place, but there will still be a residual and perceptual risk).

That quickly removed many of the audience segments, due to location, access and risk tolerance.

Equally, with very limited resources and no track record, the best hope for success is to attract people already disposed towards this type of contemporary art.

This left two main segments - Metroculturals and Experience Seekers.

  • Metroculturals: an educated, city based, mixed age-range group. They “represent the best prospects for new work and cultural innovation” and are “by far the best prospect for digital art – online and in situ … the dominant audience for this work”.

  • Experience Seekers: a highly active, diverse, city based, young (mostly 20-30s) and sociable group. They seek “new experiences to support and drive their social lives” and are “the most likely to engage with culturally specific festivals, jazz, video, electronic art“.

As active participants, creative computing communities are mainly Metroculturals, and both segments form a significant part of the local SE London area, including a high proportion of students (Experience Seekers) and the comparatively wealthy, educated and culturally active local residents. Both groups are also comfortable with risk taking and are missing cultural and social experiences.

A third group, Kaleidoscope Creativity, also forms a potential. They are a mixed age, city based group, with low engagement, but “disposition to take part in participatory activities is reasonably good”, including “activities such as street arts”.

This group is found in the local area, but is unlikely to engage with the main festival offering without significant outreach. That said, there’s an opportunity to bring the art to them, e.g. using a street based installation that catches ambient local traffic (i’ll cover the art selection later), tying with the aim of improving access to art.

Lets face the mask, and dance

So now we have a starting point for who we’re aiming at. The next question is - what experience do we want each segment to have?

To answer that, we really need to consider what problem it’s solving for them (as we did earlier for creative coders).

Metroculturals often choose a city lifestyle for the broad cultural opportunity it brings. They like to be at the cutting edge and look for a diverse and contemporary range of new art styles, artist talks, discussions and debate, along with unusual crossovers such as artist collaborations.

Experience Seekers are highly active and social, and look for new holistic social experiences that can be shared with friends, especially unique live interactive experiences and opportunities to take part.

Kaleidoscope Creativity are interested in local, accessible culture that comes to them in a way that is free and engaging.

That gives an idea of why each segment might be interested, and how we can start designing the experience of the festival to match.

Reaching them

The next step is to validate these audience segments in advance, whilst we build, to demonstrate if there is any real demand.

If they are interested and if we can reach them - great. If they aren’t, or we can’t, it’s back to the drawing board.

To do that, we need to get in contact with them, which means marketing (eek!), which i’ll discuss soon.

Ongoing refinement

Through this process we gained a new focus on a ‘hands dirty’ approach, aimed at audience interaction, learning and ways to create art at home, to realise the wider goal of expanding access to art through technology. This sits alongside the focus on specific creative computing communities.

We also altered the label from creative coding to creative computing - a more holistic definition.

Almost every aspect of the festival is up for change at this stage, so the core ‘why’, and the people it’s for, are the foundation that help drive future decisions.