A point of view on the Communication Strategies EDN Atelier

Account of a meeting

On 7th and 8th June 2015, coinciding with the celebration of the PT.15, the Portuguese Performing Arts Platform (from 3rd to 7th June), O Espaço do Tempo organized Communication Strategies within the framework of the European Dancehouse Network project, an atelier aimed at communications professionals working in areas and on projects dedicated to contemporary dance.

The arrival of most of the participants on the 6th enabled us to meet up with the attending platform programmers and watch some shows included in the programming. The following two days were occupied with work at O Espaço do Tempo, the dance house based in the Convento da Saudação, a historical building located in the Portuguese region of Alentejo.

Do our social networks share content interesting enough to attract a potential audience? Should the artists’ texts be rewritten to make them more accessible? How can new forms of communication be designed to help to fill the theatres? What should the focus be when economic, human and time resources are scarce? How can new audiences be built up? These are just some of the questions that communications teams constantly ask themselves while doing their day-to-day work of promoting contemporary dance projects.

Colleagues from Dansmakers Amsterdam, Dansens Hus Oslo, Tanzquartier Wien, Mercat de les Flors Barcelona, The Place London, K3 | Tanzplan Hamburg, DanceEast Ipswich, Maison de la Danse Lyon and tanzhaus nrw Düsseldorf attended the atelier. Three Portuguese professionals also took part, from the Teatro Nacional São João, the Teatro Municipal do Porto and the Teatro Académico de Gil Vicente / Universidade de Coimbra respectively.

A remark comes to mind that I once heard from Ferran Adrià, the Catalan chef nominated the best in the world for many years: a very good sardine is always preferable to a not that good crab. Any review of the contents of the two-day meeting will always be partial and complicated. And relying on the memory here for an assessment that values whether or not these questions were answered in relation to the different expectations, and recurring to the various scenarios that were brought up for discussion, does not do justice to reality. A bad crab.

I propose four small reflections, one made by each of the speakers, which for some reason attracted my attention and made me think about how to tackle communication.

1

Matthias Pees, dramaturge and director of the Künstlerhaus Mousonturm in Frankfurt, shared some good practices for the development of new audiences with the rest of the participants. In his talk, he commented that in communication it is very normal to ask yourself if you are doing things well and not know the answers. What we do in communication, he said, is a process and so it is difficult to make a short-term appraisal.

The slow process of development and fruition involved in communication seems to set it on course for a headlong collision with the immediacy typical of social networking. It is the task of sociologists to analyse how this sense of urgency pervading the new channels is transforming everything else, permeating other layers of life. We need to reach audiences quickly and effectively. And we have technological resources that apparently guarantee instantaneous action and reaction. Can it be that this is making us forget the procedural nature of communication? Is it our job to persuade ourselves that we must learn again to slow down and take our time in order to evaluate results fairly? How do we make this compatible with the shift of paradigm? Are we in danger of settling into an immediacy that does not respect the tempos and ignores strategic planning?

2

The following idea from the conference The Written Body, given by the journalist, essayist and dance critic Claudia Galhós, particularly impressed me: We need to be very aware of the world we live in to work on communication.

Maybe this idea should be used as wallpaper so as to remind us constantly that communication has to be a humanistic enterprise, like the arts we try to serve. More practically and specifically, we all agree that understanding the context is a key point. Having data is a key point. We do audience research, we establish segments and want to build up a dialogue with our potential audience in order to present our projects and generate interest. The project Planet Dance by our colleagues from The Place in London is a wonderful example of what can be done with resourcefulness and imagination. At the EDN conference Imaginary Relationships held at the Tanzquartier Wien last April, we had the opportunity to listen to Eddie Nixon and Chris Thomson discussing this project, which has resulted in a series of animated videos whose viewing and distribution is a must. It is a marketing action twinned with content creation. As I said above, we need to understand the environment and to do so we have very valid tools. We also need to build bridges to foster a steady stream of feedback, mutual understanding of the work done, and cooperation among colleagues working on communication and content.

3

Filipe Caetano, a journalist specialised in social media tools and online journalism, and a lecturer at RESTART in Lisbon, gave us some clues about how to manage communication networks and offered valuable feedback on the participants’ work. Some of us explained why we do the things we do, what opportunities and limitations we encounter in the day-to-day activity that leads to the results presented in the network. Filipe’s lesson was the following: The reasons don’t matter, what you put into the network is what people see, it’s you.

Touché! We must ask ourselves if what we are giving of ourselves on our online channels is the best we’ve got. Maybe not. There are particular situations, different reasons that may well prevent this from happening. But a lack of time, resources or ideas, however true, is not an excuse that we can use to explain our online reputation. It’s as simple as that. One solution might be to reduce our ambitions to a decent, manageable level. Should we go for the sardines instead?

4

With long experience in the world of information technology, Argyris Argyrou is responsible for development at the Lemesos Dance House, one of the EDN partner dance houses. After offering some theoretical ideas about digital marketing, he shared with us some of the digital tools that he uses in his work in a Cypriot communications company. He quoted the expert Marcus Mustafa: Digital is not a channel or a process. It’s an attitude and a mindset.

We need to acquire a digital mindset. We must know how to explain ourselves quickly and concisely. Making the message arrive like a shot. We want to communicate and the new rules are these. For those of us who did not grow up with the Internet but learnt to use it later, this is a challenge. This is the new world, folks, and we have to adapt to it. This statement takes us back to Matthias Pees and the procedural nature of communication. Does this mean we have to work irremediably in the here and now? In one of his interventions, Bruno Malveira, from the Teatro Municipal do Porto, defended the value of print in communication, criticising, not without irony, the digital world. This may look like a way of doing things rooted in the past, but in fact it raises many questions: How do we make this compatible with the need for a space for reflection on dance? Isn’t this one of our challenges too? As media professionals we face a challenge. Finding a balance becomes an art in itself.

*****

Before the communication atelier, EDN office sent out a questionnaire to the participants working in one of the partner dance houses in the network. We wanted to know more about the people we were going to meet and find out what opportunities they have to communicate as part of a European-wide network. In addition, we needed to discuss the use of a logo and certain joint standards on dissemination. But beyond that, the questionnaire was intended as an invitation for reflection, prior to a meeting with several colleagues with whom we were going to share not only ideas but also two days together, in whose company we were going to explain our thoughts and ideas. It was an exercise in becoming more aware of oneself and in empathy and openness to others, contrasting ways of working, with day-to-day self-questioning.

The complexity of a European network is considerable. Our differences are not only statistical but also accompanied by their symbolic representations. As a network, we need take a careful look at differentiating facts and intentions. We cannot allow folkloric approaches to come between ways of doing things. Nor is it our job to try to create a general, unifying order. Creating a network means talking about the story of a relationship, in a generous attempt to understand. Essentialisms do not work because they lead to comparisons; to thinking that everyone gets what they deserve and closing the door to the right to change. Neither do universalistic models work, because homogenisation implies ignoring reality and its manifold complexity.

I remember reading that 90% of what happens in an organization has nothing to do with formal events. The EDN organizes various activities: ateliers, conferences, outreach, cartes blanches… Through them, EDN aims not to be a network but rather to create the conditions for thinking in a network. The atelier Communication Strategies, organized by Pia Kraemer with so much care and generosity, has been a success in my opinion. Each of the participants and speakers will have a different story to tell, I’m sure. But I am also convinced that networking has been the keynote of these two days in Montemor-o-Novo. In the various workshops, but even more so during the meals together, during the casual meetings in the corridors. Personally I’ve come home with a suitcase full of questions about how best to do my job, convinced that I am not alone in my professional concerns and armed with new opportunities for continuing the professional and personal contact with other people who have the same mission. What a stroke of luck to have been there!

Silvia González
Network Coordinator for the European Dancehouse Network
10 June 2015