Onderzoeksrapport: marketeer versus programmeur – uiteenlopende belangen in de podiumkunsten (Engelstalig)

18 nov 2015

Toen de regering in 2013 haar bezuinigingsplannen bekendmaakte, moest de cultuursector er flink aan geloven. In één klap werd er 200 miljoen euro bezuinigd. Vooral de podiumkunsten werden hierdoor getroffen. Tijd om de organisatie van veel podiumkunstinstellingen te herzien? Voor zijn studie Theaterwetenschappen deed Sjoerd Gerritsen in het Engels onderzoek naar de verhoudingen tussen programmeurs en marketeers bij dergelijke instellingen.

Door Sjoerd Gerritsen


Anna van Kooij

The government has cut €200 million in funding for the cultural sector in one fell swoop in 2013. That equates to about 21% of the entire available funding for the cultural sector. The cultural sector in The Netherlands can be defined as performing arts and museums, visual arts, film and writing, architecture, design and new media, and finally culture education, amateur arts and libraries.

However, because monuments, cultural heritage, and libraries are exempt from these subsidy cuts, mostly performing and visual arts suffer. It specifically comes down to a cut of 40% for the performing and visual arts. A further political measure that is affecting the cultural sector is the increased value added tax on ticket prices and art sales from 6% to 21%. Finally, official policy is now that the performing arts and festivals must generate at least 21,5% of their own profits to be considered for government funding. About 60% of subsidy requests were denied in 2013, which further emphasizes the severe impact of this funding cut. [1]

New way of producing performing arts festivals needed

Less funding, pressure to generate more income, and the consequent need for higher ticket prices (and thus a likely decrease in attendance) demand a new way of producing performing arts festivals. As a result, ticket sales have never been as important as now and discussions on the value of art and cultural entrepreneurship are becoming daily conversations. New ways must be found to make more money and attract more people, two tasks which in larger arts organizations are generally handed down to the marketing department.

However, an arts marketer hardly seems to be able to influence the product, which in the case of an artist is the art, and in the case of a performing arts festival is the event and its programs. The marketer is supposed to make more money with, or find an audience for these products. In designing the contents of a performing arts festival, a programmer tends to go on instinct and a marketer looks at numbers. The relationship between the marketing and artistic departments functions with a certain tension, because both parties have opposing objectives: a marketing department focuses on the audience and an artistic department on the product.

Program > marketing strategy

Even though there is a clear economic reason to incorporate an actual marketing strategy, 74% of the arts organisations decide on the program first, after which the task of the marketing department is dumbed down to simple last-minute distribution of promotional materials. [2]

In a conversation with Matthijs van Burg, marketer at SPRING performing arts festival in Utrecht (The Netherlands), he said that he recognises the same tension that Kim Joostens identifies in her research about the exchange of values between providers of art and its audience. As a result, he and artistic director (and festival programmer), Rainer Hofmann, now work more closely together but the struggle remains. Nevertheless, SPRING is evidently interested in genuinely exploring how the marketer and programmer can better understand each other for the benefit and future sustainability of the festival.

It is my hypothesis – based on the overall political pressure on the cultural sector, the tension that is mentioned by Joostens, and the interest SPRING has expressed – that once the marketer and programmer of a performing arts festival have a better understanding of each other’s work process, together they can create a festival that can tackle the new challenges in the culture sector. As a first step towards a more thorough understanding of this collaborative process, in this thesis I will explore how the world of a programmer can be understood from a marketer’s point of view. More precisely: How can a marketer understand a performing arts festival programmer in the Netherlands?

Marketing and programming to frame and explore

This thesis has two main chapters, a marketing chapter that frames our question, and a programming chapter that explores our question. The marketing chapter consists of a few chronological steps. Firstly, my own commercially oriented professional past up until this point will be laid out. Secondly, an overview will be provided that shows the main differences between arts and commercial marketing. Thirdly, I will discuss from my own evolving perspective how I look at the quality of art and the tension between art and marketing. Lastly, the marketing chapter concludes with a summary and will show how my speaking position, which previously was solely commercial, has evolved as a result of this exercise.

In the programming chapter I discuss a few key models and aspects of programming performing arts festivals. Firstly, the reason for choosing the limited discourse on programming rather than the vast discourse on curating will be made explicitly clear. Subsequently, I will discuss three models of programming – environmentalist, transparent, and entrepreneurial. There is no specific logic behind the chronology of these three subchapters.

Although the marketing chapter will present a clear status quo concerning how marketing and the arts are supposed to collaborate, in the programming chapter I will also carefully present a few ideas of how a marketer would engage with these models of programming. The final subchapter includes an analysis of an interview with Rainer Hofmann before answering the main and sub-questions of this thesis.

Environmentalist programming

After framing our question we come to actually analyze three different ways of programming.[3] In other words, we are starting to explore potential answers. Van Campenhout, researcher and writer, suggests a new approach to curating, which she calls “environmentalist programming”. In it, the role of the programmer and artist start to intertwine. Van Campenhout wants to “redefine the boundaries put up by the institutions that were built for production modes and logic of a generation of autonomous artists” through a “translation of the relational aesthetics of the visual arts towards a more ecological phrasing of time and space”.

The way Van Campenhout has structured her argument for environmentalist programming is by discussing four aspects that are most important to her views: laboratory, empty space, organized meetings, and a lasting relationship with the makers. The key to understanding Van Campenhout’s discussion on environmentalist programming was to understand what it means to program moments in between.

With the use of Bourriaud and Marx I gained insight into how Van Campenhout imagines the moments in between to be the starting point of building a community. I finally decided to create my own definition of the moment in between (interstice) and its purpose. An interstice is a moment between artworks: one that encourages but does not force inter-human communication, that has the intention to facilitate the building process of a community – all to elude traditional commerce, but still be exposed to the world.

The practical engagement with Van Campenhout’s concept played with the idea of a marketer having influence over the environmental program itself by applying the blue ocean strategy (i.e., creating a unique niche and thereby reducing competition with other events), this experiment showed us a strong artistic product by letting a marketer be involved.

Onderzoeksrapport: de uiteenlopende belangen van marketeers en programmeurs in de podiumkunsten (in English)

Transparant programming

Christine Peters, curator and dramaturge, advocates a more “transparent” starting point towards curating than what is the ‘normal’ course of events. Peters is of the belief that new ways of working are challenging the curator “as an individual author while global markets are becoming overwhelmingly differentiated and un-transparent”. According to Peters there is an urgent need for a “permanent confrontation of various ways of thinking and working in the professional field of art, if we want to use the existing institutions and resources for things that were not possible before”. Without such a confrontation Peters believes that new possibilities will remain inaccessible.

Although she phrases her ideas a bit vaguely, she believes new curators should “expand the time and space for what we are doing”. Finding the value in transparent programming came down to understanding the view that being transparent as a curator does not threaten the festival. The practical engagement actually showed that a marketer who opens up the program helps the audience to better understand it – and thus potentially motivate them to return for more performances.

Entrepreneural programming

Mårten Spångberg, choreographer and festival director, preaches for a more entrepreneurial mindset in artists and programmers; more entrepreneurial, but not more marketing-oriented. Spångberg quite radically advises artists to “be foolish and fuck balance”, “raise your voice and judge”, and most importantly “stop pretending to emancipate yourself when what you want most of all is to belong”. For programmers, Spångberg suggests they “stop using budget cuts as an argument [for a mediocre program]” and “stop using local audience as an argument [for a generic program] when what it means is serving local politicians” (ibid.).

Spångberg cannot seem to recall “a single festival that has elaborated a strong proposal, or even more rarely a proposal that is controversial or excluding”. This leads him to the conclusion that “programmers as well as artists happily bend over and offer themselves to the whims of the market”.

Exploring the idea of entrepreneurial programming confronted me with an even bigger clash than mentioned before in the introduction. This way of looking at programming ended up asking us what innovative ways of financing could be developed to create more freedom as a programmer, and what the consequences of that increased freedom could be. The practical engagement gave no clear answers to problems, but this exploration did demonstrate what happens when an artist or programmer moves out-of-the-box and approaches art more as a business, with a multitude of products to sell beyond the art itself.

A more commercial approach

Lastly, the interview with Hofmann showed us that these three ways of looking at programming are not mutually exclusive. Although this might seem obvious, it requires mentioning, for instance, that an environmentalist programming intention can still be transparent and entrepreneurial at the same time. Hofmann also shared his more commercial ways of motivating people to buy more tickets to create moments in-between, and therefore the opportunity to build a community, although he uses this term differently from how Van Campenhout understands it.

Hofmann also confirmed that the idea of transparency towards an audience helps them to connect to his festival. Concerning entrepreneurship, he actually managed to find a better way of working with funding bodies so that he does not have to compromise his vision. Finally, he mentioned that he likes working with marketers, as long as they have a feeling for the arts (and do not interfere with the product).

Onderzoeksrapport: de uiteenlopende belangen van marketeers en programmeurs in de podiumkunsten (in English)

Creation of something bigger than just a festival

Both the literature I consulted and the interview with Hoffman provided useful information for answering the subquestion of what defines a performing arts festival programmer and his role. The main task of a performing arts festival programmer is to bring together different works of performance that all fit into one consistent mission. We can add to this, from an environmental/transparent/entrepreneurial angle, that a performing arts festival programmer also thinks about more than just the works of art. He or she looks at how to best bring program elements together in a single day so an interstice can be created. The programmer tries to bring people into the world of the festival by being transparent about why performances have been chosen, and the programmer works with funding partners to create something that is bigger than just a festival – something that fits into our culture.

Active involvement in sales, publicity and PR

This thesis did not set out to provide one single answer to the question how a marketer can understand the perspective of performing arts festival programmer. What it has done, hopefully, is demonstrate the complexities of understanding the context of art for a marketer. In my opinion, from a commercial marketer’s point of view, an arts marketer should rebrand himself to have a different name; although an arts marketer dabbles in markets, his job description is more in line with sales, publicity, or PR.

Alternatively, marketers could actually step up, confront the art world with endless more possibilities  and insights beyond simple sales. This could very well be the time where the marketer might finally have strategic input on the product, but not if we do not show what the potential upsides could be. Simply put: marketers should get involved more actively in the programming process and tasks beyond sales, publicity, and PR.

[1] Bockma, Harmen. 2012. “Wie blijft en wie vertrekt?” In Volkskrant.

[2] Joostens, Kim Sarah. 2012. Kunst & Klant in de Nederlandse podiumkunsten: Naar een betere ruil van waarden tussen aanbieders en publiek. PhD Dissertation. Groningen: Rijksuniversiteit Groningen.

[3] Frakcija; performing arts journal. 2010. Vol. 55. Centre of Drama Arts: Croatia.

Dit artikel is een samenvatting van het onderzoek van Sjoerd Gerritsen naar de verhouding tussen programmeur en marketeer in de podiumkunsten. Download hier de volledige scriptie.