Roger Tomlinson confirms he is now “mostly retired” and shares some of his views on the state of the arts.

I closed down my business – Roger Tomlinson Limited – on 31 March 2017 – marking 49 years since my first paid job in the arts. I am not going quietly, and will still tweet and blog, though I suspect my perspective will change.

My friend and colleague Andrew Thomas andrew@theticketinginstitute.com is now the owner of www.TheTicketingInstitute.com and I have passed to him my technology and procurement practice, which he has already been making such a success of. I hope it won’t feel unfair to him, but I’ll be passing over to him the baton of helping address data protection issues in the UK, and liaising with the Information Commissioner.

My work in New Zealand, which I have much enjoyed ever since Cath Cardiff at Creative New Zealand invited me to their country, I have passed on to new consultants coming out of their arts organisation experience: David Martin david@shoretix.co.nz and Michelle Gallagher michelle@smartsense.co.nz would deserve recognition on any international platform. In the US I particularly enjoyed working on Project Audience with friend Alan Brown at WolfBrown alan@wolfbrown.com who has pioneered so many in-depth research processes and admirable studies to inform our thinking, and I am still collaborating with Ron Evans of Group-of-Minds ron@groupofminds.com , working on a new book together.

I remember the time when a spreadsheet was an A3 sheet of paper you drew yourself

And my friends and colleagues Debbie Richards and Tim Baker at Baker Richards have long been the ‘go-to’ consultants for pricing, audience development strategies, loyalty, memberships, segmentation, and have even developed some impressive software tools to automate much of their detailed analysis processes. And I remember the time when a spreadsheet was an A3 sheet of paper you drew yourself, with columns and figures in pencil which you completed manually, with no automated calculations or ‘fill-down’ options. My colleagues in A.R.T.S. in the 90’s – Hugo Perks, Stephan Stockton, Mel Larsen – enjoyed the glorious opening up of opportunities that Macintosh ushered into our working lives.

We have come a long way over the decades, and I have enjoyed trying to be at the cutting edge of understanding the potential of the new technologies and deploying them for the benefit of arts organisations and audience development. “But you’re an old guy” said a young woman when I was challenging her arts organisation to wake up to the realities of the digital world in terms of marketing and communications. Well my favourite quote is “there is nothing permanent in life, except change” and we have to embrace it. I retain a concern, shared by friend and colleague Diane Ragsdale, that somehow the arts, which used to be early adopters and change agents, have slipped behind, and too many can be viewed by younger audiences – crazily that now means under 45 years old – as not being up-to-date and relevant.

There is no reason not to be ready for change.

And that’s despite the sterling work of membership bodies such as the Theatrical Management Association, (now UK Theatre), that made such a difference in the 80’s and 90’s, avidly collaborated with by the great Peter Verwey of the then Arts Council of Great Britain. I am very proud of setting up for the TMA the Druidstone arts marketing course and running it for its first six years from 1982, with funding from all four UK arts councils at the beginning; it is still run every year. Of course, my great love has been the Arts Marketing Association, which I had the honour of chairing, and for which I have attended every annual conference since the beginning: I am steeling myself for not attending this year. It is good to see Cath Hume picking up the baton from Julie Aldridge, and I hope the AMA continues to champion the professionalisation of audience development. And I have made so many international friends through INTIX, who gave me a Lifetime Achievement Award, and where change is a constant topic of discussion; it is good to see Andrew Thomas extending that ethos to the Ticketing Professionals Conferences in Birmingham for which he deserves huge credit. There is no reason not to be ready for change.

I remain very fond of Theatr Clwyd in North Wales because of a very special time setting up and running that complex in the 1970s but what pleases me most is to see current Artistic Director Tamara Harvey re-creating the original ethos driving us back then, but re-invented, new and different, for today. Every time I look at her programme, I want to attend. We need more arts organisations re-inventing themselves for today, willing to take the risks to commit to the public and open themselves to engagement on the public’s terms. Instead I reel in shock when I see arts organisations damaging themselves beyond belief: I am still incredulous at what the University in Aberystwyth did to their amazing Arts Centre, where I was in at the beginning, the University threatening to undo in a few short months what everyone had created over 40 years. It seems a miracle it has survived and is building a new future.

our ability in the arts to re-invent the wheel

I attended the recent UK Theatre Touring Symposium on 23 March and had to sit very quietly in a session on collaboration when speakers started suggesting forming consortia and partnering together to develop audiences in catchment areas around venues. Tim Baker always reminds me about our ability in the arts to re-invent the wheel. I had helped form nine of what became the regional arts marketing agencies – forming Cardiff Arts Marketing with the late John Matthews in 1983 – and I still feel it is a backward step that we have only The Audience Agency for England, Audiences Northern Ireland, and Culture Republic for Scotland, though pleased at the way that Julie Tait has taken Glasgow Grows Audiences and Edinburgh’s The Audience Business into a national organisation. The Audience Agency under the remarkable Anne Torregianni provide a data-led foundation from which audience development should flow. Could it be that collaborations/partnerships focussed on individual catchment areas will re-form?

I have too many friends and colleagues to try and mention them here. But there are some arts organisations I truly admire, and often that is also because of the people. The Victoria Theatre/New Vic in Stoke-on-Trent was formative and remains a remarkable venture. The ethos and drive of the Citizen’s Theatre in Glasgow means the legacy of its founders is made relevant today. The Traverse in Edinburgh is a cross-roads of new work which somehow distils a particular Scottish inquiry into the human condition. The Royal Shakespeare Company has been pleasing me for more than 50 years, keeps re-invigorating itself, and, for me, in the Swan offers one of the most engaging theatre spaces. Yes I like the National Theatre in London too, but my heart is with the RSC. Similarly, Welsh National Opera usually offers an emotional experience with their great chorus in full cry, in some radical stagings over the years.

As someone who likes classical music and particularly symphony concerts, it is galling to live in Cambridge and miss the glories of venues such as Symphony Hall, Bridgewater Hall, Liverpool Phil, the Sage in Gateshead, but I will always take my hat off to Louise Mitchell, who transformed Glasgow’s Royal Concert Hall and is now creating a new future for Bristol Music Trust and their Colston Hall. I suppose I can admit that I always wanted to run the Dukes in Lancaster – convenient for walking in the Lakes – so am jealous of Ivan Wadeson. And Chapter in Cardiff always seemed to be the venue that capitalised ‘Alternative’ to do something different, and I enjoyed watching Carol Jones lead their marketing for many a long year. I get similar feelings about James Wilson and his great team at Q Theatre in Auckland. And I can only admire what Philip Aldridge and his team at the Court Theatre in Christchurch NZ manage to consistently deliver, earthquake survivors insisting on being in charge of their own destiny.

It always seemed to me to be a remarkable privilege to work with some arts organisations such as the Concertgebouw in the Netherlands, Dramaten in Stockholm (the Royal National Theatre of Sweden with its warm statue outside) and the arts organisations in Malmo, especially Thomas Wickell at Malmo Opera.

still don’t really understand how modern art galleries get designed

I much enjoyed working on feasibility studies and striving to achieve effective venue designs. My business partner Chris Baldwin at ACT Consultant Services pulled off frequent design and budget ‘coup de teatre’ which regularly astonished me. He reminded me recently of the long list of arts buildings we had achieved. I only wish the wonderful ‘new’ Liverpool Everyman was to our credit – we need more new venues with that integrity.   We have certainly seen a massive investment in arts infra-structure in the UK since the 1960’s, though as a lover of contemporary art, I still don’t really understand how modern art galleries get designed, with the exception of Tate Modern as an enjoyable friendly experience. Nicholas Serota and Jeremy Theophilus are the only visual arts administrators who made sense to me.

No brickbats. A previous Databox user talked to me at that Touring Symposium about the legacy of Jonathan Hyams and Charlie Davies in creating that ticketing and marketing solution, which reminded me that we don’t seem to recognise the huge contribution that a few people have made to helping us move forward in the arts with great technologies working for us, and often with degrees of altruism driving their ambitions. The Dataculture ethos that delivered Databox is pursued in his own way by John Caldwell and PatronBase, and Jack Rubin took Tessitura to be the high-end arts solution fundamentally owned by its users; they deserve especial thanks. There are of course many others trying to make a difference. I particularly remember the endeavours of Stuart Nicolle at Arts Marketing Warwickshire (now Purple Seven) and always Leo Sharrock (now at The Audience Agency) in terms of curating/piloting the benefits of what everyone now calls big data. The late Tim Roberts and I didn’t think of it as that (or even CRM) when I wrote Boxing Clever in 1993, or when we updated it into Full House in 2006, published in Australia and New Zealand, and later in Spain. Hard to remember that in the early 90’s with Duncan May (now at Ambassadors Theatre Group) we were trying to persuade CACI to build an Arts A.C.O.R.N. and we proved the concept.

So where do we go from here?

So where do we go from here? Well I am now on the board of The Audience Agency, which I think with the Audience Finder, Audience Spectrum and Show Stats tools is putting on the desks of arts marketers more power than ever before in my lifetime, and almost free. I continue my special relationship as Chair of the Centre for Performance Research, with Richard Gough as Director; CPR is another great survivor. And I see enough commitment out there from a variety of individuals, and some arts organisations, to a changing future in which artists and audiences can find ways to share ‘stories’ to make a difference.

I am not stepping back thinking the future looks good for the arts – indeed the prognosis seems to be the worst in my lifetime. I still regret the regional imbalances in funding by Arts Council England – so disadvantaging to many parts of the country. The damage done to the arts from education policies in the UK and the US will run through generations and undermine both creativity and audiences for the future. Too many government cuts in arts funding in countries across the world, the threat to local authority funding in the UK – likely to seriously undermine the available infra-structure for the arts – and the demographic cycles of the next thirty years, don’t bode well.  I share with Phil Cave and Arts Council England a belief in “representative audiences” but we still have a long way to go it seems, to even understand that, let alone achieve it.

I wish you all success. Thank you if you have been with me on the journey. It can be done. Don’t go quietly.

Onwards and upwards

Roger

3 April 2017