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Culture Counts – Judith Wright Centre of Contemporary Arts

Ruth Hodgman from the Judith Wright Centre shares what they learned about one of their recent productions, through participating in the Culture Counts audience surveying pilot.

Hot Brown Honey was developed through the Judith Wright Centre of Contemporary Arts’ Fresh Ground program by Lisa Fa’alafi (Polytoxic Dance Theatre), Candy B (Circus Oz) and Busty Beatz (Briefs) who have formed the Black Honey Company. The March 2015 production, presented in a two-week season, was described as ‘packing a sweet punch of Hip Hop politics… sometimes sweet, sometimes acidic … a perfect opportunity to smash stereotypes and remix the system.’

The Culture Counts platform uses qualitative metrics to gather feedback about arts events from three groups – the audience, artistic peers and self (i.e., the creators of the work). The Culture Counts team provided guidance on selecting survey questions to obtain the most relevant information about the production while keeping the survey short to maximize the data captured post-performance.

190 audience members responded to the Hot Brown Honey survey with 34% of the responses gathered immediately after performances using electronic tablets. Capturing immediate audience impressions was facilitated by a number of fast moving ‘tablet wranglers’ who approached patrons as they exited the performance space. The Judith Wright Centre was grateful to have the services of these volunteers as collectors; otherwise the cost of engaging paid collectors would have proved a barrier to post-show surveying.

A further 66% of respondents clicked through to an online version of the survey after receiving an email invitation within a few days of attending. Through ticketing data, the venue identified patrons who had attended, provided their email address and agreed to be contacted for surveying purposes.

74% of respondents were female which is not surprising given women were the focus of the content and performances of dance, poetry, comedy, circus, striptease and song. Surprisingly, the age of respondents was broad from 20 to 79 years, with 54% aged between 30 and 49 years.

Hot Brown Honey attracted new audiences with 30% visiting the Judith Wright Centre for the first time. Respondents were generally familiar with cabaret, with 86% having attended this style of production in the past.

The survey included nine artistic quality dimensions to investigate the audience experience of Hot Brown Honey. Results showed between 74% and 89% of patrons provided high scores relating to its risk, relevance, captivation, local impact, rigour, meaning, connection, distinctiveness and excellence. Many of those surveyed made comments, some applauding its ‘in your face’ sassy and controversial nature, others provoked by sticky topics of stereotyping, racism and colonialism.

Eight peers were invited to respond to the same artistic dimensions, recording their expectations before attending and again post-performance. The results showed the production exceeded peer expectations regarding meaning and relevance. They found Hot Brown Honey was a lot risker and had more relevance to today’s world than they had expected.

Overall, 92% of the audience rated the production above average or excellent.

‘It is dynamic, raw, rich, honest, funny and fun,’ said one audience member.

Culture Counts identified that the standard deviation of responses was high indicating there were many differing opinions amongst the audience. The extensive range of comments given by the respondents confirms elements of the work drew divided opinions. Further investigation by the artists will assist them to refine their creative elements and sharpen the points of provocation in future presentation seasons.

Culture Counts, being piloted by a number of arts organisations with support of Arts Queensland, offers an opportunity to test and benchmark common measures of intrinsic impact both in Queensland and across the country, which is the main point of difference to other survey tools we have used previously. While the pilot program continues, we will take the opportunity to measure another Fresh Ground related work.

Find out more about the Culture Counts trial here and read blog posts from other participating organisations including the Institute of Modern Art, Bleach* Festival, Queensland Symphony Orchestra, Anywhere Festival, Access Arts and arTour.


Ruth Hodgman is Director of the Judith Wright Centre of Contemporary Arts in Fortitude Valley, Brisbane. Since 2008, she has focused on the development and presentation of contemporary work by Queensland artists and companies supporting arts initiatives through the Fresh Ground program. Ruth has worked across various creative industries during her career including performing arts management, television production and on-air radio presenting. She was producer/director in television prior to moving into venue management, producing, tour and event coordination and arts marketing. Ruth Hodgman holds an M.B.A., Graduate Diploma of Management (Arts) and a Bachelor of Business (Marketing).





Feature image: Hot Brown Honey 2015. Photographer: Hillary Green.