When the opportunity to participate in the Arts Queensland Culture Counts trial appeared, we jumped at it. Previously, we had surveyed our audiences with our own surveys but to be part of a detailed, external evaluation of our artistic practice was exciting.
Measuring the artistic robustness of Blue Roo’s work with standardised metrics from three different stakeholder groups – peers, participants and audiences – we knew would provide us with far deeper insights into the impact of our practice. The insights we have gained through this process will aid in shaping future artistic programming and policy for the company.
Blue Roo evaluated two events as part of the 2016 trial, an artist in residency project at Clifford Park Special School and a major work in partnership with Opera Queensland – Orpheus and Eurydice.
The Clifford Park Special School artist in residency project in Toowoomba culminated in a public performance to a capacity audience. We learnt that for 61 per cent of the audience it was their first time at a Blue Roo event. This indicates we had a strong success at reaching new audiences. We also learnt that 100 per cent of the respondents had an excellent experience. Blue Roo’s original creative intention fell slightly below self-expectations with the public scoring on average 1% lower than what we scored ourselves. It illustrated that we were successful at meeting our goals and in showing artistic leadership.
The second event was Orpheus and Eurydice. Through surveying stakeholders we learnt that 45 per cent of our audience had not attended an inclusive arts event before and 52 per cent were new audiences for us. Our strategy to reach new audiences had worked! Ninety-seven per cent of the respondents had a good or excellent experience and the public experience of Orpheus and Eurydice exceeded our own expectations of whether the show would provide an excellent experience.
In future, we will integrate these learning’s into our artistic programming with artist-in-residency projects with special schools and we will maintain our collaborative artistic approach to our projects - because we have evidence that it worked so well.
Like most companies Blue Roo has in the past, only sought audience feedback. The value of the 360 degree public, participant, peer and self-assessment cannot be underestimated.
The opportunity to compare our goals before the event with the audience after the event is now a necessity for us. It measures our ability to connect with our community. The opportunity to self-assess before and after the event, with the Blue Roo performers, on a formal one-to-one basis will also now be part of our practice. Lastly, to have access to live outcome data i.e. available immediately on the Culture Counts dashboard is also invaluable. We could track the progress of the show during the season...
Our production of Orpheus and Eurydice sold out and in terms of logistics, there was a large amount of data to gather. We had six tablets with which to collect the data and at one point, were failing to gather enough data using the tablets. Mid-way through we decided to print out the questions and hand a sheet to the audience for their feedback. This worked very well. By the end of the season amazingly, we had collected feedback from 200 respondents.
In our experience if the event is popular and you can’t get enough tablet surveys completed, print out the evaluation questions and distribute to the audience after the event. The data will then have to be entered into your Culture Count dashboard later.
Overall the experience has been overwhelmingly positive. One of the most exciting things that Culture Counts offers is the possibility of international comparison with other inclusive arts practice abroad. We are excited to see what insights that reveals to us.
Read more about the experiences of other organisations with Culture Counts including Creative Regions, Red Ridge and Cairns Indigenous Arts Fair and Culture Counts - Brisbane Writers Festival and UPLIT.
Clark Crystal is an artistic director, playwright, performer, applied theatre practitioner and theatre educator, with over 34 years of professional experience, 19 years internationally.
Clark is the Artistic Director and founder of Brisbane’s inclusive theatre company Blue Roo Theatre Company Inc.
Image credit: Blue Roo and Opera Queensland, Orpheus and Eurydice, 2016. Photo: Dylan Evans