A newly joined member of the Kaivalya Plays Team offers her take on the learnings from the ARThink South Asia (ATSA) short-course on Fundamentals of Arts Management.
For someone who just got started at Kaivalya Plays, and had briefly met the team on Zoom, it was a set of lucky coincidences that made it possible for me to not only meet the Artistic Director, Varoon P. Anand, and the General Manager, Gaurav Singh, in-person, but also take part in a 3-day short-course together as a team. Representing Kaivalya Plays, the three of us attended the ARThink South Asia short-course on the Fundamentals of Arts Management that took place in Kolkata between 11th-13th of March 2022. The course was facilitated by Pooja Sood (Director of ARThink South Asia) and Ruchira Das (Deputy Director of ARThink South Asia), both of whom have about 40 years of collective experience as arts managers and brought their expertise in the cultural sector to the programme.
An introduction to ARThink South Asia
Started in 2010, ARThink South Asia (ATSA) is an independent programme dedicated to knowledge-building efforts for arts and cultural professionals in the South-Asian region. Aiming to support individuals who are keen on developing viable cultural organizations, the ATSA programmes focus on imparting key concepts of marketing for the arts, strategic planning for organizations, leveraging digital media tools, human resource management, budgeting and fundraising. One of their flagship programmes is the ATSA Fellowship which brings together a group of arts managers from across the South-Asian region to take part in an intensive training programme, followed by a secondment at the end of the fellowship. Through its trainings, ATSA aims to develop a network of arts managers in the wider South-Asian region that includes Afghanistan, Bangladesh, India, Iran, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka. The short course that we undertook serves as an introduction to the in-depth topics covered under the ATSA Fellowship.
What’s the short course about?
For me, the short course proved to be a packed orientation that would be useful in taking up my responsibilities as the Communications Consultant at Kaivalya Plays. Spread over 3 days, the course was broken down into separate sections to be taken up on each of the days. The sessions were held at the Kolkata Centre for Creativity, where we were part of a group of about 20 participants, all of whom had varied backgrounds and experiences in the arts. Encouraged to sit at a new table each day, we got the chance to interact, exchange and learn from our peers as well during the 3 days. Here’s what we learned:
The first day began with a round of introductions—both from the facilitators and the participants taking the course. What was interesting about these introductions was the importance on listening rather than just talking. Paired with someone we didn’t know, each of us was encouraged to ask questions to get to know the other person, so that we could do justice to how we introduced them to the entire class. A fun exercise to get to know people it sure was! Everyone was really into hyping up the other person and their achievements in a way we probably would not have done for ourselves, which was pretty cool!
Once the introductions were done, we launched right into the course. We began by understanding how arts organizations differed from other businesses, and therefore, how arts management was also a separate category in itself that needs appropriate planning, thought and action. We learnt the importance of Strategic Planning for organizations setting up their identities and the ways in which proper planning can be useful in charting the core values, the vision and the mission of an organization. We also worked on an exercise with the Kaivalya Plays team to write down our vision, mission statement and values the organization stood for. This was a good starting point for me in understanding how the Artistic Director and the General Manager thought about the organization and the ways in which I could contribute in bringing their vision and mission across in our outbound communications.
A full day of classes, this day demanded we put our smart hats on as we launched right into learning ways to build SMART objectives for arts organizations. Working in teams, we were to plan a SMART objective for hypothetical organizations. On our table, one difficulty we faced in coming up with an objective was differentiating between the keywords Achievable and Realistic, as both of these had similar connotations. Getting feedback on our idea and hearing the SMART objectives others came up with helped clear some of the doubts we had, and we, then, moved on to the next topic—Strategic Analysis. With some introduction to the two techniques of analysis—PESTLE and SWOT—we were encouraged to work on our own to think about possible analyses for the organizations we were representing or in the plans of building. What was clear from these exercises, for me, was that SMART along with PESTLE and SWOT could be good indicators to take into factor when planning for an arts organization. These can help build specific goals to focus on—without getting scattered.
With a much-needed break to recharge, we came back on Day 2 to learn about Marketing for the Arts. Given my new role at Kaivalya Plays, this session was particularly crucial for me to take into account the factors involved in marketing for an arts organization and the different ways in which to take this forward. Apart from the 4Ps of marketing, we were encouraged to think about audience segmentation and marketing strategies that could be leveraged for reaching out to each of these segments. Day 2 came to a close with some homework. The participants were encouraged to come back the next day with a SMART objective, a market segment and a strategy to reach out to this segment. Spread over 6 hours, the second day felt like an overwhelming amount of information to take in. But going back home and working on the exercises did somewhat ease the anxiety I felt about having correctly grasped the concepts in class.
The final day began with a little bit of learning exchange happening at our respective tables. With several people in the cohort having prior experience with digital marketing, we got to share the digital marketing strategies and tools that could be channelized for better management of marketing and outreach activities. On our table, Varoon also demonstrated ways in which digital tools could be used to make it easy for team members to do their jobs remotely. Soon after the discussions, we had a special session hosted by Paramita Saha from ArtsForward, who took us through some of the strategies that have helped her build ArtsForward and her experience with arts management, starting as an ATSA Fellow. She also shared two initiatives—ArtAloneTogether (an Instagram page started during the pandemic) and www.unmute.help (a repository of resources for performers to safeguard themselves in their artistic practice)—at the end of her presentation.
After a quick break, we moved to other aspects involved in running an organization, including Human Resource Management and Funding. With case studies from organizations that the facilitators were part of, it was helpful to understand team-building ethics and the ways in which to safeguard individual choices while keeping organization goals in mind. The HR sessions were followed by a quick discussion of individual experiences with Human Resources from the participants and we then launched into the last few concepts for the short course—Financial Planning and Fundraising for arts organizations. An exercise we worked on in groups helped us better understand how to plan events and budget for the same. For Fundraising, it was helpful to listen to problems the facilitators had faced in raising funds for their individual organizations and the dos and don’ts they suggested when it came to applying for funds.
Overall, the short course is a very handy workshop that can serve as an introduction if you are building an arts organization from scratch. Understanding the crucial aspects to keep in mind can help one from feeling overwhelmed with all of the responsibilities that might come up as the organization gets up and going. However, three days of back-to-back sessions can also feel like a lot to take in at once. For people like me, who are just getting acquainted with many of the aspects introduced in class, a better pacing of the course would have been desirable. For someone looking to strengthen their knowledge in a particular area, the course can be quite useful to build on their existing ideas. From a Communications perspective, therefore, the case study on Khoj Studios’ Communications strategy helped me understand the things Khoj as an organization was doing and the learnings I could take to implement for my role at Kaivalya Plays. With lots of learning involved over the 3-days, the in-person course felt like a breath of fresh (Covid-free) air after having been secluded to online meets since the pandemic. By the end of the three days, I felt like I had gotten to know my team better, had gained crucial insight on how to build a communications strategy for the organization and networked with the other participants during the course, all of which gave me a sense of a weekend well spent!
To know more about ARThink South Asia and the programmes they offer, head over to this link.