Knowledge Centre Blog

Project Arts Centre – DeVos Programme Learning

Cian O’Brien, Artistic Director of Project Arts Centre, taking part in the New Stream partnership with the DeVos Institute of Arts Management at The Kennedy Center

Artistic Director and CEO Cian O’Brien and Development and Communications Officer Kate O’Sullivan of Project Arts Centre talk about their experience with the DeVos Programme so far, and how it has given them a more holistic view of the programming of their organisation and the impact this has on other organisational activities. | Interview by Chandrika Narayanan-Mohan

Project Arts Centre is a multi-disciplinary arts venue that showcases art in its many forms, from visual art to dance, music and theatre. Project will be celebrating their 50th anniversary in 2016, and the DeVos Programme has helped them to structure their long-term planning for this event and beyond. Kate and Cian feel that the DeVos Programme has influenced the way in which they look at their organisation. “When we’re thinking strategically about our 50th anniversary in 2016, we’re not just thinking about what we would like to do, but the impact on the organisation” said Kate.

Kate was hired as Development and Communications Officer as a direct result of the DeVos Programme four months after Project signed on, which has made a difference to the way in which Project communicates with its patrons and supporters. “We are now very consistent with our communications with people who are already giving us money,” said Cian, “the relationships with them have grown and they associate Kate with that role”.

Cian and Kate have focused mainly on the Artistic Planning and Institutional Marketing aspects of the Programme, which relate to Incremental Fundraising through their Friends Programme and events. Cian feels that long-term planning is difficult when Arts Council funding is secured annually, but Michael Kaiser’s advice on focusing on the artistic programme has helped them develop their long-term planning skills.

The DeVos Programme has given us the ability to put [funding issues] aside a bit and actually just think about what Michael Kaiser calls ‘the dreaming’. It actually works! We have to do it, we have to think that way, otherwise we have no control over the Programme. Cian O’Brien

By following this strategy, Project have already secured a co-production for 2015 and made a commission for their 50th season in 2016, which is “something [they] have never done before”. Using the strategies of the DeVos Programme, they are “trying to get to a middle ground between the big dream and practicalities”.

Regarding Institutional Marketing, a catalyst for Project’s marketing activities has been a subtle rebrand of promotional material. For example, instead of individual brochures Project now have monthly fold out flyers, which according to Cian will help audiences not only be drawn to individual shows, but ask themselves “What’s on at Project tonight?”.  “We are focusing almost entirely on venue marketing, as opposed to programmatic marketing” says Cian, “If we can provide a strong identity in which the identity of companies can sit, we can offer [others] security about presenting here….audiences then associate us with quality work.”

Along with implementing aspects of Institutional Marketing through their rebranding, Project will be opening their doors to the public for a 24-hour-long Community Day in May. They will have a programme of music and performance, in addition to open workshops and tours. They want to show Project off to the public, and “break down any mystique”. As Cian says, “we’re a place where artists gather as a community, and that’s something we want to grow.”

One of the main strengths of the DeVos Programme for Kate and Cian is the relationships they have formed with fellow participants. In March Project held a fundraising gala, which was supported by Fishamble during their Tiny Plays for Ireland 2 shows. Project also discussed possibly combining Friends schemes with Fishamble, a discussion which Kate said “would never have happened before.”  Kate feels that “a relationship with both parties can mutually benefit and raise profile and awareness”. In addition to Fishamble, Kate has found the meetings with other participants to be informative and showed that organisations might be less competitive than she had thought: “People are very transparent and it’s very refreshing. People do come to it with an openness…we all have to come together and share our successes and our failures, and be open to helping each other”.

Regarding the delivery of the Programme, Kate feels that “with this Programme, the clarity of the purpose is very strong. It’s structured very well…correspondence is very clear and it is very appreciative of people’s time, it’s a very respectful relationship.” Both Cian and Kate also appreciate the honest feedback and the amount of personal attention from their mentors. Cian does express concern about the outcomes of the Programme, feeling that within a small country, organisations doing the same or similar fundraising activities may be making asks from the same small pool of people. He also feels that as a US-originating Programme, some case studies they use are very different to Irish organisations, but through this Programme those relevant local examples will be discovered and developed.

Overall, both Cian and Kate feel that this Programme and Business to Art’s role are very relevant, particularly in the current financial climate. With their learnings from the DeVos programme, the team intend to build a brand around Project, attract more supporters and Friends, and use long-term strategic thinking to plan for their 50th anniversary. The Programme, according to Cian, makes him feel that “there are less barriers that are stopping you, it makes you very hopeful about the future and the bigger picture.”











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