Wexford Festival Opera – DeVos Programme Learning
Video launching the programme of Wexford Festival Opera’s 62nd year (2013)
Wexford Festival Opera’s Eamonn Carroll talks to us about his learnings so far from the DeVos Programme, and how their new programme of events aims to expand their Family of friends and supporters. | Interview by Chandrika Narayanan-Mohan
For over sixty years, the town of Wexford has hosted Wexford Festival Opera. In 2008, the new Wexford Opera House was opened, giving a larger home not only to the annual festival but to a year-round programme of events. Eamonn Carroll, who manages Development at Wexford Festival Opera, has had previous experience with Business to Arts training through its For Impact programme, and is now working on implementing new learning from the DeVos programme to develop their Friends Programme through an evolving and intensive Institutional Marketing effort.
“One of the greatest perspectives that DeVos has brought to our organisation is the importance of multi-annual programming and budget forecasting,” says Eamonn. He feels that the encouragement to plan three, four or five years ahead can bring more opportunities and success to an organisation, and this long-term planning and change in programming “will become a fundamental success factor for Wexford Festival over the coming years.”
By expanding the Friends programme through a variety of both smaller, more intimate and larger high-visibility events throughout the year, Eamonn feels that “we are empowered to build a very close connection between institutional marketing and our family building.” The planning of additional events has also provided an opportunity to get board members involved. Many of the changes taking place are geared towards one thing: Building an increased ‘Family’ of supporters. Development Executive Lucy Durack is responsible for the Friends Membership Programme, which has been strategically reviewed and altered after Festival research showed that the old scheme was not fit for purpose. “We were certain that if we put the right fundamentals in place, we would create a programme that allows us to recognise and respond to the needs and hopes of our Friends” says Eamonn. “It would also allow the Friends of the Festival to become advocates and ambassadors for our work”. Eamonn hopes that with this new focus on membership and audience engagement, the Festival can create an atmosphere of excitement and anticipation around its programme of events, encouraging a more dynamic relationship with its supporters.
Eamonn also hopes that the Friends programme will help drive additional revenue to the Festival. “Our membership programme, if carefully cultivated and nurtured, really can become a key driver for incremental gifts and donations.” Though the Friends programme has always been based on a benefits-driven structure, he hopes that ‘there will be an important shift from quid-pro-quo to philanthropic support among our Friends’
If we communicate well with our friends and supporters, if we deliver an engaging menu of events for them, that would help us to develop an increased spirit of family and belonging. Eamonn Carroll
Looking at the DeVos programme itself, Eamonn finds that “its greatest strength is its simplicity. It provides some very simple but effective processes, and is built on some really solid fundamentals…it’s a great source of learning.” Michael Kaiser and Brett Egan’s theory on planning in the arts, The Cycle, provided a “simple menu for the fundamentals of success”. Eamonn also feels that having regular meetings with mentors from DeVos has “become a real vibrant and meaningful part of the programme”. Additionally, he is excited to see how the new organisations joining in Year 2 of the Programme will bring a “new dynamic and new energy”.
The DeVos programme has crystallised all of the knowledge and the thoughts and the realities of where the sector is at in the current climate, in a manner that has brought a sharp focus. Eamonn Carroll
Overall, Eamonn feels that the DeVos programme is changing not only his organisation, but the arts sector as a whole. “Being part of a wider Irish arts organisational effort to build our development capacity has been very important” he says. “I think there is an understanding, an awareness and a willingness”. According to him, organisations have to look very carefully at the ways in which they can build sustainable revenue sources from private and philanthropic investment. In conclusion, Eamonn asserts that “this programme will leave a very powerful and strong legacy in the arts and cultural sector”.
Organisations in a stronger financial position over the coming years will be much better placed to present wonderful artistic programmes and engaging artistic initiatives. Eamonn Carroll.