The Arts & Everything in Between

February 12, 2024 | Duration: 39 mins

Fail Fast, Learn Fast, Succeed Fast: Arts Management with Gail Jones


Gail Jones

Failing fast means trialling, testing, learning and reshaping so you can succeed. But what does that mean for arts management? How can a fail fast mentality help push arts organisations forwards? 

In this thought-provoking episode of “The Arts and Everything in Between,” host Lucy Costelloe sits down with Gail Jones, Communications Manager at the Crescent Arts Centre, to explore what it means for arts organisations to adopt a fail-fast mentality.  Gail shares Crescent’s strategies for innovation, community engagement, and how they navigate the complexities of arts management by embracing failure as a pathway to rapid learning and growth. 

You’ll learn:

  1. How a fail fast approach facilitates learning, growth, and innovation within organisations.
  2. How Crescent has embraced failure as an opportunity for learning with specific examples such as their pricing strategies.
  3. The benefits of Crescent’s Associate Model which brings in external expertise into the organisation to support programming and audience engagement.
  4. Tips when considering the fail-fast approach, including how to get started, the importance of embracing vulnerability, and the value of external collaborations.



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Crescent Arts Centre:

Arts Professional: How to Curate a Festival:

Pay What You Decide Case Study:



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A special thank you to Gail Jones for joining us and sharing her expertise and experiences. We also want to thank our listeners for their continuous support, don’t forget to subscribe, like, share, and leave a review for “The Arts and Everything in Between” podcast.


About Our Guest

Featured Guest

Gail Jones

Gail has extensive experience developing brands and creating and delivering successful marketing campaigns, including multiplatform communication and campaign management, as well as customer segmentation strategy.

Fail Fast Approach with Crescent Arts Centre


Dorothy: ​ Welcome to the arts and everything in between brought to you by Ticket Solve at the arts and everything in between. We chat with industry leaders and specialists about some of the big issues facing professionals working in arts, culture, heritage, and live entertainment.

George: In this episode of The Arts and Everything in Between, host Lucy delves into the innovative fail fast approach with Gail Jones, Communications Manager at the Crescent Arts Centre. They explore the necessity of adopting a fail fast mentality within arts organisations. Where expertise in every field is impossible. Crescent’s approach, centered around embracing failure as a pathway to rapid learning and improvement, highlights their unique strategy in fostering creativity and resilience.

This episode sheds light on the Crescent’s rich [00:01:00] history. Its role as a hub for creative learning and its efforts to build community through arts and culture will also take a deep dive into how embracing vulnerability and seeking external expertise can lead to unexpected successes and strengthen organisational resilience.

Lucy Costelloe: Hello and welcome to this episode of the arts and everything in between podcast. I’m Lucy Costello back for another episode and today I welcome. Gail Jones, Communications Manager at the Crescent Arts Centre. Gail is going to join us today and talk about what it means when we say that you can’t simply be an expert in everything and that we need to approach a fail fast mentality within our organisations.

Hello and welcome Gail, how are you?

Gail Jones: Hi Lucy. I’m really good. Thank you. How

Lucy Costelloe: are you today? Not too bad, Gail. It’s amazing to have you on. This is a podcast that we’ve been talking about doing for a few months now. And I’m so excited that I’ve been able to grab you in your busy, but not as [00:02:00] busy period so that we could sit down and have this conversation.

Gail Jones: And I’m excited to be here and just to share like some of our, lots of conversations we’ve been having about like how we as an organization operate. So yes, excited to be here.

Lucy Costelloe: Thank you so much. And Gail, I suppose this is the typical structure now of our our podcast. We start off maybe just with a bit of an introduction to yourself, to your organization, and then we carry on from there.

So I suppose following tradition, would you please give our listeners just a warm welcome into, to yourself and the Crescent Arts Centre.

Gail Jones: Of course, and so Crescent Arts Centre, and we are based in South Belfast, which is very close by to Queen’s University. The Crescent has been operating for about 35 years, and actually this year the building is celebrating its 150th anniversary.

And yeah, so the building was originally built as one of the first all female schools in and on the island of Ireland. And we’re just really proud. [00:03:00] It was actually it was built by a female back in like the 1870s who managed to secure a loan to get this beautiful building. built and it still survives and we’re so proud to be its custodians at the moment.

But I suppose that educational and entrepreneurial spirit is very much what keeps the Crescent alive. The Crescent, we do it’s a beautiful Victorian building. We do a number of different activities strands. We have a creative learning program, which is courses and workshops, which is spread out through four terms throughout the year.

We run a Belfast book festival. We have a schools program. We have 13 different arts organizations who have offices in our beautiful building. We have a gorgeous event space, which we host different festivals, which we have our own events, do gigs, lots of different capacities. So the Crescent’s a really busy place.

And we are funded by the Arts Council of Ireland and Belfast City Council. And I suppose the most important part of that is that [00:04:00] our team, it’s made up of a a senior management team of five people. And we’re supported by one coordinator and then a team of freelance casual and custom services. So we’re a very small team for what we do, but we’re really proud of that.

We’re really proud that we’re a really small team and delivering lots of activity here.

Lucy Costelloe: Definitely. And I can vote. I’ve been in the Crescent Arts Centre numerous times, and we’ve hosted workshops, Ticketsolve workshops as well and yeah, I have to say every time I do walk into the building, there is definitely a sense of first of all there’s lots happening, there’s always people around, and then there’s always something happening as well, nearly like a new space to explore, and Gail, for our listeners who are listening, there, there’s one particular story as well, and it’s I’m drawn to the image on the back of your wall that yeah, it might be worth, I dunno, touching upon quickly just in the essence of everything that is the Crescent Arts Centre.

Gail Jones: Yeah we are also home to one of the largest colony of swifts [00:05:00] on the island of Ireland, and we’re very proud of this. So the swift is such a fascinating creature. And they are in flight for nine months of the year and they fly, they make their way from the Crescent to Mozambique. And when they go to Mozambique, they make a return journey back to Belfast.

So they arrive back in Belfast in April, and they’re here from between about April in It’s roughly between about the end of April and the beginning of July is when they’re here. So they’ve currently departed for warmer climates, but every time we we, every time we learn something new about this place, it’s so fascinating.

And recently we discovered that the only place in the world they land is here at the Crescent. So when they leave here, like in July, they do not. Rest until they get back to the Crescent in April, and it’s such a fascinating story. They eat in flight, they sleep in flight, everything can fly, and they’re such a beautiful creature.

And their noise they have a squeak and they’re so beautiful. It’s really enchanting, their [00:06:00] noise. So yes, we’re really proud to be custodians of a colony of swifts. That’s

Lucy Costelloe: amazing, and actually just, it’ll make sense, as our conversation develops, but just that idea of building like a colony or a community is very much embedded within, all of the models for the Crescent Arts Center.

And I know that’s where we’re going to start our conversation from. When myself and Gail jumped on the podcast just as we were getting ready to record, we were just sharing, that we’re, I’m soon to be headed on annual leave and Gail, your advice was, it’s never the right time to take annual leave.

And what does that mean? Finding the right time or finding time in general, particularly in, the arts and cultural sector. And you’ve touched upon, while you’re such, such a big and far reaching. organization. Your team is what you’ve said to be kind, relatively small.

So it’s about using resources and using them in a way that you’re willing to, to trial something new, but to stick with it as well. And I suppose we should get started on that. And I suppose our, as part of our introduction, it’s really about this [00:07:00] idea of, if you can’t be an expert in everything, why don’t you bring in some of those expertise voices in, in what you’re doing.

And I’d love to hand it over to you, Gail, just to give us an introduction into the associate model for the Cress Arts Center. Of

Gail Jones: course. So as you’ve just touched on, we are just like many arts organizations, we’re a very small team. The Crescent has lots of different spaces, we’re trying to deliver this activity.

We can’t be experts in every single area. We can’t be experts in, so if we, for example, take our Creative Learning Programme. Our Creative Learning Programme, it covers arts, crafts. languages, music, drama kids classes and family classes creative reading and writing. We as a team cannot be experts in all of those fields.

So it was back in 2021, we just started to discuss the idea of bringing in other voices and other people to essentially. Hear different ideas, get different opinions. [00:08:00] And I suppose it was it was last year we formalized it the first year. And we started working a pool of freelancers. So last year it was people that who were our current creative and creative learning tutors.

So people who know our program, know the building, know our audiences. And I suppose in essence it was about bringing in experts in their field. So instead of, Myself as an individual trying to be an expert in languages, knowing what the current trends are, giving us that kind of outside opinion on what we’re offering.

I can’t also know at the same time what the current trends are in crafts who knows what crochet trend is happening at the minute. So the idea is that we work with different people, we work with about five different people throughout the year, who help us inform, share their ideas, introduce us to new people help, yeah, and just help shape our program a wee bit more.

They, because they’re introducing this, the Crescent as a building, the Crescent as a team, we still have that kind of decision making power, but that idea that people [00:09:00] can bring in new ideas, And that we can collaborate with them we often talk about that we are the Crescent is a convener of people.

So let’s bring in different people. Let’s be introduced to people. And I suppose that’s where our associate model started. We have since now rolled out to our Belfast Book Festival. So again, we work with we’ve worked the last two years with different associates who come bring new ideas, who collaborate.

And to help us shape our program. And then this year as well, we’ve just launched our a new music program. And again, we’re working for somebody who is known within the industry who has. has helping shape and create the program a little bit more. So we’re just delighted that we’ve just launched a new series of events, which is called Stripped Down to the Present.

It’s all about just a cabaret bringing songs back to their original format. And Scullion. He’s a local musician. And he has. All these different connections, and it means that we as a present, we can meet new people, we can open our [00:10:00] doors to new people, we can expand our kind of relationships as well, which is really important.

And that kind of collaborative spirit is really important at the present.

Lucy Costelloe: Definitely. And Gail, can I ask something that can be sometimes hard to implement within small teams and creative teams themselves, people who are very passionate about the work that they’re doing. Was there a fear amongst your team about implementing something that was quite a big change and potentially looking at, how would I say nearly, relocating where decision making was being fostered from the start.

So you’re like you’re taking the leap that you’re putting a lot of trust into your associates. How did that go down with the team trialing that out? How did that change process feel?

Gail Jones: It just felt really natural, actually. Sophie Hales, our CEO, is really encouraging about the kind of collaborative spirit, encouraging that, accepting It’s not necessarily accepting help, but accepting kind of voices and opinions of other people.

And I think that’s just that [00:11:00] reassurance that those kind of decisions help. And also Sophie often reminds as that, let’s make that kind of spirit of working with freelancers opening up. So a lot of us say that we don’t have much capacity to do stuff. So opening up those kind of realms to talk to to get that bit of advice and get that bit of help really does help us a wee bit more.

One of the positives of the associate model is that we extend our network of artists. So we have this new pool of people, and it means we’re keeping on top of the trends. Obviously, the negatives of that is it takes a long time to build relationships. So at the minute, we’re currently working on a year.

A year kind of program of bringing in new associates, but actually we are very much aware that this associates program at the moment is we’re very much trialing it. We’re testing the waters. We are developing it. So maybe the year, we don’t know if I’m, it won’t work for every organization, but for the present at the minute, it’s working for us.

But as part of that, we are learning. Maybe at the minute, a year isn’t long enough [00:12:00] because it takes that long, but also to be able to understand our audiences. But as I was touching on earlier, that’s where the Crescent kind of retains a little bit of the curation for the program. We understand our audiences.

So although somebody’s bringing new ideas to us, at least we can then have those conversations about who do they believe this audience might be? We don’t, we as a crescent believe that we don’t have the audiences so I suppose it’s combining our expertise about audiences and being really audience focused with the expertise of an outside freelancer.

So the two just seem to merge really well. I suppose that’s where I looked at where my expertise is. Is that I can yeah, look at my understanding of our audiences and where our audience development plan is wanting to go to and how getting other people to help us on that journey as well.

Lucy Costelloe: Absolutely, I love it. And I think it’s something that’s quite brave as well to, to sit back and say, we can’t do everything because of our capacity, but our capacity shouldn’t be a barrier because capacity isn’t going to change. [00:13:00] We’re going to, our resources today are. More than looking like they’re going to be the same resources tomorrow, next year, next month, it tends to follow a trend typically, and sometimes that’s what we hope for as well.

But to turn around and say, I’m not an expert in this, I think is something that’s quite brave within our sector and in particular too, because I think is, we’re all very accustomed to that element of firefighting where we feel like we need to solve the problems. We need to put out that fire.

We need to know have all of the answers here. It’s a, it can be an immense pressure on teams. So to take that step back and think actually, this. This chapter that we’re looking at, it’s not my story to write. I’ll contribute to it, but actually where the narrative is going I don’t know.

And I’m willing to learn that as well. And I love your idea around kind of relationship building and the time that it takes. I think we can all put our hands up and say, from building new audiences or even focusing on audience segments that we have and retaining them.

It is, it does take time and it’s trust as well. It’s, we [00:14:00] can’t just put a price tag on loyalty. It’s something that we need to really work for. I guess as well, coming a little bit back to this idea of what you were saying about, giving it a year and actually giving it the time as well.

That’s not something that we always have the luxury of doing. And I’d be really keen to hear, like when we speak of failing fast, it doesn’t mean, Going live with something today, seeing it isn’t working well, so shutting it off tomorrow and then that’s it, no resources spent. I think what you’re touching upon is that it’s this kind of balancing act where it’s like letting it go on a little bit further, but monitoring it and having to pull it back if needed, but giving it time as well is failing fast.

And I think maybe the Belfast Book Festival might be a good example of some of the strategies that you’ve taken and failing fast, but Changing what fast actually means for implementing something

Gail Jones: new. Yeah, I suppose a good example for that is we as we were emerging post COVID our [00:15:00] book festivals in 2021 took a different shape.

So we, when it came back to our in person festival in 2022 We were coming up very much to going live with the program and there was just lots of conversations about the cost of living crisis about what audience have changed post COVID are they going to come back to an in person fest or how much did they got, how much are they willing to spend?

So I suppose we started having, we’re very lucky as a building because we have lots of we have all these different organizations in the building. And I suppose a lot of that we were having conversations with different people about. How much customers are willing to pay, different pricing strategies, and I suppose we went through a kind of a, we went through a few different conversations about the pricing structure.

Sophie’s approach to the programming for 2022 is that she wanted to be a bit more transparent. We as an organization aren’t here to make decisions. The decisions, we can’t decide who is a household name and who isn’t a household name. And what deems an artist from traveling [00:16:00] from America here to read an author reading versus a local Right here, like that’s not our decision to make and we value everybody the same.

So it was part of that kind of model, the pro we approached our strategy for paying offers so that every offer was paid the same amount of money. So there was no difference in fee. That’s what you were paid. And I suppose as part of that, we then took that a step further. Instead of us making the decision about the cost of a ticket, we took it so that the choice became the customers.

We took away our we took away our decision making power and we gave it to the customers and that’s where we introduced a pay what you decide scheme. So I suppose the traditional pricing model is that whoever we, whoever is deemed a household name, you pay more money for that. Yeah, we took it away.

So in 2022, you could have come and seen Ian Rankin for free, or you could have paid 25. So our pricing strategy, the choice of range from. A free ticket up into [00:17:00] up to 25. And we did give a recommended price within that, which was 7. And I think some customers don’t like to make a decision. So the majority of the tickets were bought for 7 back in 2022.

But I suppose that kind of giving a model and we we very much approached it, it was calculated risk. So we knew how we were approaching this. We’re lucky. We run a festival. Our model is completely different from a lot of other festivals. And we’re also very lucky that our festival takes place.

In our home, the present art center we program, it’s not a separate team. It is very much part of our program. So we could make a calculated risk and do a pay what you decide model. And we very much approached it that it was going to be a trial and we were going to implement this for three years.

We have repeated it again this year, and the one change we did make for 2023 is that we increased the recommended price to 10. We we’ve worked with we work with an audience development agency up here, [00:18:00] and they reviewed our data, and they could see that, although we could have made more, Although the income was down, had we gone for a traditional approach, our engagement with customers had increased.

The customers were able to come to more events. And we had a few, we had feedback from a few customers. So those customers telling us that. Had had we not done pay what you decide and that had they not been able to come to some of their events for free, they wouldn’t have been able to attend it. And they had a little taste of how that life used to how that kind of engagement with the arts used to be.

So I suppose it’s about the calculated risk is not just about the financial impact. It’s also about, the social impact as well. So for us, that was a really important decision to make is that we could. Give customers a choice and suppose in our kind of, in our kind of language around that it was all about support.

It was all about how, if you can afford to pay a little bit more, we’d appreciate it if you can’t come along [00:19:00] for free. So it was about letting customers make those decisions to come along. And interestingly, actually As part of the, the reporting on that donations had increased. So as much as people were being allowed to pay what they decided to choose, the pick ticket price, our donations increased dramatically as part of that.

So that was like a really interesting kind of analysis of the data. But currently just reviewing 2023. I’m interested to see how this year compared to last year, but yeah, that’s

Lucy Costelloe: amazing. Gives you a benchmark, so the first year 2022 and then how you’ve made iterations of it, adapted it for 2023 and then your final test run then will be next year.

And what would what would the most successful outcome of the pay what you can model look like Gil? For the Crescent Arts Centre anyway?

Gail Jones: That’s a really interesting question, actually. I suppose one of the, I suppose if we go back to 2022, one of the changes between 22 and 23 was the use of the language.

So we, in 2022, [00:20:00] we actually did pay what you want. And we had a reflection on that to be pay what you decide in 2023. So I think. The best I suppose for me in 2024, what I’d like to see is that customers are able to attend an East Creek. It’s that continued increase in engagement. So customers being able to attend more events than what they could.

And that, I suppose that’s what it would be for us is, yeah, that increase in engagement and continue to see that grow and people being able to attend more activity than what they could have done had they had all their money. being gone to one household name that they want to see. So yeah, increased engagement.

Lucy Costelloe: Yeah, that’s, it’s so interesting because I know and we’ve been on conversations before where pay what you can, pay what you decide, pay what you want. Pricing strategies have come up and for so many organizations, it’s oh, it has never worked for us. Which makes sense because. Possibly the, the typical model for a theater, like every show counts and every ticket sold, contributes to that [00:21:00] end budget for next year.

But for the Crescent Arts Centre, you’re in you’re in a position where, because you are focusing as well on learning and development, that. The core purpose of the festival and the reason that you’re doing pay what you decide, it’s not to generate X amount. And you’re able to have that absorbed from the other programming that you have continuously throughout the year.

So it’s really interesting to see like how you experiment with that shall we call it freedom? I’m not sure if that’s the right word, but that you have this kind of scope and the purpose of the festival is, it has an entirely different set of objectives, maybe that. Other forms of your programming streams have.

Gail Jones: Yeah, we, it’s how it slots into, it doesn’t slot into our program or activity. It is part of our program or activity. It’s, the festival is annually in June. It’ll be in 2024. It’ll be the 14th year so that it takes over the entire building. And as I said, we have a building where we’re a hub. In previous years, we would have gone across the city [00:22:00] but now we’re really trying, we, every activity is here at the Crescent, a farm, maybe one or two the only reason maybe we might go a bit further field and outside of the Crescent is if an author warranted.

a much bigger capacity. But for us also, as part of the USP of the festival is a small capacity where you get to meet the author afterwards and get your book signed. So that’s a really important USP. And there’s something about the lovely buzz of having people in the building. And this, especially this year, just in the cafe space just Every day throughout the day, right from 10 to 10, the cafe was just filled with writers and audiences, everybody mingling.

This year we had No Alibis had a bookstore in the cafe. Oh, it’s just so lovely just having people in the building constantly and just it. But I suppose it goes back to my kind of message about that kind of collaborative spirit. We convene people. We don’t necessarily have to be in control of our program, but let’s [00:23:00] convene and allow other people to flourish.

How can we support people? And it’s great that’s how we work with festivals as well. We have a beautiful cube space, we have lots of different workshop spaces. We have we have different people we work with. How can we connect people? So we would connect people, we, some artists that we might know at a different festival, what can they do together?

So we’re very proud to like also connect dots and convene people and here’s a space, how might you develop work? So we’re really proud

Lucy Costelloe: of that as well. That’s amazing. And Gail, I’m right thinking that there is a nice article as well, if any of our listeners want to learn a little bit more about the associate model.

Gail Jones: Yeah Sophie Hales, MCEO, she wrote an article on the Associate Model how the Crescent approached it the learnings from that, and that is an arts professional article it you can link to it from our website if you head to the Crescent Arts Centre website, the news section, you’ll be able to find the article from there, but it’s, it, the article very much reflects Hedging’s what worked, what didn’t work everybody, I think Sophie would love to do a post.[00:24:00]

And so I’m going to be talking about this article, actually, and how it actually went, having actually met with the associates and such, to get their feedback. Because for us we, how we work with freelancers is really important to us. So we as an organization are continually trying to learn and improve how we work with, how we work with freelancers.

And it’s not even in terms of freelancers to do like programming, it’s across all elements of our work. So for example, I work with freelance. Market marketing people to support me in what I do and how can I reach out and work with other professionals to support what I’m trying to do? Hear new voices stay on top of trends.

So it’s, yeah, that kind of working with other people, we it goes across everything we do in the organization, so not just. In terms of programming, in terms of professional services, be it from our enlightening technician coming in to support us and lots of different people. So it’s very much embedded into the ethos of what we do as an organization.[00:25:00]

Is that kind of being, being known to freelancers as a, as an organization that takes the responsibilities and is, creates a really good working conditions or those conditions for freelancers to operate within.

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Lucy Costelloe: And so if you were to I’ve two kind of questions of, will you share your advice?

The first one is. If you were to advise someone who was thinking about,[00:26:00] presenting this idea back to their team, but was a little bit, uncertain that it mightn’t, be wrapped up or they were just hesitant because of, the amount of change that, that it would involve what would you recommend them to do?

How would they get started?

Gail Jones: I suppose we all often say I’m guilty of doing it as well. We’re all guilty of often saying that we don’t have the capacity to do stuff. We’ve stopped apologizing for that now. So if we don’t have capacity to do stuff, how can we plan that into into our working lives?

I think that’s a bit, first thing is establish where you might. benefit from having a little bit of expertise and also not being afraid to ask for help. I think sometimes we’re always a little bit, we’re afraid to admit our weaknesses. I think admitting your weaknesses is one of the biggest strengths that you can have as a person.

So for us, it’s knowing, admitting that you need a wee bit of help. And then when you approach it, once you do it, don’t approach it for one year. I think definitely have in place a To trial it over a couple of years, [00:27:00] just remember it’s a trial and it doesn’t have, once you do for year one, reflect on it after year one and make proposed changes and just see every year is a year to learn.

And if it goes wrong, it’s okay. It’s a learning curve. So just learn from the edits and you check, oh, learn from the mistakes. We don’t have it perfect and we are learning every day and every day we’re discovering something new which is really important as well.

Lucy Costelloe: Absolutely.

And I think that the whole element of failing fast, but giving it time as well that balancing act again, it’s probably deep down inside. We’ll know when we can put a full stop, when it’s like we, we’ve let it run its course, we thought we’d get longer out of it, but actually, looking at the data or from speaking with our associates or from speaking with our audience members, we just know we might take a pause, go back and look at refining, if it has gotten to that stage, but I do think, we, we get to that stage and I think for me anyway, the approach that We take with doing something new or building on something new is that [00:28:00] it has to fail for a certain amount of time because it’s new and that’s how you learn and embracing that, failure isn’t.

Isn’t always negative and it doesn’t always appear in the form of, decreased capacity or no spike in engagement. Sometimes it can be a plateau where everything’s still trickling along, but we haven’t seen, a massive increase in, in, in something positive but it’s still working.

It’s still. It’s still the cogs of the wheel or the engine, I should say, are still rotating, but what we were actually

Gail Jones: Oh, sorry. I suppose that’s why for me, I suppose that’s why when you start something like this, where are you trying to get to? Exactly. So I suppose I suppose something like the pay what you decide model You, that’s why I’d like, for example, look at TicketSolve, a little pod for TicketSolve there.

So what are we trying to get you? What’s your reporting? Lean on people who you can lean on to get to your answers. Know what you want to, I suppose it’s about knowing what your outcomes are, what you’re hoping your outcomes are going to be. So when you need to look at your reporting to [00:29:00] do your analysis, did it work?

Did it not work? And I suppose it’s all about knowing what the changes are going to be and just, yeah, just how to move forward and keep pushing forward, is a really important part

Lucy Costelloe: of that as well. Yeah, absolutely. And if you’re not seeing those kind of changes that you were hoping to see, like that is possibly, but it’s still, it hasn’t dropped below, your benchmark or, there’s no red flags or anything like that, that it’s still that kind of mellow yellow.

How do we get

Gail Jones: it to green? Yeah, but I am, I’m very guilty of in the past of saying I don’t have capacity to try that until I forced myself to try it and be brave and go out and do it. We just we never know. And I suppose at the minute we’re in this kind of, we’re in the conditions where I just, I’m very much aware that customer habits, I still like.

Anybody who says no, this is a bit of a bold statement, but anybody who would now say they know who their customers are, I think I think I don’t know who our customers currently are, because I think we’re still emerging from this new kind of from [00:30:00] COVID and I think customers are still finding their feet.

And for example, I were, we detected last term that. On a Monday used to be a really popular day but we’ve noticed now that actually Friday day, there has been an increased number of attendees to our courses and workshops. And we’re starting to, and just anything we put on a Friday day was selling out really quickly.

So is there now this ethos of Actually, a four day working week. Is there something about people now taking, we’ve all learned to slow down a wee bit during COVID and look after ourselves. And I think people are, because there is such like cost of living and the expense of going on holiday and people are quite nervous.

And we’ve also found our summer school, like our summer program lots of new customers from it. And we’ve been asking like, just very kind of brief word of mouth. How did you find out about it? People said they’ve been finding the courses from Googling things to do in the summer. So people don’t want to go on the holiday.

And instead we’ve been seeing this new cohort of customers coming in who have [00:31:00] chosen to do a week long course. And I suppose, and they’re telling us they’re booking a week of work to come and do a course or activity. So I think there’s definitely, people are changing, their habits are changing. And I still think we’re learning about that.

So that’s another way, like where associate models is really good to kind of trial and test things and help. I suppose it keeps you on your toes a wee bit in the sense of but it means that we can try things, look at different trends and be a bit more, reactive, which I think is really important as well.

So instead of getting we’re all guilty of getting stuck in our own ways. I think it’s really important as well, the associate model that kind of keeps it keeps us. Thinking lots of new ideas and the collaboration and meeting new people as well, which is really important. Yeah,

Lucy Costelloe: absolutely. I have to say, I really like that mindset of you.

We don’t know who our audiences are. And that’s a line that I would always say from speaking with some of the organizations and that we work with the Ticket Solvers, you might think of something, but then turn around and say, but, your audience is better than anyone else, but actually really challenging what that means, because if you think you know something, [00:32:00] then you’re not leaving that room for improvement or that room for growth.

And you’ve, even in said The big buzzword at the moment, like trends a few times there. And that’s something like we can see from the events that are happening online. I know that there’s lots of webinars coming up where they’re sharing, insights into audience behaviors, audience attitudes, audience motivations.

We’re seeing all of these terms coming together. They definitely are changing. There’s a reason why we’re trying to learn more about them. So I. definitely think that’s something where it again, it’s that fail fast mentality of we don’t know until we know and also leaving that room for never knowing something definite as well gives us room for growth.

Gail Jones: Yeah, but that’s why I suppose where every I don’t know if every year having associates is the right one, but at least bringing in the fresh eyes, people who are in that kind of art form who know the trends and know the demands, that means that there’s less pressure on us to keep across all the trends.[00:33:00]

And instead we’re, it’s, I suppose it takes the pressure off us a little bit and instead we can welcome in other people. And as I said, being the small team, we don’t have a curator. We don’t have a programmer. Our team is a CEO. I’m the communications officer. We have a technical manager, a finance manager, a customer services manager.

There’s no central person curating or making those kind of artistic decisions. And instead as a team we have an autistic kind of we have an autistic policy and we have these kind of we know where we want to go to, we have certain strands, and as long as we’re making decisions that kind of align for that.

And knowing that any decision when it comes to working with different associates does align with that kind of organizational pillars, that to me, the kind of the key to it as well.

Lucy Costelloe: That’s amazing. And then my second question for Top Tips and my final question was, so we get the buy in from our team and we’re ready to go.

What is our approach that we take in terms of utilising our relationships? Because I think it’s that kind of idea that you said earlier in the podcast [00:34:00] where sometimes it can be very hard, very daunting, and a little bit scary to actually go and ask someone for help. What are the first steps to reaching out to either current or new relationships that we have within our organisation and stretching our arms out?

Gail Jones: I suppose to the present, if I take the creative learning program as an example, so last year, our first approach was people we know, people that are people who knew our customers, who we knew as people who have been teaching. So they know a bit about us. And our second year strategy to trial it is about people who haven’t taught at the present, don’t necessarily know our customers.

But we are aware of them from the communities. in in Northern Ireland. So for us, that was our biggest, bravest step was actually stepping out. But I suppose the kind of on the flip side of that, they’ve brought in new ideas, they’ve made introductions and be brave and listen. So it was part of our associate programs.

It was about giving us a wee bit of critique as well. Be brave and listen to those [00:35:00] and accept the kind of advice about where we could be, where we may have where probably our programs are a bit stale. Listen to those opinions. So yeah, my advice would be is be brave. Do it like it’s so refreshing and we’re really proud as an organization to have actually done this.

And I suppose as well. One of the first steps to do it is, I think sometimes we all get a little stuck at our desk. I think it’s really important anytime there’s any opportunity to go out into, say, if it’s in Belfast as a festival forums, just go to that. I know it’s taking away from the data and a half.

It doesn’t matter, take that opportunity to go talk to your, the sector colleagues. And I think sometimes that’s where those connections are made. You make those fresh ideas. So I think it’s about stepping away and I’m reflecting and going out and actually talking to our sector colleagues and peers.

It’s, I think that’s really refreshing as well.

Lucy Costelloe: Amazing. So again, [00:36:00] adding to the fail fast mentality, it’s maybe, prepare for maybe a little bit of rejection, a few emails unresponded, but then adapt to that and keep going as well. Yes.

Gail Jones: And also from feedback we’ve had from the associates, particularly for creative learning from the current cohort a lot of them said it’s really good for their professional development.

So not only are we developing our program and getting these kind of ideas and the connections, but they as individually, as individuals to know that for their kind of professional development. They’re part of the Crescent helping to curate a year of a program. It’s a, it’s a brilliant opportunity for them as well, and for them to make connections and to think about that kind of, for example, a dancer.

If you’re so fixed on dancing as a career, you’re then having an opportunity to come in and curate, understand how timetabling works, understanding the kind of the, I suppose it’s the admin where a lot of us are guilty of not having necessarily [00:37:00] right strengths in it. So they then get this experience of understanding how All the dots have to connect the building blocks and programming and timetabling.

So I think it’s interesting for them as professionals as well to have this on their kind of CVs we fully support, and we fully support that as well. So again, it’s about not just about us, but helping other freelancers develop and their kind of career path.

Lucy Costelloe: That’s amazing. Gail, at this point, I’d just like to thank you so much for joining us for this episode of the Arts and Everything in Between podcast.

We’ll make sure to add some of the links that you’ve mentioned as well to the show notes so our listeners can jump on and find out more and looking forward to following the journey of the Associate Model and especially to see some of the, maybe the changes that will, you might take for Belfast Book Festival for 2023.

That’ll be three years. It’ll be great to see some of those learnings as well. And you might join us then for a second episode of the arts and everything in between.

Gail Jones: We’d love to. And thank you for [00:38:00] having me. It was

Lucy Costelloe: great. so much.

George: As we wrap up this insightful episode of The Arts and Everything in Between, first, a big thank you to Gayle Jones from the Crescent Arts Centre for sharing her invaluable perspectives on the fail fast approach within the arts sector. Gayle’s discussion highlighted the importance of embracing failure.

As an integral part of growth and innovation, particularly within the challenging landscape of arts management. The Crescent Arts Center’s pioneering methods, including their associate model and community focused initiatives, exemplify a forward thinking approach to fostering creativity and inclusivity.

Crescent’s strategies really are a testament to the power of collaboration and adaptability in the arts. Thank you for joining us and we look forward to exploring more transformative ideas in the world of arts and culture next time on the Arts and Everything in Between.

Lucy Costelloe: And a big shout out to our listeners as well. I just to say, please feel free to share, [00:39:00] subscribe, like the podcast and you will hear from us very soon again.

Thank you.

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