Channelling the voice of your audience to help refine your purpose: the Earagail Arts Festival
The Earagail Arts Festival is a renowned arts and culture festival typically held every summer in Donegal. It brings inspiring performers to this captivating European frontier, showcases artists native to the area and provides opportunities for cultural exchange. It take place in venues from purpose built theatres and galleries, to village halls, forests and beaches, creating a unique cultural experience in the most unlikely of magical places.
With Covid running rampant and government restrictions in place preventing most live festivals from moving forward, Earagail Arts Festival had to pivot quickly from holding a live, in-person festival to an online festival. This year, instead of conducting an evaluation survey, Earagail Arts Festival wanted to change things up a bit and focus on the core of what they do – their purpose and impact on audiences.
What we did to help them
We helped Earagail Arts Festival conduct a survey focusing on what motivated people to attend their festival and look at what held the wider public back from attending the festival.
While it’s easy enough to survey current audiences through email and social media, it’s a bit trickier to do the same thing across the general public. In a more ‘normal’ year, we could have done in-person surveys at public places all across County Donegal. Instead, we decided to help them do the next best thing – harnessing the wide reach of the general public on Facebook.
We helped them issue the same survey but to different groups of audiences. We created three main survey links: one for their email newsletter subscribers, another link for their Facebook followers and a third survey link for the general public on Facebook.
For this last survey link, we asked Earagail to create a sponsored Facebook post, targeting residents of the North West of Ireland. By doing this, we were able to get responses from the general public, including those who have and haven’t attended Earagail Arts Festival in the past. That way, we could compare and contrast the different types of audiences, look at their motivations and barriers to attending and see how Earagail Arts Festival can better strengthen their relationship with these groups of audiences.
In total, more than 700 people responded to the survey, which was fielded in July 2020. Earagail Arts Festival included multiple giveaway prizes for the survey incentive, which had a positive impact on reaching a high number of responses.
What were the results?
Below is a graph of audience motivations for attending Earagail Arts Festival in the past. The top motivators were attending EAF to see a specific artist, go for entertainment/enjoyment, or experience something new.
While the data is interesting, it’s not exactly exciting or mind-blowing. Well, that’s what happens when you ask a general question and just look at the data in total. You happen to get data that tells you something, but only gives you one piece of the puzzle.
When we looked at the same data cut by the three audience groups, we found a much more interesting story:
- Earagail Arts Festival email audiences were more likely to attend the festival to relax, be entertained, or go as part of a tradition.
- Earagail’s Facebook followers were more likely to attend the festival because it gave them a chance to spend time with family and friends, and it helps them feel like part of a community. It was also part of who they are, and they were more likely to have a professional interest in it. Those who attended the EAF Digital Festival were more likely to be the festival’s Facebook followers.
- Compared to the festival’s main audiences, the responses from the general public had lower numbers in the motivations question. This isn’t a bad thing – this just means that this audience may not be as bought-in to the festival just yet. After all, they came to the survey through the sponsored Facebook post and were probably not an email subscriber or Facebook follower (yet!).
How we added colour to the data: diving into behaviours and demographics
But why did one audience group focus more on tradition and entertainment/relaxation and not the others? We needed another piece of the puzzle, so we looked at the behaviours and demographics of the three groups of audiences.
The data started to make more sense – email audiences were most likely to be recent attenders of the festival, were older (age 55+) and either local to County Donegal or from far away (either internationally, or from NI but outside of County Derry-Londonderry). Previous research also suggests that these email audiences are very loyal, having attended the festival more in previous years, and of those who aren’t local, they tend to stay overnight in the area. This all makes sense, and suggests that EAF’s email audiences either go to make a holiday of it or go as part of a tradition.
When we looked at the festival’s Facebook followers, the data also started to click more into place. Facebook followers were younger and more local to the Republic of Ireland than email audiences. Facebook followers were also more likely to mention being a performer or knowing someone who was performing in the festival. It makes sense then that they were more likely to attend the festival because they had a professional interest in it and the festival is part of who they are. Age may also come into play here – this group attends the festival more for social reasons, to spend time with their family/friends and to feel like part of a community.
The general public was also interesting in that they had different demographics than the other two groups of respondents, but we’ll come back to this later on.
Illustrating impact: letting the audience speak in their own words
We also asked audiences to tell us why they attended Earagail Arts Festival in the past. Their rich responses not only showcase the motivations they had for attending the festival but also illustrate the impact the festival has had on their lives.
Through a single open-ended question, we were able to pull themes from people’s responses. In short, Earagail Arts Festival had a positive impact on:
- Improving residents’ and visitors’ quality of life - bringing joy and quality entertainment to venues across the county and being the highlight of their summer.
- Attracting people to Donegal - including former residents who miss home, and visitors from other parts of Ireland and all over the globe
- Encouraging people to stay in the area over several days during the festival and enabling people to take in the local attractions
- Being part of people’s summer tradition and helping audiences make new memories with their friends and family
- Increasing children’s exposure to arts and culture
- Introducing people to different venues across the region
- Broadening people’s exposure to new types of music, art, and culture
- Encouraging new audiences to attend via this year’s digital festival
These themes of audience responses crossed all three groups of audiences and it was lovely to see how emotionally connected they were to the festival and to the Donegal area.
But what about the barriers?
To better understand barriers to attendance, we looked at the responses from the general public via the sponsored Facebook post.
What was the biggest barrier? A simple lack of awareness of the festival. While one-third of these audience did attend EAF in the past, of those who didn’t attend EAF, 40% weren’t aware of the festival.
Other barriers included lack of transport, not having anyone to go with and health and access concerns. With such specific barriers, we dug deeper and looked at the demographics of the general public taking the survey.
Compared to the other two audience groups, the general public had a higher percent of people with a disability and a much higher percent of people with children in the household. While this doesn’t tell their whole story, it does suggest that there may be certain factors at play that hinder attendance, beyond lack of awareness of the festival.
Through just a short, 15 question survey, we were able to uncover a wealth of insights into Earagail Arts Festival’s audiences as well as local residents of the North West.
For anyone else looking at surveying their audiences, we have a few key takeaways from this research:
- Don’t just look at your data in total – look at how different types of people responded to your survey to see what makes them tick.
- Look beyond audience demographics – there’s more to people than just age, gender, and location! Know what motivates your audiences will shed light on how you can strengthen your relationship with them.
- Need help defining your purpose? Ask your audiences why they attend in an open-ended question. If you have a strong relationship with your audiences, they’ll give you a wealth of information on what motivates them to attend and what impact it’s had on their lives.
- Don’t forget about barriers. What holds audiences back from attending? In this time of uncertainty, it’s crucial to know how you can break down barriers to attendance, whether it’s in-person or online.