Theatre stalls and boxes

+ How do arts venues change to keep attracting audiences?

Chairing a recent debate at the Barbican in London, I asked how arts venues should be designed for an uncertain future.

It seems to me that someone visiting us from the late 19th century would feel at home in today’s arts buildings. But these venues will have to change if they are to remain affordable and sustainable, and to keep attracting audiences.

One question is whether society can afford landmark arts venues – or, conversely, whether we can afford not to have them. If we focus on making venues affordable by designing cheaper buildings or by programming only events that are guaranteed to sell out, will our culture lose its cutting edge? Will philanthropists still support art in these kinds of venues?

It seems to me that we may need to radically rethink where people go to watch, interact with, and take part in the arts. Would temporary venues entice younger audiences put off by formal settings? We now have post offices and police stations in supermarkets – so why not arts venues too?

We might not see this happen just yet but there are other ways to make the most of venues. Cross-arts programming offers the opportunity to make them more sustainable, by reducing staffing costs and generating other income. For example, Kings Place in London combines visual and performing arts with commercial office space. And the Corby Cube combines performing arts and library facilities.

Crucially, arts venues will also have to respond to changing audiences. I attended my first classical music concert over 40 years ago. Then, I was the youngest person there. Today, I’m still younger than 90% of the audience! Younger people want venues that enable them to interact and participate. So why is the Sage Gateshead the only major UK performance venue that contains a music school?

These are just some of the questions we need to address. What do you think the venue of the future will look like?