What is “the audience” in the world of culture? Hypotheses.

5 May 2006. Published by Benoît Labourdette.

Definitions of the cultural institution and the cultural milieu (text written in 2006).

Here is my vision, personal and subjective, on which I base my assumptions:

  • ’Cultural institution’ means any organization, association, small or large association, financed by public funds, involved in the cultural field (production, dissemination, promotion, conservation, publication, events ...).
  • And I call “culture medium” the whole sector in which the people who make these productions, events, etc. work. The “milieu of culture” is thus, here, the reverse side of the set of cultural productions and events available to “the public”.

The Audience

What is “the audience”? An entity? No, they are individuals, each of whom individually receives a work, an event, and in fact something personal.

Talking about the “public” in general is a quantitative view, which can, in certain situations, find relevance: when we talk about the gauge of a room, security, the flow of people for emergency exits, etc.

In the context of a cultural policy, does the quantitative notion have the same relevance? Yes, manifestations or productions must reach a minimum number of people. But that’s not all.


The word “target”, a warlike term, seems to me, when used in this context, to invite war and competition in the cultural milieu.

I think that the words we choose, the lexical field we adopt, form our acts, our relationships. We are language. It is in language that cultures shape us. If the French are so different from Chinese, or Africans, it is by language, mainly. If the French are champions of ping pong, it is because of the French language that formed them (cf. [Psycho-grammatical analysis], by Alexander Flamm, Ed. Delachaux Niestle, 1990).

Applications of the target concept in the cultural field

Here are the applications that I perceive: first, it is a matter of typologizing groups of people, targets, ages, interests, and so on. However,

  • There are no such simple groups: a group of fields of interest can not be confused with an age class, or with a social class. One can do this, to say that the children of executives are more “targeted” by the theater for example than the children of workers. But to do that, I think is missing out on its mission for a cultural institution, which is the transmission and therefore the broadening of a cultural influence, not the shrinking of an existing one that reassures.
    In this concept of “target”, which seems so clear and effective, we begin to feel blurred: there are the existing targets, groups that we will try to determine (what we have just been talking about), and LA’s target of the cultural institution, which is in fact a weighting of several previously typologized targets. The same term already designates two different things.

But the target of a cultural institution, what is it?

  • The existing public of the institution?
  • The target audience of the institution?

The notion of target, as I see it, I take these ideas from others, moreover, designates three things at once: groups of existing people, analysis of the existing public of the institution, and the institution’s desire to broaden its audience.

Strength of cultural events

Let’s call “cultural event” any event, museum, library, show ... The strength of a cultural event lies precisely in this capacity of openness that offers each spectator, this space of discovery of an unknown, inner or external, but if it is strong, always bound to an intimate depth. It is the work of the artist to deepen and deepen, in his own way, the immense and rich fields of the human soul, and to share his emotion and his discoveries with what was just before an unknown to the viewer. The pleasure, the very enjoyment of the spectator is in this discovery, on the other and of oneself, at each encounter with an artistic, cultural production.

It is therefore intrinsic to any “cultural event” not to be “targeted”, since it can not be “targeted”, since it can be taken to the new. And how can we guess that this new one will affect more than one group of people? Impossible. And these were all the strength, the social sense and legitimacy of the initiatives of popular theater (Jean Vilar, Antoine Vitez, to quote “fathers”). Which have produced, for all, whatever its “belonging”, of enrichment, of social cohesion at bottom. There can be no financial benefit, the benefit is social, human, personal, that is why these initiatives are indispensable and can only be financed by taxes.

Target concept at the operational level

At the operational level (organization, communication, etc.), we concretely use this concept of target, we use it, we work with it, it is thanks to this that we bring in the public.

But it seems to me that is what one is made to believe. To bring people in, you have to communicate, of course, to let people know, to circulate, before-and-after. To “touch” people, ie to meet their desire, people have to receive the information. Obviously. But do we need to “target” them? (which, in the imagination, is still quite violent) No doubt, but in a more generous imagination perhaps.

We could object: yes, but if there is no target, there will be nobody at the show. No. Not working with the concept of target does not mean that we will not communicate to people. It is necessary to communicate to the people the right way, not the bad way. And I think we will have more audiences than with “targeting” methods, in my opinion not adapted to the world of culture.

But then how to do? The target concept tries to be a some kind of miracle method, which would solve all situations. It is almost suspect. There is no universal method. It is each time different, each time to invent.

In the field of cultural communication, there is a great deal to be invented, which certainly will not gain anything to mimic the behavior of the economy and finance.

What is the target?

The target seems more “operational” in the economic world, where the objective is financial success. There are concrete “marketing” projects, with analyzed targets and predicted growth charts. But in the end, the company can go bankrupt. The biggest economic successes came from the desire of people, entrepreneurs, who almost all had great difficulty in convincing investors, because their project was not sufficiently “tied up” at the beginning.

There are also, of course, economic projects with work on targets, which work. But is it because of their analyzes of targets?

The target seems to me to serve primarily one thing: to reassure the shareholders. One has the impression of seeing it clear, of controlling. And then, if at the end of the day, the economic project goes down, it will never be thought that it was wrong to have sought reassurance, we will invoke the harsh competition and the economic context.

In the cultural milieu, there are no shareholders, or if the absurd reasoning were followed, the shareholders would be the spectators themselves, for it is their taxes that finance. Is what they want is being reassured by numbers? No, they want to be surprised, delighted, destabilized perhaps, questioned, enriched in any case, on the intimate level, by the spectacle they look at.