Competition is hard. In the business world market share, loss leaders, and incentives are used to drive product loyalty. This does not work in the creative economy.
You can’t coupon a radio listener into supporting your local songwriter’s organization, or celebrate that the ballet has gained market share over the orchestra.
The arts are one of the few business models where we don’t celebrate growth by one organization over another. Never have we heard the Opera Generation is involved in an art war with New Ballet.
There are a host of incentives and promotions arts groups utilize to entice people to try the ballet or opera. Every arts group has tried a “pay what you can night” or “free tickets promotions” hoping to expand their audience.
Still I don’t care that a prune is a dried plum because to many people it is still a prune. Just as opera is opera or modern art is confusing. Most products realize once the discounted price, coupon, or gimmick that lured the consumers to buy their brand of soap is gone, and so is the customer.
How will art groups build a new audience? By merging more than marketing efforts, but by merging their programs.
Examples are some of the standard festivals that are household names like South by Southwest, Memphis in May, and Folkmoot. Now you may say these are festivals, which they are indeed, but they are also partnerships between arts groups. What these groups learned is that by sharing resources and packaging their programs together in one unit that they can draw an audience that would explore all elements of genre. By tapping into the comfort level of a group they could cross populate programs with avid supporters.
South by Southwest started out as a music festival but grew because they linked the film and digital arts to the music. The festival is so wildly successful because music fans are discovering that they are fans of film.
Memphis in May and Folkmoot tapped into cultural presentations. The addition of visual art at a festival celebrating folk music and dance expanded the experience, drew in a new audience and allowed local visual artist to work with the performing arts groups. This has truly been the model at Memphis in May where a touch of international cultural is used to touch on everything from fashion shows, culinary events, music, and the performing arts.
Image the difficulty in trying to market ten separate cultural events. By working together these groups found support, expanded marketing, and built a broader base of support.
I am not proposing that every arts organization start a festival. Look to the opportunities to partner under a banner. It might be something a simple as an art crawl which encourages new visitors to come out and explore the local museum and galleries. It is finding that there is value in sharing a message that will allow groups instead of competing for an audience to build one.