Recently, I did a big set of interviews for a series of articles that I was writing for Theatre Bay Area magazine on the intersection of mission, community and art.  In the course of these interviews, I often asked questions about the demographics of the particular theatre companies I was speaking to, and in most cases they didn’t have a clear idea of anything more than the most basic stats in terms of butts in seats, percent of house full etc.  What surprised me here is that this wasn’t just with the small companies, which here in the Bay Area make up about 75% of the 300-400 company members we have at any given time.  This was with big companies, very big companies, the biggest companies.  When I asked, the answer that came back was, “well, we use the Big List for those numbers.” Read the rest of this entry »

Tagged with: |

Ron Evans

I miss newspapers.

No, I know we still have some daily, weekly, and other newspapers around the country (and my hat goes off to those still working in this field. I also miss hats). But the decline of arts journalism has been massive over the last few years. There are only a few newspapers left in the country that have dedicated arts reviewers/writers – writers who can be trusted to at least publicly declare that they continue to follow journalistic standards. And that’s sad.

It’s sad, because nothing good has risen up to replace them.

Sure, we have a million review sites out there that allow citizens to review this service or that theatre company, or this production. But who can trust these reviews? I really don’t. But in an absence of any other information, they influence a lot of people.

I see a lot of fake reviews. A LOT. I’ve caught directors writing fake reviews for their shows under assumed names, people writing in fake reviews when they haven’t seen the performance, people using assumed names and then just trashing individual actors by name – it’s pretty horrible actually. Fake reviews are everywhere – check out this story of a guy who was totally blatent about hiring people to write fake reviews. And anonymity makes fake reviews much more likely – when people can’t be held responsible for what they say, they will throw out all manner of bull. Read the rest of this entry »

Tagged with: |

The Writer’s Center has been around since 1976. It has a large following in the greater Washington DC area and, increasingly, nationally (in 2009, Poets & Writers Magazine, a leading trade magazine in our field, named us one of eight “places to go outside academia” to take creative writing workshops). Over the years, TWC has nurtured the careers of many writers, from Pagan Kennedy to 2010 Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award-winner Patricia McArdle. In that time we’ve also developed a loyal following of members: they participant in our workshops & events, they donate, they spread word about us to the public.

This core constituency is vital to The Writer’s Center. But equally vital is engaging new members in what we do. The question is: How do you go about doing that? The best way—or at least the way we’ve done it best—is to create new programs that fall within your mission. In the last two years, for example, we’ve added a wide range of new workshop leaders (and therefore new workshops, from graphic novels to writing crime & mystery novels); developed partnerships with local organizations such as Fall for the Book, the Royal Norwegian and Danish Embassies, and the Maryland Humanities Council, etc. In addition, we’ve created new programs such as the Undiscovered Voices Fellowships (which provide opportunities for writers earning less than 25K annually); Ann Darr Scholarships for female veterans and active duty military; and Emerging Writer Fellowships (which honor and support emerging writers with up to 3 published books in their respective genre). To showcase our Emerging Writer Fellowships, we’ve developed perhaps the very best vehicle for reaching new audiences: Story/Stereo: A Night of Literature and Music. At this event we pair our Emerging Writer Fellows with prominent DC musicians (thanks to two musician/curators, Chad Clark and Matt Byars). Read the rest of this entry »

Tagged with: |

Cultivating Citizen Critics

Posted by David Dombrosky On October - 7 - 20103 COMMENTS

David Dombrosky

For years, I have heard the lament for the rise of “citizen critics” –individuals who use blogs, social networks and other social media tools to share their reviews of performances, exhibitions, films, etc.  I have listened to a number of artists, directors, curators, and other arts managers bemoan the replacement of “true” cultural critics in traditional media with these self-published citizen critics.  The complaints typically revolve around a perceived lack of credentials and lack of understanding for the discipline.

While I, too, bemoan the loss of criticism in much of today’s traditional media, I must point out that citizen critics are not new.  In fact, they have been around for as long as there has been art about which to have an opinion.  To be blunt, we are all citizen critics.  Have you ever told someone your opinion about a work of art, a concert, a performance, etc.?  Of course, you have.  We all have.   And more of us are sharing our opinions with each other (and the world) thanks to rise of the social Web. 

In August, a brouhaha erupted online between two bloggers and an actor from Canada’s Teatro la Quindicina in Edmonton, Alberta after one of the bloggers wrote a critical review of a play in which the actor appeared.   Aside from serving as a case study in how NOT to deal with citizen critics, this online fracas brought to the surface a disdain held by many artists and administrators.

The reality is that citizen critics are not going away.  So rather than lash out at them or quietly complain about them, why don’t we identify ways in which our organizations can cultivate them? Read the rest of this entry »

Tagged with: |

Mary Trudel

I’ll be moderating a NAMP session on Saturday, November 13, 4:00 pm – 5:30 pm featuring up to the minute presentations by colleagues Rory MacPherson, Ron Evans and Ayokunle Omojola on how arts organizations can harness their creativity to develop apps and use existing mobile platforms to build connections with audiences. We’ll also engage with representatives from Bay Area organizations: the Center for Asian American Media about creating custom applications for the iPhone and  Yerba Buena Center for the Arts which has forged a community of supporters using mobile-accessible Twitter and Facebook feeds.

One concern I’ve heard is that technological ways of connecting with arts organizations might limit or compete with live participation.  But to quote Clay Shirky’s new book Cognitive Surplus:  “The old idea that media is a domain relatively separate from ‘the real world’ no longer applies…to any of the myriad ways people are using social media to arrange real-world action.”  And the latest NEA research report, Audience 2.0, contains surprising, reassuring news: More is Better!  People who engage with art through media technologies attend live performances or arts exhibits at TWO to THREE times the rate of non-media arts participants. Read the rest of this entry »

Tagged with: |

Brian Reich

Information moves faster. People are more closely connected. The expectations we all have for what we want to see and hear have changed. The kinds of relationships and the levels of support we want from organizations have been redefined. Our connection to the issues and events that define our world has been transformed.

The ubiquity of technology and the reach of the Internet make it possible to spread a message farther and have it be embraced by more people than ever before. The rise of social platforms leaves no doubt that we are one global, interconnected community and capable of taking action on issues we pas­sionately share. The available tools make it possible for everyone to have a platform from which to speak, and anyone to spark a bottom-up, grassroots-fueled revolution that has power no individual or entity could generate. However, the tools alone will not ensure that an arts organization, or any organization, is successful in communicating with, and engaging, audiences. Read the rest of this entry »

Tagged with: |

Susannah Greenwood

The impact of our less-than-stellar economy has reared its ugly head this past year in several ways. Most disheartening perhaps are the many examples of arts organizations becoming more and more isolated (and shooting themselves in the foot as a result) as the fear of losing their audiences to other “competing” arts groups takes precedence over “how can we pool our resources for the benefit of all?” Although a tough concept to drive home on any given day, collaboration is at the heart of the “Partnership” part of the Artsopolis Marketing Partnership, and now more than ever we felt we needed to make it our priority to seek out ways to help engage different groups of artists and provide more creative collaborative marketing opportunities in a “safe” environment.

Interestingly enough, in the process of deciding to refocus on collaboration, we discovered this isolation was something Artsopolis was in the midst of dealing with internally as we were in the midst of trying to brand the local website for the first time in a long while. But, once we recommitted to actively encourage others to collaborate, we made a significant shift that allowed us to essentially practice what we preached. What started out as a brainstorm to get some viral video “commercials” made about why is so awesome, quickly transformed into an experiment less about us and more about our arts community. Read the rest of this entry »

Tagged with: |

I think I have always been attracted to arts marketing because it allows me to use both creative as well as scientific talents. To this day, I might be the only person to graduate from Missouri State University with a major in speech and theatre education and a minor in mathematics. So it should come as no surprise that I take a very scientific approach to marketing.

In every campaign I lead, I constantly manipulate variables and note outcomes in an attempt to continually improve upon previous results. The easiest variables that marketers turn to are design and pricing. How many times have you tested a carrier package? an offer? pricing strategy? Probably quite a few times. Now think about how many times you have tested different timing schemes for putting products on sale.

This was the first year in my tenure at Arena Stage where we experimented with using timing as a variable. For almost as long as we have had mini-subscriptions, we have put them on sale at the exact same time as our full season subscriptions, fearing that instead of waiting or upgrading, our potential mini-subscribers would opt to go elsewhere for their entertainment. The fear of losing potential mini-subscribers was so strong that for many years timing wasn’t even considered a possible variable to test. Read the rest of this entry »

Tagged with: |


Posted by Mary Trudel On October - 6 - 20101 COMMENT

Mary trudel

Now that’s an interesting question for arts audiences…why are you here?  Research by the Urban Institute and others documents that “someone I know told me about it and asked me to join them.”  Audiences are people first, arts consumers second, and People who need People are the Luckiest People in the World! (As Barbra Streisand sang awhile ago.)

But our upcoming NAMP conference is focused on “New Tech. Tools. Times.” – so where are the people in our picture?  Of course, they’re everywhere and anywhere, any time and all the time.  Let me relate an anecdote from colleague Clay Shirky’s new book: Cognitive Surplus that illustrates the connective power of groups.

When South Korea unexpectedly lifted the ban on American beef a couple of years ago and news surfaced that US beef world return to the Korean market, Korean citizens staged public protests, turning out in Seoul’s “central park” in unheard of numbers.  The protesters were unusual – over half the participants were teenagers, most notably teenage girls.  Their presence helped make the vigils Korea’s first family-friendly protest, with whole families turning out in the park.  What would cause girls too young to vote to turn out in the park, day after day and night after night, for weeks? Read the rest of this entry »

Tagged with: |

Proving What We Know Is True

Posted by Clayton Lord On October - 6 - 20101 COMMENT

Clayton Lord

As artists and arts advocates, we all know, deep down, that Art Matters.  But we continue to grapple with how best to talk about that value, to “justify” (a loaded word) or “prove” that the continued investment in infrastructure, arts education outreach and daily artistic input into the population-at-large is necessary to the creation of a tolerant, educated, empathic and energized society.  The great work of Randy Cohen and Americans for the Arts on the economic front, including the creation of the Arts and Economic Prosperity Calculator, have gone a long way towards standardizing the arguments around economic impact of arts and culture, and has essentially gotten us all on the same page.  But, and this language is getting to be a cliche, economic impact is only part of the answer – half of the answer at most, really – and getting to the point where we can talk about the intellectual, emotional, social, empathic impacts of the arts in the same specific, data-driven way as we can talk about the economics may open up a brave new world of advocacy for money, time and respect from the government, the funding establishment, the education system and our patrons. Read the rest of this entry »

Tagged with: |

Deborah Obalil

So often marketing is boiled down to ways of communicating – or honestly, talking AT people. The newest tools of social media, while providing means to continue the constant barrage of messages sent out, hold their true promise on the other side of the communcations coin – LISTENING. Let’s face it, when is the last time you as an overworked, underpaid arts marketer took the time to listen to your audiences. I’m not just talking about customer service gripes, though those are very important to pay attention to. I mean, when is the last time you even attempted to strike up a conversation with your audience where they did more talking than the organization’s representatives? Before the advent of Twitter and Facebook, starting such a conversation was incredibly difficult for most organizations other than the super small ones where it happened naturally because everyone in the audience knew everyone in the organization. But today there is absolutely no excuse for not listening.

So what are some practical ways to listen? A number of arts organizations are giving it a try. Read the rest of this entry »

Tagged with: |

Brian Reich

1) Shiny Object Syndrome. Organizations too often look to technology as the solution to their problems. They suffer from “Shiny Object Syndrome.” Organizations invest in a piece of technology or sign on to a particular platform after reading another organization’s case study, or because the developers/salespeople swear it will deliver a certain result. But the truth is, it is not about the technology — no widget or tool or database or network on its own will make your audience do anything. Technology can help host a vibrant conversation, facilitate an event, make the delivery of information more efficient (and in some cases compelling), or store all your data. But it won’t raise you money, help people listen, or get people off their couch to attend your performance. Arts organizations need to understand what is changing about how people get and share information and/or how marketing and communications must be adapted through those tools to reflect our more connected society if we are going to drive significant change. The understanding of how people use technology to create, consume, and share information and what their expectations are when it comes to interacting with an organization, or other individuals, is what is most important. Read the rest of this entry »

Tagged with: |

Product is the first P

Posted by Deborah Obalil On October - 5 - 20101 COMMENT

Deborah Obalil

As a consultant and trainer on the topic of arts marketing, so often when I’m contacted by potential clients there is an assumption that all I’m concerned with is promotional planning. And even when reading about the topic of arts marketing or having discussions with otherwise enlightened arts leaders, we seem to often forget a basic tenet of marketing – Product is the first of the Marketing Ps. (For more information on the Marketing Ps visit

Having worked in the arts management field for over 15 years, I know all too well why this happens. Product is the realm of the artists, marketing is the realm of the managers – or so the conventional thinking goes. The problem with this thinking is that it limits the organization’s ability to truly think strategically. The product is the core of the customer experience, which also means it is not limited to what they see on the stage or on the walls of the gallery. Read the rest of this entry »

TWC Likes Facebook

Posted by K.E. Semmel On October - 5 - 20102 COMMENTS

In a time of decreasing marketing budgets, social media platforms (especially Facebook) have become vitally important marketing resources for organizations like The Writer’s Center. When I began actively pursuing an audience for TWC on Facebook two years ago, I confess to having doubts about just what Facebook could do for us. Traditional advertising vehicles—such as TV, radio, and print media—seemed to be, or so I had been told when I was hired, the best means of reaching “our” core audience.  Facebook was, so it was believed, not something “they” would be interested in. Of course, I had no real data supporting or rejecting that belief (until the launch of our new Web site on July 1st of this year, TWC had no real way to track data). During my first year at The Writer’s Center I devoted a large portion of my ad budget to reaching that audience I was told was out there—just waiting to be converted: all we needed to do was put our ad in front of their eyes at just the right moment. Read the rest of this entry »

Tagged with: |

Amelia Northrup

As a writer for the Technology in the Arts blog, I am constantly thinking about which topics will appeal to which artistic disciplines, which specialty, which skill level… and on and on. But the more I have to think about the segmentation of the arts management audience, the more I realize how broad many of the issues we discuss are.

A few months ago, I interviewed Alan Cooke of the e-fundraising company Convio, and we talked at length about the problem of organizational silos. In arts organizations, as in any company, conflicts often arise between different departments and may develop into an “us against them” mentality. As arts organizations become more prevalent in the social media space, it becomes easier to see which organizations have truly good internal communication between marketing, communications, box office and development departments.

We also tend to think that orchestra problems are unique to orchestras, theatre problems unique to theatres, and so on. For example, a few months ago I was at an opera conference listening to a presenter from another artistic discipline, when a colleague leaned over and whispered, “Ok, but what does this have to do with opera?” Unsure how to respond, I sort of nodded in agreement, but later, I couldn’t stop thinking about it. True, it didn’t have much to do with opera, but, I would argue, the point of the conference was to learn new things, not to be told about things we already know. Read the rest of this entry »