Why Should Arts Organizations Focus on Social Bridging?

Posted by Karina Mangu Ward On April - 15 - 2013
Karina Mangu Ward

Karina Mangu Ward

I live in New York City, a place with seemingly endless cultural opportunities. The problem is that the majority of these cultural experiences are designed to bring me closer to people I showed up with—an activity sociologists call “social bonding.”

That’s all well and good for me, but it’s not going to make my city more livable, more humane, and more just.

Inspired by Nina Simon’s TED Talk, I would argue that what my community needs, and what communities across this divided country need, is more opportunities to connect with people across difference—what sociologists call “social bridging.”

Moreover, I would argue that arts and culture organizations are uniquely poised to become a platform for social bridging in our communities, and that it’s essential that they do so or risk irrelevancy.

Why is social bridging so important? 

Our country is more politically, economically, and generationally divided than ever. Culture has been parsed into endless niches—with the rise of Facebook and Twitter, we’ve all become Creative Directors of our own brand, with our own set of followers.

In this new era of divisiveness and splintered identity, it’s essential that we create spaces where people can connect with others whose experiences are substantially different from our own. Read the rest of this entry »

The How-and-Whys of Our Top 10 Most Viewed Posts of 2012

Posted by Tim Mikulski On December - 19 - 2012

Tim Mikulski

Everyone loves a top 10 list. Sure, it seems the lists are everywhere this time of year—to the point that you’d think that we’ve over-saturated the market for them, right? Wrong.

The best evidence that I can give you to prove that top 10 lists bring people to your site is that four of our top 10 most viewed posts this year contain the number 10 and, as you will see below, our top 3 new posts published in 2012 contain the number, too.

Thankfully, though, that’s not all we’re about here on ARTSblog.

So, the Top 10 Most Viewed ARTSblog Posts created in 2012 are:

1. The Top 10 Skills Children Learn From the Arts

2. Ten Years Later: A Puzzling Picture of Arts Education in America

3. 10 Reasons to Support the Arts in 2012

4. Former President Clinton Supports Arkansas Arts Education Program

5. Overcommitment: Taking the ‘I Shoulds’ Out of Your Life?

6. What Do We Really Know About People Who Get Arts Degrees?

7. What’s Actually Keeping Your Audience Away?

8. President Obama’s Budget Request for the NEA: The Fine Print  Read the rest of this entry »

Arts Education Campaign Yields Results in Portland

Posted by Eloise Damrosch On November - 19 - 2012

Eloise Damrosch

On November 6, Portland voters passed ballot measure 26-146 to restore arts and music programs in Portland schools and fund arts access citywide.

Needless to say, we are thrilled with the results—the measure passed with 62% approval! Measure 26-126 creates a new income tax of $35 per income-earning resident (above the federal poverty level), which will generate an estimated $12.5 million every year starting in 2013.

Approximately $6.8 million will pay for 68.5 certified arts education teachers in Portland’s school districts (Centennial, David Douglas, Parkrose, Portland Public, Reynolds, and Riverdale) —that’s one arts specialist for every 500 students. Districts receiving these funds will be required to maintain weekly arts instruction in grades K–5.

In addition, the new tax will generate about $5.7 million per year for our local arts agency:

  • $3.8 million will fund arts organizations that provide arts programming and access for every Portland resident through RACC’s general support grants program
  • $1.6 million will fund project grants to schools and arts organizations that provide arts programming for K-12 students and underserved residents
  • $366,000 is being set aside to coordinate arts education programs across Portland’s six school districts. Our partnership with the Kennedy Center’s Any Given Child program will be our foundation for this work.

In the months ahead, we will be having lots of conversations with local arts organizations to help them build plans that leverage these resources. Our ultimate goal is to improve arts access in the City of Portland and build new audiences. Read the rest of this entry »

Attention (Arts) Marketers: You Have More Power Than You Think

Posted by Megan Pagado On November - 19 - 2012

Megan Pagado

One of my favorite sessions at this year’s National Arts Marketing Project Conference in Charlotte, NC was the very first session I attended: Stereotypes, Exoticism and Cultural Competency.

Moderated by Jerry Yoshitomi of MeaningMatters LLC with panelists Rosetta Thurman, Mayumi Tsutakawa, and Michelle Witt, it addressed the use of stereotypes and other “shorthand” in marketing.

In short, stereotypes are the boxes in which our brains sort information to simplify the world around us. Because they’re the easiest, quickest way for storytellers to create a character in our heads, they’re everywhere—from sitcoms to, of course, marketing messages.

I had one overwhelming takeaway from the session: Marketers are creators of public perception and need to take that responsibility seriously.

At the beginning of the session, we were asked to think about a time that a stereotype had bothered us. After sharing that experience with a person nearby, we were invited to share our frustration with the rest of the room.

It fascinated (but didn’t surprise) me how many of us were just downright frustrated by assumptions that have plagued us or our art. From exoticism and heteronormativity to common perceptions of art forms like opera, we were all frustrated about something. (The term “HULK SMASH!” was even used to describe one person’s feelings!)  Read the rest of this entry »

#NAMPC Takeaways

Posted by Shoshana Fanizza On November - 15 - 2012

Shoshana Fanizza

I wanted to start out by giving you the link to my Storify—My #NAMPC experience via Twitter. I ended up winning the Most Tweets Award [at the National Arts Marketing Project Conference (NAMPC)] and I received a fun t-shirt!

I also won by connecting with more people on Twitter and getting to meet some of these people during the conference. It has been a fun and educational experience for me. If you had to miss the conference they promised to archive the keynote presentations soon.

NAMPC had its ups and downs, but mostly ups. However, through the entire conference, this year, like last year, there were some common themes running through most of the presentations.

Instead of a complete play-by-play like I did last year, I would like to leave you with the my most impressionable takeaways and some of my own thoughts (in no particular order):

  • You gotta have passion—if you don’t, people will not be attracted to your mission, cause, project, program…Without passion, what is the point?
  • Be weird and silly—or in other terms, be true to your own particular self. It’s not about being similar—it’s about standing out.
  • Adding your own personality will increase your likeability.
  • Have fun! What makes people want to join? Fun! If it is not enjoyable to you, it probably won’t be to your audiences.
  • Everyone is diverse in one way or another. These are my personal thoughts: We can learn to reach out to others after we discover our own sense of diversity and understand personally what it feels like to be stereotyped and discounted.
  • Keep ego out of the organization.
  • Visual impact is necessary! There is so much blah, blah, blah, and not enough “language” of our arts. If you are a music organization, it would be good to have clips and videos of performances and music. If you are an artist, make viewing your art an experience. If you are theater and dance, videos are a must. How can people figure out if your art is for them if they can’t “see” it and feel it? Read the rest of this entry »

What’s Actually Keeping Your Audience Away?

Posted by Sara R. Leonard On October - 5 - 2012

Sara R. Leonard

It’s that time of year. Promotions are popping up left and right offering audiences the opportunity to “Subscribe Now!” at deeply discounted rates.

Our arts organizations are looking for audiences: new audiences, loyal audiences, committed audiences, and in some cases, any audiences. We believe in our art. We believe in our organizations. Surely all we need to do is tell people about the work we’re doing and they’ll see the value and come running, right?

Sadly…wrong.

As leaders and marketers in arts organizations, we often seem to operate on the assumption that people should and do want to attend the arts, and it is the practical matters of time, money, location, and the oft-lamented competing leisure-time options with which we must wage war in order to bring those people into our venues. But is it true? Well, on the one hand, yes!

Research from the RAND Corporation’s A New Framework for Building Participation in the Arts shows that, for people already inclined toward participation in the arts, practical barriers are indeed an issue. Strategic use of promotional and other tactics that address these barriers to participation is important as we make sure that those who are inclined to attend the arts do, in fact, buy tickets and attend. And, with any luck, your excellently designed efforts might just entice them to attend your organization rather than another.

But is that enough?

The flip side of the research tells us that practical barriers really only come into play once people decide they are interested in participating. Until people reach that point, addressing practical matters won’t have much of an effect on them. If that’s true, how are we supposed to diversify our audiences and bring new people into relationship with the arts, not to mention with our arts organizations? For that, we have to address the other barriers, the perceptual and the psychological. Read the rest of this entry »

Data Mining: Digging for Nuggets to Make Pricing Decisions

Posted by Jenifer Thomas On October - 4 - 2012

Jenifer Thomas

Every time someone questions the value of data mining, I can’t help but hear the Gold Rush-era adage, “There’s gold in them hills!”

The wealth of information gleaned from data analysis can provide great guidance in decision making, especially in relation to pricing. And if you’re a data junkie like me, you might enjoy data mining, too.

Analyzing data gives insight into how the audience values our product. We can then price according to that value.

For example, an organization may assume that its box seats are the best in the house, and price them accordingly. But as the first performances near it’s clear that total sales are increasing, but the boxes aren’t selling. Often this prompts a frantic decision to discount those seats to encourage sales. But hold steady! A more reasoned approach is to ask a few honest questions:

  1. Is the box ticket price too high?
  2. Is our perception of the value of a box seat too high?
  3. Are the range and relationship of the prices out of whack?

Here’s where data comes in—mining into where people are choosing to sit in the house and what they are paying often gives answers.

For example, if we look at the data and see that demand is actually strongest in front-and-center orchestra radiating out, and there is little demand for the boxes, then the audience is spelling it out for us. They value the orchestra seats more and are willing to pay a price they deem reasonable for that value. The box seats are not as valuable to our audience, and the pricing is not reflecting that difference in value. Read the rest of this entry »

Audience Development, Venn Diagram Edition

Posted by Nina Simon On October - 4 - 2012

Nina Simon

A lot of conversations I have about audience development with organizational leaders go something like this:

“We want to find ways to make our institution more participatory and lively.”
“Great!”
“We want to cultivate a more diverse audience, especially younger people, and we want to do it authentically.”
“Fabulous!”
“But our traditional audience doesn’t come for that, and we have to find a way to do this without making them uncomfortable.”
“Hm.”

Audience development is not an exercise in concentric circles. You can’t just start with who you already have in the middle and build infinitely outward. In most cases, growth means shifting, and shifting means that some people leave as others come.

This is incredibly scary. It requires trading a certain history for an uncertain future—a nerve-wracking prospect no matter the situation. It’s particularly scary if your institution relies primarily on private donors, members, and gate sales to cover operating costs. When funding is tied to a specific subset of your audience, you get protective of them, even if they are not the people most likely to ensure viability and sustainability in the future.

When I took on the director role at the Santa Cruz Museum of Art & History, we were in a dangerous situation. We had a small cohort of members and donors who loved and supported us. Outside of that, our bench was very thin—no brand recognition, no up-and-coming audience, no big funders with an eye on the future of the organization.

Now, a year later, we’ve more than doubled our attendance, increased membership by 30%, attracted national foundation funders, and gotten great ink locally. Our audience has gotten younger and they come more frequently. Read the rest of this entry »

5 Suggestions on How to Build a Loyal and Happy Audience

Posted by Shoshana Fanizza On October - 4 - 2012

Shoshana Fanizza

Every time I send out an email or post to my blog, I end with my signature, “Cheers to happy and loyal audiences” and a quote by James Stewart, “Never treat your audience as customers, always as partners.”

I am a firm believer that building a happy and loyal audience is exactly where our focus needs to be, and treating your audience as a partner is one of the many management shifts we can make in order to create a happy and loyal audience.

So, you want an audience that supports you, and you want them to be loyal to keep them coming back for more. What are some actions you can take to make this happen?  Here are my top 5 suggestions to get you started:

1. Begin with knowing yourself.

If you don’t know who you are and what your art is all about, how will you be able to attract the right audience for you and your art?

This step means defining who you are down to the letter so you can brand properly and set up your marketing messages to speak clearly about who you are, what your art is, and provide the exact image that matches you and your art.

This is a crucial step. I have seen many artists and arts organizations that are not well defined, and their brand is mainly a copycat of their industry at large. What makes you unique is a better objective and will attract the best audiences for you.

2.  Get to know your audience.

When I start a session to discover information about a client’s audience, I mainly ask both demographic and psychographic questions. I am finding that most of us know the demographics. However, when I ask what the main hobbies their audience enjoys or what other art forms they go to or if they have any issues with your venue, I usually get the answer “I don’t know.” Read the rest of this entry »

Arts Technology: How Do We Know We Should Add The Next Best Thing?

Posted by Ron Evans On October - 3 - 2012

Ron Evans

2012 has been an awesome year so far.

It seems to be the year that the majority of arts groups have hit the tipping point on understanding online marketing, where they now feel really comfortable experimenting. Or perhaps executive directors are feeling more comfortable giving the ok for experimentation.

Either way, the collective knowledge level has risen substantially, and that is allowing us to have deeper, higher-level conversations as a sector. It’s a wonderful thing!

There is a dark side to this experimentation that I am seeing pop up more and more—organizations will launch a new marketing channel, get busy with other things, and then forget about them. But these new, forgotten channels still pop up on search engines, patrons go to them, and then are disappointed to find no recent updates. That can easily send the wrong message to your patrons.

I’m all for experimentation—it’s ok to try out something new, and you should be—but in the case where a new channel is abandoned, it can really dilute the brand. I recently worked with an arts organization that had twelve—count ‘em TWELVE—Facebook pages. And they only knew about seven of them.

Most of them were set up by well-meaning volunteers, or now ex-employees, and if you did a search on Facebook for this organization, you wouldn’t know which page was the “real” page. We heard reports from audience members who were very confused about which one to connect to.

Starting a new marketing channel is like owning a new puppy. Photo by Indiana Adams.

I like to think that a new marketing channel is like getting a new puppy. That puppy needs attention—it needs to fed, watered, played with, and cleaned up after. It’s a big responsibility, and you should really know you want one before you get one.

To continue this metaphor, you may want to borrow a friend’s puppy first to get to know the lay of the land before deciding if that new puppy is the best for you.

It is easy to be attracted to the “newest, greatest thing” in regards to social media or other online marketing channels. And if you’ve got the time, set up a new account and play around. Read the rest of this entry »

How Does Memory Work? And Why Should Marketers Care?

Posted by Clayton Lord On October - 3 - 2012

Clayton Lord

In October 1850, George Upton ducked into a Boston concert hall to hear a young, beautiful blond woman named Jenny Lind sing. Lind, who had made her career as an opera singer in England, was embarking on a U.S. tour, and the frenzy that surrounded each of her tour dates was extraordinary—the “Jenny Lind fever” riled up thousands and thousands of people at the 96 stops she would make down the Eastern seaboard.

Tickets sold for astronomical sums, and in the case of Boston, were oversold, meaning that the people outside the theatre rioted at the idea they would not get to see her. She was the Lady Gaga of her age and was considered to be the best singer of the 19th century by many—a “nightingale,” an “angel.”  Her appearances caused huge congestion—thousands of people would meet her at the station stops along the way.

Upton, 58 years later (!), would remember Jenny Lind “gliding down the stage with consummate grace” with a clarity that bespoke of the impact she had had on him:

“Her voice, as I remember it, was of full volume and extraordinary range, and had a peculiar penetrating quality also, because of its purity, which made its faintest tone clearly audible…her high notes were clear as a lark’s, and her full voice was rich and sonorous.”

Later, he would go on to say:

“I have borne her in my heart and memory across two generations and she remains for me still the one peerless signer I have heard on the concert stage.”

Unfortunately, Jenny Lind died just as the first audio recording instruments were being invented, so in 1908, when Upton wrote down his memories of Lind and her voice, the only residue that remained was what was in his mind.

Her art had transitioned into being only the memory of that art—the ephemerality of her voice having had no place, in those days, to become less ephemeral.

And yet 60 years later an old man at the end of his life could close his eyes and hear her voice, clear audible, crystallized in his mind even as the notes and the woman that sang them had long dissipated into nothing. What power. Read the rest of this entry »

Rohit Bhargava

For Nate Dern, the unlikely path to acting micro-stardom would come from a simple three-letter catchphrase that most people would barely consider a word.

As the artistic director of the Upright Citizens Brigade Theater in New York and a sociology PhD student at Columbia University, Nate had spent years auditioning for different roles. In late 2011, he landed a gig acting in a national commercial for AT&T Wireless called “Responsibilities.”

In the ad, a manager-type character dishes out unexpected responsibilities to his team because with their new Blackberries, they can “do more faster.” He tells one worker to upload more pictures of her baby to YouTube. He tells another to make sure and check in everywhere he goes on Foursquare. And he tells the character played by Nate Dern to keep updating his fantasy team – to which Nate replies “huh?”

It’s a funny ad and rapidly went viral on YouTube racking up several hundred thousand of views in a matter of hours. The source, however, for the majority of the early traffic was a site that no one would have expected: Reddit.com.

Reddit is an online link sharing forum mostly used by geeks talking about technology. So why was a community for techies driving hundreds of thousands of views of a funny AT&T ad?

It turns out that one of the active members of that Reddit community was Nate Dern—and as the commercial first aired, he posted this simple message on the community:

“Hi Reddit. After three years of auditioning, I booked my first commercial. I say “Huh?” in this AT&T spot. Just wanted to share.” Read the rest of this entry »

What Marketing-Development Collaboration Really Needs

Posted by Jill Robinson On October - 2 - 2012
Jill Robinson

Jill Robinson

If so many arts leaders believe that marketing and development departments working together will generate better patronage results, why are so few organizations actually doing it?

To be sure, there are ample tactical examples of successful cross-departmental collaboration on campaigns. And, a few industry leaders are engaging in organization-wide patron development: Arts Club Theatre Company and 5th Avenue Theatre are two I admire.

But integrated patron management is far from being a mainstream practice. Perhaps it’s because true marketing-development collaboration requires change and new ways of doing things that most organizations find impossibly difficult—especially on top of everything else that’s necessary to keep the art on our stages and in our exhibit halls.

Look beyond the challenges toward a starting point.

Marketing and development need a bridge linking their often siloed departments. A couple of management initiatives and tools can build that bridge.

1. Integrated patron reporting. Most arts managers see their season as a string of single-ticket revenue targets, an exhibition with a visitor goal to hit, or an annual fund effort to bring in donations. It’s easy to miss individual patrons’ passion for your art when you are looking at them through the singular lens of individual campaigns.

Take this sample patron history. At first, you’ll mostly likely see it as it’s usually reported, along departmental campaign lines:

To marketing, this patron is a big-time subscriber:

But does marketing know, as the box office likely sees on their screen, that this patron has also been buying extra tickets? Read the rest of this entry »

Aim Higher

Posted by Adam Thurman On October - 2 - 2012

Adam Thurman

The theme of the 2012 National Arts Marketing Project (NAMP) Conference is, Getting Down to Business. Here are the questions I want you to ponder:

Exactly what “business” are we talking about?

What’s the point of all this? Why do we invest incredible energy, time, and money into marketing the arts? What is the end goal?

That’s not a rhetorical question. I want you to think about it for a second.

When I ask this question to others, I get a very common answer. The goal is ticket sales, or “butts in seats”.

Here’s what I want you to consider. If all you want is sales, you are setting your ambitions way too low.

Speaking as a guy that has sold millions of dollars in of tickets to the live performing arts, please trust me when I tell you that the desire to just sell tickets (or paintings, or whatever) is the lowest form of ambition.

If you want to make something that just sells go make toothpaste, or porn, or some other thing that people actually use on a daily basis.

This thing, this ART thing, has to be about something more than that. If all it boils down to is an economic transaction where I give you X amount of dollars and you give me Y amount of art then we will always lose in the long run because art is a horrible economic transaction.

Aim higher. Read the rest of this entry »

Monetizing Engagement: Taking Friends to the Bank?

Posted by Mary Trudel On October - 2 - 2012

Mary Trudel

Everything we ever knew about the value of authentic engagement is louder, faster, and more challenging.

My partner, Rory MacPherson, and I spend a lot of time interviewing arts organizations about their use of social media to seek out best practices and learn from field exemplars. What I come away with after hundreds of interviews is that effective use of social media is building engagement on steroids!

The best organizations understand that your greatest assets are—to use a Facebook word—your friend relationships with audiences, visitors, fans, and patrons. You can mobilize these groups to help but you CANNOT make those friends in a crisis.

Friends are made on the frontlines through individual experiences that bring fans closer or push them away. We’ve noted 7 important elements of effective engagement which can solidify engagement and make social media mission critical for your fundraising:

  1. Make it Personal + Concrete + Time Sensitive
  2. Connect with Values and Value Connections
  3. Listen and Respond
  4. Answer the Audience’s Question: What’s in It for Me?
  5. Cultivate Productive Partnerships
  6. Measure What Matters
  7. Involve the Whole Organization

Two outstanding examples:

  • Georgia Shakespeare was facing a perfect storm of funding, facing possible closure. The managing director made a personal appeal—not unusual—but what happened next was explosive and exponential. A New York actor who got his start at Georgia Shakespeare sent out a birthday wish—“Don’t buy me a beer for my birthday, donate the price of one to my theatrical ‘birthplace.’” And donations flowed in—$325,000 in 2 weeks from more than 1000 people across the U.S. Read the rest of this entry »