community engagement
Jun28

David Seals
How does the country’s largest theatre company, who sells 450,000 tickets a year, get to know each individual patron so well that they write thank you notes of joy? How does a large organization speak so relevantly that its patrons describe themselves as “flabbergasted” and “blown away?” The answer is nerdier than you’d expect: data segmentation.

Posted June 28, 2017







Nov16

Ronia Holmes

Because it isn’t central to your mission. Period.

I hear you harrumphing as mission/vision/values/beliefs and goals statements are dragged out. Sure, your organization has been around for a century or more and these statements about your commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion are barely older than the Gen-Z unpaid intern managing the Facebook account, but still, these statements are proof that your organization is committed to community.

No, they’re not. So put them down, and let’s #RealTalk about communities, new audiences, the past, and the future.


Posted November 16, 2016







Nov02

The need to deepen relationships with current stakeholders and build relationships with new audiences is a compelling question for us at Forklift Danceworks. When we are asked this question, we often answer with a question: Who loves Elvis?

In 2007, Forklift’s Artistic Director Allison Orr choreographed The King & I—not the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical, but an evening-length, contemporary dance performance work to address her curiosity, “Just what does Elvis Presley have to do with you and me, anyway?” In making the work, Allison knew she needed to find a way to get input and inspiration from the Elvis community. She sought out to find, “Who loves Elvis?”

Meeting the dedicated Elvis tribute artists and hearing stories from fans, Allison decided to loosely structure the performance of The King & I on Elvis’ last concert. Thinking even more about the fans who love Elvis (who also love to get together to talk about their love for Elvis!), she decided to perform the dance over three weekends around the 30th anniversary of Elvis’ death. Through collecting stories about Elvis’ life and work, performances of his songs and of course, choreography that included his iconic moves, this show with three professional dancers and five Elvis Tribute Artists was really a collaboration with many others, with inspiration and input from the Elvis-loving community.

In the years since The King & I, we have choreographed dances for trash collectors and their vehicles, electric utility workers and their equipment, forestry technicians and a heritage pecan tree, and baseball players and a historic field. The key to the success of each project has been asking, “Who loves Elvis--or recycling, or electricity, or trees, or baseball?” and finding the community that already has a stake in the dance we are making and inviting them to join us in the creative process.


Posted November 2, 2016







Oct26

Barry Hughson

A few months ago, I attended the dress rehearsal for “Dreamers Ever Leave You”.  It was a transformational artistic and human experience. 

At the National Ballet of Canada, we have two choreographic associates, Guillaume Cote and Robert Binet.  Unlike a resident choreographer post, which is often filled with high profile, well established choreographers, our choreographic associates are young, emerging choreographers.  Artistic Director Karen Kain created these positions in an effort to nurture a new generation of dance makers, and specifically Canadian dance makers.  These talented young artists bring their ideas to Karen, and she provides the platform, dancers, and collaborators required for them to explore and shape their ideas and hone their craft.

Robert Binet approached Karen a year ago about a new idea.  Inspired by the work of Canadian artist Lawren Harris, Robert had created a solo that he now wanted to expand on.  The Art Gallery of Ontario, one of Canada’s most prestigious and respected arts institutions, was to present a major exhibition of Harris’s work.  Curated by the American actor and musician Steve Martin, the exhibition seemed an interesting opportunity to explore a collaboration between the National Ballet and the AGO, and a perfect platform to develop Robert’s idea.  We convened meetings with AGO officials, who enthusiastically embraced the idea.  Budgets were developed, Robert’s ideas further shaped with input from key collaborators from both institutions, and the spark of an idea became the transformational experience.


Posted October 26, 2016







Oct19

I serve as a theater director, producer, writer, and, in the past, actor. My artistic collaborators and I vigorously pursue artistic excellence every day. Often, community engagement and artistic excellence are framed in opposition to one another. For me, it is the very pursuit of artistic excellence that drives my self-interest to develop and deepen relationships with current stakeholders and new communities.


A play or musical, regardless of when or where it is set, also lives in relationship with the time and place it is being produced and thus community engagement is essential to artistic excellence.


Consensus Organizing for Theater (CO)

I practice an artistic methodology called Consensus Organizing for Theater (CO)*, through which an arts organization deliberately builds stake in multiple pockets of communities and those communities deliberately build stake back in the art or organization by surfacing and organizing around mutual self-interest.


Posted October 19, 2016







May18

Laura Zabel

There is a lot of work right now on building demand, value and interest in the contributions of art and artists to places, social change, economies and communities. This is the long overdue work to knit our creativity back into our daily lives and the way we address and confront the issues and inequities that face us. I am a true believer in this work and its many forms and structures. I also believe that it is not enough to work on the demand for this work – we also need to work on the supply of this work. Essentially, art comes from artists and if we are building the demand for artist-led, community-engaged work, then how are we supporting artists to build the skills and capacity they need to fulfill this demand?


Posted May 18, 2016







May11

This post is part of the Customer, Client, Collaborator Series in conjunction with Doug Borwick and ArtsEngaged on developing relationships with both new communities and existing stakeholders through artistic programming, marketing and fundraising, community engagement and public policy. (Cross-post can be found at Engaging Matters.) 

As a chief marketing officer, consultant and now managing director, I’ve participated in my fair share of marketing committee meetings. One of the most hotly debated topics is whether to focus resources on developing new audiences or on increasing loyalty to bolster return on investment and per capita revenue. Two camps usually square off – the artistic team and trustees vs. the professional marketing staff.

Can you guess which sides of the argument they typically represent?

Nothing is sexier to most artistic directors and trustees than developing new audiences. On the other hand, marketing directors with limited resources are constantly trying to find ways to do more with less, which means developing ways to increase returns, and naturally, some shy away from audience development because it requires significant upfront capital, both monetary and personnel, with limited short-term gains.


Posted May 11, 2016







May04

This post is part of the Customer, Client, Collaborator Series in conjunction with Doug Borwick and ArtsEngaged on developing relationships with both new communities and existing stakeholders through artistic programming, marketing and fundraising, community engagement and public policy. (Cross-post can be found at Engaging Matters.) 

Chris McLeod

As a strategic arts marketing consultant I spend a lot of time speaking with (and oftentimes consoling) arts organizations of all sizes across the country about one thing – building audiences while retaining current ones. Nearly all share the same challenges of trying to reach cross-sections of people who are categorized by everything from neighborhoods, race, culture, and income, to age (those pesky Millennials have proven to be a tricky bunch). What I tell all of them is that in order to reach one group of “whomevers” while retaining another group of “whomevers” you need to start with one thing: Learn what matters to people when they are not sitting in your performance hall.

This is how and where the need to deepen relationships with current stakeholders while building new relationships with new audiences affects what needs to change about the future of how arts organizations do their work. Organizations will need to go from the mindset of “We just need to get them [audiences] here and the work/performance will do the rest” to building relationships based on a deep ongoing understanding of what matters to audiences’ everyday lives, outside of who they are as arts patrons.


Posted May 4, 2016







Apr27

Karen Gahl-Mills

I had an interesting conversation with a smart colleague today, on the topic of the role of cultural organizations in civic affairs.  We were talking about the current, polarized state of public discourse and what role, if any, arts organizations should play by bringing residents together to celebrate differences and share views.  He asked something simple yet profound – “Yeah, but what if I just want to run my ballet company and dance?  Can’t I just do that?”

His question stuck with me, as it gets to the crux of our agency’s approach to grantmaking and why we think we, as public funders, have the responsibility to address topics of public value and community engagement. 


Posted April 27, 2016







Apr20

Amelia Northrup-Simpson

Do you treat arts patrons like customers, clients, or collaborators?

In the first post in this series, Doug Borwick laid out this important question. Let’s re-cap the definitions of each:

  • The exchange with a customer is largely arms-length. We provide something, they buy it. End of story.
  • With a client there is a relationship, but they still come to us for the "product" we create and are selling. We may tailor it to their particular interests but we are in charge of the "supply." 
  • A collaborator is a partner, suggesting mutual benefit and of participation.

If our job as arts managers is to bring artists and audiences together, these definitions become very important. The spectrum from customer to collaborator indicates how deeply we allow the connection to artists to go.


Posted April 20, 2016







Apr13

This post is part of a series in conjunction with Doug Borwick and ArtsEngaged on developing relationships with both new communities and existing stakeholders through artistic programming, marketing and fundraising, community engagement and public policy. (Cross-post can be found at Engaging Matters.) 

Photo: Some rights reserved by Didriks

In January, Doug McLennan published a post Is Earning Making Money The New Audience-Building Strategy? In a comparison of for-profit and not-for-profit enterprise, he began to intrigue me when, addressing the former, he said "More than ever consumers are about relationships – the kinds of relationships that non-profits have worked on for years." He then went on to consider whether crowd-funding, which began as simply a way to raise money might be morphing into a relationship-building mechanism. He really started to intrigue me when he titled that section "Crowdfunding: Raising Money Or Building Audience?" However, he riveted me when he said, "But how many arts organizations make their communities feel like investors?"


Posted April 13, 2016







Dec02

Photo: Some rights reserved by Troy B Thompson

Two months ago, Jill Robinson and Amelia Nothrup-Simpson of TRG Arts and I (OK: the commercial–of ArtsEngaged) began exploring the fact that almost every important facet of arts administration is (or should be) rooted in developing and maintaining relationships with external constituencies, what I would call “communities.” This post brings that series to a close. However, see the note at the end about what the future holds.

In the meantime, the following is an excerpt from my second book, Engage Now! A Guide to Making the Arts Indispensable that can serve as a benediction for the series.


Posted December 2, 2015







Nov18

Photo: opensource.com (CC BY-SA 2.0)

I recently delivered a keynote at the Conferencia Anual de Marketing de las Artes (Annual Conference on Marketing the Arts) in Madrid and Barcelona, hosted by Spanish consulting firm Asimetrica. The focus of this year’s convening was “Cambio de Mentalidad,” about changing mentalities about marketing, and audiences, in the arts. Speakers were from many countries, and had many different perspectives. But one that arose consistently was a fixation that arts managers from all over the world shared.

They were obsessed with new audiences.


Posted November 18, 2015







Nov11

This post by Doug Borwick is part of a series of collaborations and is cross-posted to his blog Engaging Matters on Arts Journal.

Photo: Some rights reserved by J B Foster

Can’t wait to see where I’m going with this, can you?

As I understand it, fracking is a technique to get at hydrocarbon reserves that have been untapped by traditional extraction methods. My concern in this post is not with any environmental hazards of fracking but with the potential to get more out of something by using new methods. The old approaches left a lot of oil (etc.) in the ground, apparently.

Over the last few years I’ve come to understand that traditional, self-focused arts marketing efforts are only successful in reaching those who know they want to be reached. (“Getting the word out” is only effective in reaching those waiting to hear it.) My principal woodshed tutor has been Trevor O’Donnell (Marketing the Arts to Death), but he is not alone. What I have learned is that more consumer-centered marketing can reach people who are not waiting for the word. There are more out there who might buy tickets if it were demonstrated to them that doing so might be uplifting, enjoyable, even–dare we say it?–entertaining.


Posted November 11, 2015







Nov04

This post is part of a series of collaborations with Doug Borwick and is cross-posted to his Engaging Matters blog on Arts Journal.

Photo: Dean Hochman (CC BY 2.0)

A year or two ago a mentor introduced me to the concept of “polarity management.” It sounds like just another business buzzword, but—stick with me—it gave a name to something that I and many of us have experienced and struggled with.

The concept is this: every challenge you encounter, in business and in life, is either:

- a problem you need to solve, or

- an ongoing “polarity” you need to manage well

A polarity is made up of two interdependent factors that are at odds with each other. While a problem has a correct solution or a set of independent solutions, a polarity is an ongoing challenge where you will need to continuously address and manage both solutions.


Posted November 4, 2015







Oct28

This post by Doug Borwick is part of a series of collaborations and is cross-posted to his blog Engaging Matters on Arts Journal.

Photo: Some rights reserved by nikoretro

Nearly four years ago, shortly after I started Engaging Matters, I published a post (What Is Arts Marketing?) in which I outlined a conceptual framework for nonprofit marketing in the arts. While I stand by much of it, it implies a dismissiveness about sales for which I repent. I was too concerned about the potential for a focus on sales to trump nonprofit missions. That’s not the fault of sales; it’s the fault of execution. For many arts organizations, ticket sales–even though they do not cover costs–are vital to sustainability. As part of my atonement, let me reset and attempt a more nuanced definition and placement of sales in the nonprofit arts context.

A sale is (or should be!) an uncoerced exchange of value between two parties. In the for-profit world, this is some product or service for money. In the nonprofit world, where products or services are often provided without cost, there is no money exchanged at the “point of sale.” Third party payers provide the required funds. However, in all cases, another resource is exchanged: time. The consumer exchanges her or his time in order to gain access to and receive the service. This awareness is somewhat more relevant in the nonprofit world beyond the arts but does apply to free performances and exhibitions. The “sales” message needs to convey the value in exchanging that time for what is offered. It must also make a compelling case for paying the opportunity cost: what else might the person be doing with that time instead? For pay or not, one sales metric in the arts is “butts in seats”/”eyes on walls.” When tickets are being sold, the other is, yes, sales revenue.


Posted October 28, 2015







Oct21

This post is part of a series of collaborations with Doug Borwick and is cross-posted to his Engaging Matters blog on Arts Journal.

Photo by Neo Wang (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

Arts Journal blogger Doug Borwick recently wrote a post on the role of marketing and development departments that captured my attention. In the following quote he summarizes an issue that I’ve been thinking about for a long time:

In the nonprofit world, marketing and development have been viewed as two different disciplines. Marketing has focused on messages to external publics and sales. Development has focused on messages to external publics and contributed income–grants and donations…

Do you see what I just did? It’s an old professor thing to set up a question in the listener’s mind. “So, if they both begin with ‘messages to external publics,’ aren’t they pretty closely related?” Bingo.

Marketing and development are closely related. But there are differences. In strict transactional terms, marketing departments largely manage Business (arts organization) to Consumer (patron) relationships. On the other hand, development department work is both “B-to-C” (where the consumer is in the form of donors/members) and “B-to-B” (Business to Business, where the organization is managing relationships and income from foundations, sponsors and other funding agencies). Talk to any marketing or development professional and they’ll tell you: the work is different in managing these different kinds of relationships and revenue streams.


Posted October 21, 2015







Oct14

This post by Doug Borwick is part of a series of collaborations and is cross-posted to his blog Engaging Matters on Arts Journal.

Photo: Some rights reserved by greeblie

This is part of a series of blog posts in conjunction with TRG Arts on the interrelationships among marketing, development, fundraising, and community engagement. The point of the series is that they are all rooted in relationship building and maintenance.

Today we’re talking about definitions. Oh great! But if all of these things are related, we’ve got to be able to understand how they are similar and how they differ. That’s what definitions are for. Plus, what can you expect from someone who spent three decades as a college professor? And that is actually a critical point.

I am not nor have I ever been an on-the-ground professional in marketing or fundraising. Being aware of that, my level of humility in talking about these subjects is very high. What I do have experience in is analyzing words, differentiating among related concepts, and crafting definitions that clarify them. That requires theoretical thinking time–a luxury not available to the people doing the “real work” in the trenches.


Posted October 14, 2015







Oct07

This post is part of a series of collaborations with Doug Borwick and is cross-posted to his Engaging Matters blog on Arts Journal.

Photo by Pam Corey (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

There are two schools of thought when it comes to eating a cinnamon roll.

There are those who eat the cinnamon by unrolling it, eating along the edge, slowly making their way to the gooey, sugary middle.

Then there are those want to get to the middle as soon as they can. Flaky crust is all well and good, but the cache of frosting and sticky cinnamon goodness is too good to resist.

Neither approach is right or wrong, but they are different.


Posted October 7, 2015







Sep30

This post by Doug Borwick is part of a series of collaborations and is cross-posted to his blog Engaging Matters on Arts Journal.

Photo: Some rights reserved by Mark Cartwright

Three years ago I published a post titled The Farmer and the Cowman in which I acknowledged an epiphany about the relationship between arts marketing and community engagement. In the past six months I have, on several occasions, been re-confronted with the truth of their close relationship (when both are being done well). This was really driven home to me in the highly flattering (and most embarrassing) post written by Trevor O’Donnell Taking a Cheap Shot at Community Engagement.

In April I met with Amelia Northrup-Simpson of TRG Arts and we began hatching a plot. Beginning with some cross-posting on our blogs we would explore the relationships between our respective areas of expertise. This post is my introduction to that effort.


Posted September 30, 2015







 

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Simpson
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