Observations from Fla.

So I am back from helping my sister move to Florida. The trip brought back some good and bad memories from the nine years I had lived there. There were a number of topics I mulled over discussing here during the long drive, but I want to do background research on some of them before posting. I am eager to get another post on the blog so here we go…

Legacy of a Concerned Man

As I was driving through Florida, I came across the Lawton Chiles Trail. Chiles, a former governor of Florida, died in 1998, less than a month before he was to turn the office over to Jeb Bush. The trail, however, refers to his efforts during his 1970 Senate campaign. It took him more than 90 days to walk 1,003 miles through his home state. During that time, he filled 8 notebooks “with information on our state’s problems and the feelings of the people.” The feat earned him the senate seat and the moniker “Walkin’ Lawton.” (Full Story)

With a presidential campaign in full swing, it is a story like this that reminds me that there are options for running a powerful positive campaign.

It also brings to mind the fact that there are inexpensive (though extremely labor intensive) options for arts organizations to educate the public about themselves and to be educated by the public about their preferences and interests.

Speaking of Wide Range Exposure…

My trip down Interstate 95 exposed me to one of the most famous (and perhaps annoying) examples of advertising by repetition in the country–the South of the Border billboards. Just in case anyone is wondering, there are 48 billboards between NJ and SC. They may be annoying in their ubiquity, but they do create a buzz.

Demon Horses Unleashed!!!

In recent entries of blogs on Artsjournal.com, two different writers discuss an entry by Greg Sandow regarding how boring press releases were killing classical music. The comments on The Artful Manager and Adaptistration give some suggested solutions.

Andrew Taylor’s comments in Artful Manager had some resonance with my time in Florida this past week:

“Even the alternative — full-color, smiling head shots of the artists to come — doesn’t speak to what audiences are buying: a dynamic, compelling, vital, social performance experience (or a night out, a date, or a family celebration anchored by a live performance).”

While I was in Florida, I saw TV ads for the Budweiser American Invitational, an equestrian show jumping event. Perhaps because it is sponsored by Budweiser or because it is taking place in Raymond James Stadium and they needed to fill a lot of seats, the voice over was in the style of “Sunday!, Sunday!, Sunday! Heavy Stock Street Modifieds compete….” In this case though, the announcer talked about “there being no second chances” and the visuals were heavy on horses jumping, tripping and crumpling into a heap or balking before an obstacle and sending the rider flying head over heels across the obstacle.

Now I have attended and watched some of these events and the catastrophes presented rarely occur at all much less in the same event. I know people go to NASCAR races because there is a danger of someone crashing at high speeds. I wonder at the validity of trying to attract crowds of people to this sort of event by teasing them with the promise of death-defying acts. I am sure some people who never heard of the sport will become intently interested in it. The way it was advertised just strikes me as a bit of a misrepresentation.

Certainly, there is a danger inherent to launching yourself and a large animal over obstacles and it is exciting to watch. However, it is exciting in the way Olympic gymnastics is exciting-you know when a landing isn’t stuck or a hoof strikes a pole, points are going to be deducted. It is a bit more sedate than a day at the races.

I don’t imagine that the same tactic would work for arts marketing. What would one do: present an actor suddenly looking lost as they forget a line; show a violinist scratch out a sour note and throw her bow in disgust, barely missing the conductor; show a ballerina slip the grasp of her partner and skitter across the floor?

With few exceptions, the answer is as Andrew Taylor suggests–portray the event dynamically with an honest promise of the true vitality one will experience. The only thing I would add is to make it look real. It is often a tough thing not to make promotional photo look staged. If you try to photograph something in action, you often miss the moment (especially with the time delay of digital cameras). The same is true if you ask people to freeze in a moment, you either say freeze too late or the performers lose their vital spark as they concentrate on maintaining their balance in a mid-stride freeze holding their faces in rictus.

This is one of the reasons a good photographer gets paid so much. They can capture genuine moments or make the staged ones appear thus.

About Joe Patti

I have been writing Butts in the Seats (BitS) on topics of arts and cultural administration since 2004 (yikes!). Given the ever evolving concerns facing the sector, I have yet to exhaust the available subject matter. In addition to BitS, I am a founding contributor to the ArtsHacker (artshacker.com) website where I focus on topics related to boards, law, governance, policy and practice.

I am also an evangelist for the effort to Build Public Will For Arts and Culture being helmed by Arts Midwest and the Metropolitan Group. (http://www.creatingconnection.org/about/)

My most recent role was as Executive Director of the Grand Opera House in Macon, GA.

Among the things I am most proud are having produced an opera in the Hawaiian language and a dance drama about Hawaii's snow goddess Poli'ahu while working as a Theater Manager in Hawaii. Though there are many more highlights than there is space here to list.


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