20th Anniversary Of Butts In The Seats

This past Friday, February 23 marked the 20th anniversary of this blog. While Drew McManus often remembers the anniversary better than I do, I did recall the anniversary was coming up prior to the actual date.

When I first started back in 2004, I used a platform provided by my internet service provider for a total of two entries. It was quickly clear that their set up was not suitable for blogging. I ended up switching to Movable Type which I stayed on for awhile until Drew McManus invited me to join the Inside The Arts platform.  I am glad he did because the technical requirements for maintaining the blog were quickly outstripping my ability and interest.

Happily, Drew was far more skilled in such things. And while his focus on expanding his business to provide websites and ticketing CRM for arts organizations led to the sunsetting his blog, Adaptistration, his company embodies the same approach as his blog–providing useful tools and advice for arts and cultural organizations. At one time you might have read his posts or attended conference sessions on how to effectively use Google Analytics or analyze 990 filings for orchestra compensation. Now he focuses on making it easier for customers to learn about organizations, events, and feel comfortable rather than overwhelmed purchasing tickets.

While I didn’t initially mean to make this post an ad for his company, I have known Drew a long time, and our conversations have informed many of my posts. (He recently commented in a Zoom conference that I was the attendee he had known the longest and met in person the least.)

However, my initial inspiration to start blogging was another Andrew — Andrew Taylor, who writes the Artful Manager blog. I actually wrote to him with a comment on one of his posts shortly before starting my blog and he included my response in a later post. (Mine is the one about Chick tracts) I was so thrilled, I made it the subject of my second blog post.

There have been a lot of people who have influenced my thinking over the years. At the risk of overlooking some important ones, I will cite Carter Gilles and Nina Simon as being among those who have helped to shift my thinking and improve the way I operate professionally. The point being, this blog hasn’t emerged from a vacuum but stands on the shoulders of giants who have come before.

When I look back at some of my earlier posts, I have to cringe at some as I compare where I am now philosophically and professionally. Certainly others have stood the test of time. This blog does reflect much of the general thought about how arts and cultural organizations should operate so it is also a testament to how the general thought has evolved over the last two decades.

My view is that things have been moving in a more constructive direction in terms of being more audience and community-centric. This has manifested in orientations toward welcoming and inclusivity for community members, but also staff and volunteers. There have been increased implementation of policies to create better work environments for employees at all levels, including interns and apprentices.

Yes, there are still a ton of hostile work environments out there. You don’t have to look far or hard to find stories about organizational leaders who seem to be intentionally doing the worst they can to make people miserable. I have written about a lot of them. But you can absolutely see examples of organizations who are breaking away from the long seated mentality of the show must go on even if it destroys you/you have to pay your dues like I did/suffer for your art.

Thanks to all of you who have been reading all the while

Take Care That Mural Isn’t Destroying Instead Of Revitalizing

I was walking through a building lobby when I noticed a table with a pamphlet discouraging people from painting murals on their brick buildings. My first thought was that this city department was undermining community beautification efforts. But as I read more closely, I realized the brochure was warning people about some very real issues associated with damaging the structural integrity of buildings.

If you are a member of the arts community trying to cultivate a more creative environment in your city, you don’t want to have your beautification efforts responsible for hastening the decline of the very neighborhoods you are trying to revitalize.

I recently wrote an ArtsHacker post citing some of the issues raised by the brochure I came across.

I mentioned the following among the things to consider, but there are more details in the full post:

Many of the issues painting brick structures creates are related to trapping moisture in what is normally a relatively porous, breathable material. Temperature changes causing expansion of that moisture can undermine the structural integrity of the brick and mortar.  The paint can obscure the development of these issues until the damage becomes severe and repairs more costly and extensive.

[…]

Keep in mind that geographic location should also be factored in to the materials and process chosen. The guide linked to here is calibrated to the conditions of cold, snowy winters and glaring summer sun at elevations exceeding one mile. Murals will weather differently in the relatively warmer, more humid climes of the southeast and drier, hotter deserts of the southwest, as well as the mix of annual weather conditions across the rest of the US.

 

 

Don’t Be Too Quick To Paint That Mural

Growing Trust And Confidence In Times Of Decline

Seth Godin recently made a post citing a Brookings Institution survey series that showed a decline in confidence in multiple institutions and companies since 2018.   Godin notes that some of the decline may be due to news and propaganda eroding the general perception of institutions with which people don’t regularly directly interact. But he suggests that by and large, the diminished confidence is due to companies trading trust for short term profit.

Amazon and many other companies went from investing heavily in being reliable, trustworthy and fair to taking persistent steps to trade these valuable assets for quarterly results. It’s worth being clear about this–they did this intentionally. They decided that the confidence consumers had placed in them wasn’t worth as much as the shortcuts they could take to increase profits instead.

Near the end of his entry, he writes:

This is the opportunity you’ve been waiting for–to become the one that earns the benefit of the doubt.

As I was reading his post, I was thinking along the same lines. Surveys have shown that arts organizations, and particularly exhibit based experiences like museums, parks and zoos have been enjoying an increased level of trust since Covid restrictions have ended. The ability to control spacing between oneself and others in exhibit based experiences gave them a slight advantage over performance based entities, but both types of spaces have earned a greater measure of trust over the last couple years.

There is an opportunity to retain and grow that trust by examining interactions with experience participants to ensure you aren’t undermining that trust with anything that appears to be trading it for easy gain. There will always likely be some negative interactions people will have with your organization, but those interactions won’t necessarily significantly diminish the level of trust people have if it is handled well.

After all, we have probably all had interactions where we got what we wanted, but still had a sense that we were held in low regard by the company and organization. Air travel immediately comes to mind. Many people can probably remember two-three instances where they were on equally crowded travel conditions, but you felt more attentiveness and care being paid in one instance versus the others.

Think about how you can continue to exhibit trustworthiness and care, and potentially grow that in contrast to people’s experiences elsewhere.

Who Will Make Classical Music The Next Old Spice?

So hattip to Ruth Hartt who linked to a piece by David Taylor who argues that we shouldn’t be linking the lack of music education in schools to diminishing audiences for classical music. He points to the fact that other musical genres enjoy a fairly good level of support despite not being included in a formal curriculum.

….classical music education continues to be invested in significantly higher than other music genres. If you drive past a school, you will see students carrying violins, tubas, flutes, cellos, and all manner of classical instruments. But you won’t see some poor kid dragging along a set of turntables to school. I don’t think there is a person alive who has said “I’m not really into Electronic Dance Music, and that’s probably because I didn’t have access to DJ lessons as a child”.

EDM, Dubstep, Grime, and Hip-Hop have all thrived over the years despite there being no formalised music education. The significant majority of people who enjoy pop and rock music won’t have come to enjoy it through music education.

[…]

It is counterproductive, elitist, and dangerous for us to keep shouting about how we need music education to save classical music audiences as it reinforces the idea that you need to be educated in it to enjoy it, and if you are not then classical music is not for you.

He goes on to cite a number of studies which have been published over the last five years that find that younger generations (under 35) actually listen to classical music more frequently than their parents. From a quick scan of some of the studies, this listening seems to be happening outside of concert halls.

But they are listening and their numbers are growing, Taylor notes. What needs to happen is to give these audiences a reason to enter the concert hall, if that is where organizations want them to be.  He cites brands with uncool images like Old Spice which have worked to re-position themselves. (I would add Stanley cups to this). He points to Marvel which expanded their audience from consumers of print media to movies and television.

It certainly isn’t fast or easy to accomplish this sort of shift. It took Marvel awhile to hit their stride. I remember a number of misses and flubs before the first Iron Man and Avengers movies came out.

There is a fear that any changes that are implemented may alienate current audiences who provide admittedly dwindling support. But younger generations may have different ideas about how and where they want to experience classical music. The most effective approach may not typically put both groups in the same spaces as each other.