My Arms Are Too Short

Lots and lots of great conversation going on over at’s A Better Case For The Arts. It is somewhat heartening to see that so many people agree that the attitude arts professionals have about what they do has to change as does the approach to attracting and retaining audiences in this day and age. (The disheartening thing of course is that no one has the answer.)

It is tough to comment on the breadth of the discussion at this point, but since part of it had some significance to the experience of the last couple days I have had, I wanted to cite them. (They are also among the more interesting discussion and commentary) One of the post and accompanying commentary is titled The Public View. The other came under the heading The Enemy?.

The latter was very interesting because it pointed out in the changing political landscape that seems the harbinger of a culture war, people who have not been exposed to the arts may no longer be uninformed with the potential to be an attendee once introduced to it, but instead may be pre-disposed to be hostile to the arts.

A sobering thought, but still, education and exposure is the best solution for a great many of the world’s ills. (Though some will point out there are plenty of people out there ready to spin your education to reinforce what you already believe.) The Public View promotes this idea of education and exposure. Writes Jim Kelly:

I don’t believe the “case for the arts” can be made to the general public. Our duty to the public is not to explain to them why they should enjoy the arts, not to tell them the many ways it will improve them as individuals. Our duty is to involve them in the arts on some level in the belief that they too will experience the benefits of the arts first-hand and will become new advocates for the cause. In other words, we have stop talking about the arts and start doing art.

We have limited public dollars at our disposal, but we’re constantly asked to support another study, plan, reseach project, etc. Instead, my agency made a conscious decision to support art projects that increase audiences exposure to and participation in the arts. Most of us agree that you will never appreciate the intrinsic value of the arts if you’ve never experienced the arts. So let’s dedicate ourselves to increasing people’s exposure to the arts in all their permutations.

There were some great comments to this entry, but the one I liked best came from Jane Deschner:

Yes, you’re exactly right. I find people are often “afraid” of their own creativity and imagination. If they can become engaged in some way (whether by performance in a furniture store, embellished fiberglass animals on the street, musical performance in a hospital lobby) in a quality experience, they may develop an interest and gain the confidence to participate. But it has to have substance, be good. Who said art has to be on in a theater or museum or concert hall?

The bit about people being afraid of their own creativity really rings so true in my experience.

So how does this all connect with the events of my last few days?
Well, I have been trying to set up outreach programs for a performance group coming in during the next few weeks. Problem is, they arrive right in the middle of most of the local school’s Spring Break! Eek!

I did find a couple school who were in session and offered the opportunity to them. A few turned me down, but another couple never returned my multiple calls. The unreturned calls were surprising because these were schools that actually had well funded arts programs and would have been able to pay (and often had for similiar groups) for the program I was bringing in even though I was offering it for free.

Just today, I discovered all of my plans for outreach programs to the at risk schools with few or no arts classes are sort of falling apart. Because I schedule with the state booking consortium, the tight travel and performing itinerary leaves one group with no time to do a lecture/demo outreach and the another with only a Sunday afternoon. A third group wants as much for a one hour lecture/demo as for a performance (about $10,000) so that is pretty much out. Though, hey, if you can get that sorta money, more power to ya!

This is rather distressing since I actually wrote letters of intent at the request of some agents so that a funding group that supports outreach to my type of community would provide money to support their touring. Now granted, this is all a year away, things change and I am looking to do some out of the box thinking to put together a program to make this happen. (Perhaps go to churches that serve this sort of community?)

I am also starting a conversation with local arts groups who haven’t really thought about organizing enough to do joint performances about doing some and perhaps hooking up an outreach on there too.

Though I will probably be able to bring rewarding experience to local populations in the end, it is rather frustrating to be having such a hard time bringing free programs to my community. There is no real financial reward to it. The grant monies it will yield for me are pretty negilible and hardly cover the additional fees I am paying for the outreach (not to mention the extra day of lodging). I would get more work done in the day if I wasn’t trying to make all these arrangements.

But damned if I don’t believe it will actually have a beneficial impact on a fair number of the lives I am trying to serve. I am not quite sure if it will bring audiences in to theatre, gallery and museum doors. But I do think at some point in their lives, the people who see the programs will stop and contemplate truth and beauty in their lives, if only secretly, if only for a few minutes.

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 ( 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. (

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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