Artist, Promote Thy Self!

Ah summer! When a young theatre manager’s thoughts turn to…collecting promotional information for the upcoming season.

I have been trying to collect information to promote our upcoming season on the web, season brochure, press releases, etc, etc. Much of my motivation is to have most of this into my graphic designer and web person’s hands before I go on vacation so I can come back and review what they have done.

It really astounds me that so many artists are ill prepared to promote their works. I can understand not having images upon my request, especially for works in progress or when an ensemble has had some significant change over. It can be tough getting everyone together and turn around from a photoshoot in a short time.

But there are a couple groups that seem unable to verbalize what is attractive about their work. All I need is 4-5 short sentences at this juncture folks! How hard is it to formulate something to get me excited!

One group I wrote up a blurb of the general sense I would be going for and asked them to fill in some blanks. My blanks even had suggested answers along the lines of – Mitch is a well regarded musician for his virtuosity in (bluegrass, classical, rock). All that they needed to do is clarify what was unclear.

That was over a week ago. I still haven’t heard back from them.

Another group is reviving a masterwork. For two weeks I have asked them for some simple clarification about the program being revised. I saw the principal performer two weeks ago at a theatre and he assured me I would get something (along with the contract) soon. I did receive a blurb this week about the last time he worked together with a guest artist appearing in the revival–but nothing about the revival itself. I finally emailed the organization which secured the grant for the revival asking them for some general information. Their deadline for materials was a few weeks ago so presumably they have something more than I do.

Something I noticed. With one exception, the groups I do have materials for all have agents. I have started to wonder, if not for the agents sending out a standard packet of information, would most of these other groups been in a position to communicate about themselves so clearly? The one exception is a young group without an agent which sent me two fantastic pages dense with great information.

If it comes to pass that agents either sever or reduce their involvement with their less than marquee performers and artists are left to fend for themselves in some manner, it might be a bad situation for many groups.

I don’t have any illusions about my role in things becoming redundant if artists really focused on managing their own business. Yeah managing the business end saps your energy for making art.

Just like anyone associated with an arts organization should be able to passionately extemporize on the value of what they do, every artist should be able to dash off an email or a make a phone call to give a short spiel on why they are worth seeing.

Notice I say extemporize. It is a maneuver that not everyone can do but with enough practice, people can sound unpracticed doing it.

If I have the time to ponder over lunch tomorrow, perhaps my next entry will be on some of the trite phrases being bandied about in promotional messages these days. In this, neither agents nor artists hold the high ground.

Lord knows, some of them do a better job than the publicists for arts organizations. Just take a look at Greg Sandow’s rants from 2005 (read from May 25 through June 15)

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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