Manufacturing Spontaneity

Via Marginal Revolution, the Wall Street Journal has a story about a girl who was paid $1,800 to reference an upcoming movie in her high school valedictory speech. The movie did rather poorly and the “amateur” video of the graduation the movie studio posted on YouTube failed to achieve viral status. I doubt that will stop anyone from trying something similar again.

One of the things I wonder is if this sort of thing might not be pursued as a funding source for cash strapped non-profits. Will it really be in the non-profit sector’s best interest to engage in something like this? We bill live performances a authentic experiences with an opportunity for the sublime (as well as screw ups and catastrophes) that television and video don’t provide. If people discover the evening has been peppered with scripted “candid” moments, will we risk losing credibility and what’s left of our regular audience.

The counterargument might be made that if we don’t cash in on the eyes and ears we have assembled, someone else might just hijack our events to do so. The school district in the story had no idea their graduation ceremony had been co-opted for this purpose. In truth, there is nothing to force marketers to deal with you at all. In fact, it probably will be less trouble to circumvent you since an arts organization will want to draw up contracts and have lawyers involved.

It would be so much easier to arrange for an elderly person to disrupt a sold out performance and have a concerned adult child wring his/her hand over the fact the parent had neglected to take their Aricept. The visceral concern your audience feels having witnessed how Alzheimer’s can cause social disruptions is a much better selling point than any television ad and pretty much guarantees dissemination by word of mouth which I suspect has a higher trust ranking than a YouTube video.

It would be much better if non-profits didn’t get involved in these efforts in the first place. Then at least if people have a negative reaction upon discover an occurrence had been planned, they won’t automatically suspect the collusion when there wasn’t based on past revelations of the organization participating in such efforts.

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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