Yesterday I alluded to one of my pet marketing peeves, the claim that a work of art reveals “what it means to be human.” The phrase has mercifully fallen out of frequent usage these days (or at least I am not being sent those press releases and brochures any more).
However, Lucy Bernholz at Philanthropy 2173 reminds us about the importance of such buzz phrases to the non-profit arts community. She cites the (tongue in cheek) grant proposal by Michael Alexander of Grand Performances. Here is a taste:
“The Innovative Art Jargon Creation Project – An Activity for the New Millennium”
Grand Performances respectfully requests a grant of $37,500 to manage a program to develop new Art Jargon which will be necessary for effective grant writing in the next century.
HISTORY OF NEED
Each passing decade since the establishment of the National Endowment for the Arts has seen a geometric growth in the number of “buzz words” used by arts grant writers in their applications. To date, there has been no formal development program to insure consistency of quality of these new phrases, nor a system for dissemination to insure that grant writers throughout the country had access to the new phrases at the same time, often giving grants writers in one geographic region or one discipline an unfair advantage over those writers not familiar with the new phrases. Certain regions and certain disciplines have been consistently underserved due to their grant writers’ inability to gain access to the new phrases in a timely manner.
…During the national economic recession of the early 1990’s grant writers hit “a brick wall” as funding decreased for the arts and the available supply of new “buzz words” diminished…A privately funded study involving independent arts grant writers, arts consultants and representatives from government funding agencies from throughout the country provided evidence that one of the major causes of the diminished funding was a scarcity of exciting and useful “buzz words” that could be used in arts grant applications.
I got some pretty good chuckles off this.
However, over on ARTSblog, Megan Pagado reflects on her experiences attending the National Arts Marketing Project Conference noting that the choices arts marketers make often perpetuate the status quo even as they express a desire to change it.
“Slowly, though, the conversation shifted from marketer-created messages to marketer-perpetuated messages. A picture of an all-white, male orchestra elicited the most memorable response: “They’re all dudes!”
Therein laid the dilemma for many of us in the room: What is our process of reviewing materials from artists? What if an artist doesn’t have a better, less stereotypical photo for a marketing team to use? And, as Amy Fox (@museumtweets) tweeted: Do artists always understand the stereotypes they perpetuate when they create?
Some marketers walked away with an action item: creating a diverse committee to review artist materials, for example.
But I think many, including myself, walked away with more questions than answers: How can I be inclusive while avoiding tokenism? When does utilizing inclusive language achieve its desired goal of making all feel welcome, and when does it simply brush issues under the rug and avoid conversations that need to be had?
I will admit I had never really thought about whether an image an artist supplied was perpetuating a stereotype. Most frequently my concern is whether the image communicates that the performance will be interesting. I just had this conversation today about an image in which a pianist appears to have dozed off at the keys.
Taken together, these two blog posts remind us to be cognizant of the impression conveyed by the words and images we employ to promote our organization and activities. Are we saying we are innovative because we are or because innovative is the trending term? Do the images we use back up that claim?
I think it can easily slip our notice that while we may be explicitly saying, “we want to include you,” the images we use may implicitly be saying “No we don’t.” Certainly the environment and attendance experience in a performance hall can communicate this as well. But I think people recognize that dress code and knowing when to clap are already sources of anxiety and have taken steps to address this. It is probably time to start paying attention to the pictures too.