What The Hell…Oh Wait That Is A Pre-Covid Picture

I have a post on ArtsHacker today encouraging people to really think about what message their promotional photos are sending as we hopefully will start to move out of Covid restrictions.

ArtsHacker-in-chief Drew McManus praised me for thinking of such a timely topic to write on and I responded that it was largely inspired by a true story.

At my day job we have been able to mount some smaller scale events like movie screenings, storytelling sessions and outdoor concerts using our fire escape as a stage. Even with all the measures we have taken to ensure social distancing, people have a hard time conceiving of themselves seeing indoor events. We had the manager and mascot of our local baseball team introduce a screening of A League of Their Own this summer. When they told a co-worker where they were going, she was interested in attending until she found out the screening was indoors. At the same time, she was willing to go to a restaurant where she would be sitting a lot closer to other people and have worse air circulation.

As a result, my staff and I have been putting time and effort into taking pictures of people attending performances spaced apart at an appropriate distance. We have pictures of parents helping their kids pump hand sanitizer and everyone wearing masks. These pictures pepper our web page and appear at seemingly random intervals on our social media pages. All calculated to present an accurate, reassuring image of an experience at our venue.

It wasn’t long ago that we noticed social media posts by another arts organization promoting an upcoming concert. The image they used depicted a packed indoor concert which I am 90% certain was a stock photo rather than from one of their shows. Later they emblazoned “Sold Out!” across the same image which reinforced the idea that there were shows going on locally where people were crushed together.

The truth is, the show they were doing was at an outdoor amphitheater which employs solid social distancing guidelines. While it was sold out because of social distancing guidelines, attendance didn’t reach the fire code capacity of the space. The post-event pictures reflected this with masked people seated in a grassy area a respectable distance from one another.

While pictures of people spread out across the frame isn’t as sexy as a mass of people with open mouthed expressions of delight, it is a lot more reassuring for audiences during these cautious times. Right now a lot of people are seeking that measure of confidence over a mass communal experience.

Just think about how many times in the last 9 months you have reflexively felt uncomfortable with how blase people in a video or picture were being about masks and social distancing only to realize the performance or gathering depicted was from 18 months ago.

A year ago how I promoted my event didn’t really impact the way people perceived your event. Now the question is much less about which of many activities you want to choose and more about IF you feel comfortable making a choice to participate in a public activity at all. As a result, how other organizations present an experience has a much greater influence on the lens through which people perceive your event.

Work On Those Re-Opening Venue Images

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 (artshacker.com) 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. (http://www.creatingconnection.org/about/)

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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