Take The Opportunity For A Reboot

Research has shown that offering free admission doesn’t lead to an increase in participation by new audiences.  In most cases those that are attending are the people who normally attend, they are just showing up again a little sooner than they might have.

This past October/November I actually paid attention when I visited a museum that was offering free admission on a day that the featured artist was speaking. Sure enough, except for friends of the artists that came from out of town, there were only a handful of people who appeared to have never visited before. Most everyone else were greeted by staff as familiar faces or entered and made a beeline down the correct hallway to the exhibit.

Recently Seth Godin made a post titled “Why isn’t there a line at the library?” which addressed an aspect of what keeps people from showing up. He notes that if any other company was giving their core product away for free, people would cram through their doors.

A century ago, information was truly scarce and books were far more expensive than they are now. A decade ago, obtaining the instructions on how to do something was difficult indeed.

“It’s too expensive,” or “I can’t get access to it,” used to be really good excuses. But they obscured the truth: “It’s too much work.”

And that’s the answer to the question. It’s too much work to change our minds. It’s too much work to dance with the fear of failure. It’s too much work to imagine walking through the world differently.

Let’s be clear, this is true for all of us. There is always something we decide is too much work to engage with and yet will pour five times as much effort into something else. People will periodically ask me if I want to return to acting on stage, but the prospect of investing the proper time and energy to do a good job turns me off the idea. Yet there other things I have been working on regularly for decades. (This blog, for one, to think of it.)

There has also been an ongoing conversation in the arts community about the fact that an environment has been created around what we do that makes it a lot of work to comfortably participate.

Certainly, there are things that our potential audiences/participants already eagerly engage in that require more effort. But in many cases there is also a more widespread sense that you will be joining a bunch of fun, like minded people in this pursuit. Often that is not the vibe we give off.

This forced pause in operations the coronavirus has created provides an opportunity to shift the context and narrative for the future. It can start with social media posts and then transform into practice.  Any return to activity is likely to begin on a small scale as people venture out which provides a low stakes environment in which to experiment with change and make your mistakes. Starting out small may not be great for the bottom line, but it offers a chance to reboot narratives and expectations regarding what we are all about.

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/)

I am currently the 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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