Door To Seat As Important As The Quality Of The Event

All right. A little gripe time here. I have been nursing a sense of dissatisfaction for a couple weeks now but it sort of came to a head when I saw the title of Ceci Dadisman’s recent post, “Unpopular Opinion: It is our job to remove barriers to engagement.” She talks about removing perceptual barriers, but the source of my dissatisfaction is related to physical barriers.

I had submitted a grant this past Spring and recently had an opportunity to listen to the panelists discuss our application over the internet. There were a number of criticisms which I can concede as deficiencies with our application. There were other places where panelists misread what we wrote, but I can understand that given the number of applications they read. (Though I did panic momentarily as I scurried to find the document we submitted.)

What annoyed me was a criticism of our response to a question about a recent program that had an impact on the community. Being new to my position, I had spoke with staff, board members, volunteers and long attending audience members about what events had made an impact. This resulted in some good conversations about the distinction between impactful experiences and popular, well-attended experiences. I wrote our grant response about the performance program that many people had mentioned had an unexpected impact.

Then, because I had the room, I mentioned that something that can’t be discounted was the impact a renovation to the physical spaces of the facility had on the community. I discussed the fact that it is very easy for people to make the decision to stay at home and every element associated with going to a live event from restaurants, to babysitters, to parking must align conveniently for people to make the decision to go out.

I went on to talk about the pre-renovation experience where the line to the women’s restroom in our facility was so long that it extended out the front door and the men’s room often had to be closed to men in order to accommodate women. Still intermission would need to be extended. I spoke about the restroom renovation garnering the most effusive response from people. I explained that as amusing as it might be to think toilets are the most popular part of a renovation, this represented a very real impact on the community perception of the venue and shouldn’t be dismissed especially given most attendance decisions and arrangements are predominantly made by women.

My mention of the impact of the renovations met with some criticism by the panel. What annoyed me most about this was that the panel was comprised of artists or those associated with arts entities drawn from throughout the state.  I could understand if panelists drawn from the general public didn’t understand the importance of the physical environment in arts and cultural experiences.

I intentionally wrote about the importance of environment in order to introduce the idea to funders and policymakers.  What I hadn’t expected was a dismissal by arts and cultural practitioners.

As Ceci mentions in her article, as insiders, arts and cultural practitioners can be blind to some of the perceptual barriers we erect around and experience.  I guess there also needs to be more frequent mention of the influence tangible physical elements play on the experience, just to be aware of these factors even if you can’t exert control over them.

 

Does Gazing Out From The Belly Of A God Provide New Perspective?

There was an interesting video on Shanghaiist in the last week about a hotel whose architect designed three giant deities for the facade to combat rumors that the building was constructed on a cemetery.

The three deities, Fu (福), Lu (禄), and Shou (寿), represent the three attributes of a good life, “prosperity,” “status,” and “longevity,” respectively. They were added to the design of the 40-meter-tall building by a local architect to compensate for rumors that the structure was being built on top of an old cemetery.

I will let you take a look at the video first. (Let me just say I present this mostly as a diversion and basis of idle musing rather than subject for serious analysis.)

 

One of the first thoughts I had was, if this was in the US, would this be considered some form of artwashing? For example, if someone had used positive imagery on a hotel constructed on a toxic waste site or some other dubious association as a way to assuage fears.

I am not trying to conflate toxic waste with human remains. Personally, I would have no problem staying in this hotel. I have worked in enough theaters that were purported to be haunted or built on sanctified land that this doesn’t bother me. The placement of the hotel and anticipated repercussions appears it has a much stronger social and cultural significance in China than it might in the US.

I just found myself musing about cultural differences. Would something along these lines this be viewed with skepticism in the US while in China it might be viewed as an appropriate gesture given the history of the plot of land.

I also wondered why a hotel might choose to go to the expense of the extra construction. Presumably people coming from out of town wouldn’t be aware of the rumors. Though if it is the sort of place that gains more business from people visiting local residents or conducting business with government or local companies rather than tourism, they might depend more strongly on word of mouth.

I was amused by the comment made by one of the residents that the building unexpectedly became a distinctive feature of the community. I was thinking to myself, how could three 120 foot high deities NOT become a distinctive feature of the community? If nothing else, you could navigate the streets in relation to where it was on the horizon.

Perhaps people did initially see the statues as a cynical use of spectacle to make money but ended up finding that it created a unique sense of place in the neighborhood.

Thinking about all this made me start to wonder how efforts at creative placemaking might appear from the outside through the lens of other cultures. Does it appear like we are trying to manufacture a sense of community where one doesn’t exist organically? (I get the image of some foreign visitor paraphrasing Regina George “stop trying to make community happen, it isn’t not going to happen.”)

I Probably Don’t Really Know What My Audience Values Even Though I Am In The Lobby Before, After, And At Intermission

I bookmarked a guest post on Museum 2.0 a month ago. Now I feel guilty for not circling back to it sooner. Nina Simon invited Martin Brandt Djupdræt, a manager at Danish museum,  to write about how his organization has all the decision makers interact with visitors as part of their audience research effort.

Their approach is super simple, though a little time consuming. A member of management approaches a random visitor and asks if they can follow the visitor around to observe where they go in the museum and what they interact with. Three weeks later they give the visitor a call and ask:

• why they chose this museum,
• what they noticed especially during the visit,
• whether they interacted with anyone, and
• whether they had talked to anyone about the museum after the visit, and what about

Every decision maker in the organization seems to be required to participate, from management to curators. Djupdræt says the goal is to get managers up and away from their desks interacting with people with whom they wouldn’t normally come in contact.

As you might imagine, what the managers and curators were sure people valued about the museum wasn’t quite accurate. Even those with more direct contact with visitors were surprised by what they learned.

The curators were surprised by how important other parts of the museum besides the historical content were for the visitor. The F&B manager and the head of HR were surprised by how many objects and stories the visitors were absorbed in. This has also given us insights into the work of our colleagues and made us appreciate their work to a larger extent. Now we all have useful and inspiring stories about visitors’ choices and the impact the museum had on them.

Another observation was the importance of food and drink. In our trackings we could see how much time the visitors spent on the museum’s eating places and the great social importance these breaks had. Something we learned about food through the interviews was that the guests consider the food at the museum as part of the museum’s storytelling. This insight has encouraged us to focus on food and food history as a priority topic at the museum, and a colleague is going to work particularly with that subject.

[…]

Visitors have always been a focus for the management, but the research have personalized our audience and they are discussed differently now. As the head of finance described it: “I normally look at whether a task is well done, financially possible and efficient, but now I also consider more seriously how a visitor would feel and react to the changes we plan.”

I especially wanted to include that last section as a reminder that measuring success by efficiency and expense doesn’t necessarily equate to providing a fulfilling experience.

One thing Djupdræt didn’t cover that I was curious about was why they waited three weeks to follow up. I didn’t know if that was a social practice in Denmark where it was rude to immediately survey people about their experience or if it was calculated to see how much of the visitor experience still made an impression three week later.

The whole article is a reminder not to depend entirely on surveys as an evaluation tool. Yes, it is an important practice to have people in the back office interacting directly in a focused manner with the people the organization serves, but there is also the shift of perspective this practice brings. You would assume a food and beverage manager would have fairly extensive interactions with visitors and would be paying close attention to trends.  That person at the Djupdræt’s museum still found themselves surprised by some of the insights they gained.

Theater Seeking Animation With Creative Vitality

Something I thought might be interesting to readers.  The City of Douglas, GA has issued a request for proposals (RFP) to purchase and run a historical theater.  You don’t see this that often so it was interesting to me the type of things that go into an RFP to run a theater.

The 750 seat Martin Centre was constructed in 1939-41 as a movie house but was renovated to accommodate live performances. The city is looking for someone to purchase the venue for at least $200,000 and continue to operate it as an arts venue.

The City is seeking proposals with the following indicators:

a)Recognize the historical significance of the building and maintain architectural characteristics of the theater’s façade.

b)Honor all upcoming rental contracts where the lessee has paid deposit and/or rental for the booking.

c)Deliver a use that will further promote Downtown Douglas as an entertainment and cultural destination location in South Georgia and Georgia and be cohesive with existing downtown uses.

d)Clearly demonstrate economic feasibility.

e)Demonstrate a positive economic benefit to the downtown Douglas area and the City of Douglas.

f)Offer a purchase price of at least $200,000.00.

As part of the proposal, they essentially request that the applicant outline how they will accomplish all these things. They also list how each criteria will be weighted.

For me, it was interesting to see how the RFP reflected the hopes and ambitions for what the Martin Centre might be for the city. They highly encourage people to discuss potential use of an adjacent plaza as part of the proposals. They are definitely hoping the new owner’s vision extends beyond the physical walls of the space.

Since I expect the listing to go off line after the May 6 deadline, I am archiving a copy of the PDF here for future reference for RFPs along these lines.

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