Is Artistic Authority Being Eroded?

I was glancing at an interview with Arti Prashar on Arts Professional UK site as she departs her position at Spare Tyre Theatre Company. I had come for the title of the article, “Exit interview: ‘We’re asked to follow a business model that just doesn’t work'” but it was something else that really caught my attention.

She says,

“…I began to observe, slowly but surely, that the authority of artists was being eroded. I wasn’t having that, so I negotiated becoming the Artistic Director and CEO.”

It struck me that she felt she needed to become CEO in order to retain authority. (Her first 8 years at Spare Tyre was as Artistic Director.) It made me wonder if this was the case globally outside of the UK. I suspect it is.

I have discussed the problems with the sentiment that “arts should be run more like a business,” in a number of blog posts over the years. I wonder now if that concept, combined with the sense that artists should be more business minded might be contributing to the erosion of artists’ authority.

Artists should definitely be knowledgeable enough to monitor the health of their own careers so that their work is not exploited by others. But if an artist is not perceived as possessing authority in their own realm independent of their business acumen, that is troubling.

Prashar doesn’t give specific examples of how she felt artists’ authority was being eroded. As I thought about how this problem might manifest, I began to wonder if this was actually related to the question of why we value art.

If an artist doesn’t feel they have the authority to say a work has value on its own, but needs to cite relevance in connection with social and political movements to convince others it has value, that may be just as problematic as economic impact and ability to raise test scores being the only rationale for granting funding.

You may be thinking that these elements are all important for getting people to participate in an event or other opportunity. People need to either perceive something is relevant to them or is worth their time and money as part of their decision to be present.

But can an artist walk into a room and say this thing is important and worth doing and be believed simply based on their authority as an artist? If not, why?

Is it because we have come to doubt or suspect their authority to make that statement despite 15 years of practice?

If I walk in and say the same thing is important and worth doing because 1000 people will pay $50, do you doubt my authority to make that statement? Do you think to inquire how much experience I have in making these predictions if I am waving a spreadsheet around instead of a violin bow?

IMPORTANT: Changes To Music Licensing May Impact Any Performance At Your Venue

Some important information about changes to music performance rights came to my attention today and I wanted to share it with readers.

Apparently the consent decrees under which ASCAP & BMI operate are up for review by the Department of Justice. The public comment phase is ending on Friday, August 9.  You can find out more about the consent decrees on the MIC Coalition website.

Basically, because ASCAP & BMI operate akin to monopolies, they and other performing rights organizations (PRO) are limited as to what they are able to do when licensing performing rights. They want these limits loosened. You can provide feedback to the Department of Justice here.

Even with these limits, dealing with these companies is often confusing and criteria seems inconsistent. Many have felt they were forced into purchasing broader licenses than they needed.

Today I received a huge flurry of emails urging myself and others to oppose the loosening. I was confused about why there was this sudden urgency when the public comment phase opened at the start of June. I started to wonder if there was an effort to create a huge sense of urgency by rallying support at a late date. Especially since there were initially few details provided about why one should voice their opposition.

Come to find out, the reason is that a large number of organizations across the country received revised licensing agreements from BMI this week containing some alarming changes. There is some suspicion they timed the mailing to hit toward the end of the public comment phase.

Here is a page of the agreement that is causing the biggest uproar.

In section 1 (g), terminology has been changed from “Gross Ticket Revenue” to “Gross Revenue.”  According to the new definition, in addition to ticket sales, calculation of a fee will now be based upon revenue from sales on the secondary ticket market, service charges, handling charges, VIP packages, advertising revenue, box suites, sponsorships, merchandise, concessions and parking.

So essentially, if you have a sponsor for your show; sell VIP packages, merchandise, food, and charge for parking, all that gets factored in to what you pay BMI rather than just ticket sales as was the case in the past.

From what I am told, the definition of “licensee” has been expanded to include a wider range of activities.

For events without an admission charge, the definition of what is included in the fee calculation has been expanded from a flat fee based on seating capacity to one based on entertainment expenses like room, board and transportation costs for the artist.

There are other problematic issues which are a little difficult to explain in a blog post and might not apply widely to many venues. I suspect there are problems that people have yet to discover.  If you do any sort of licensing with folks like BMI and ASCAP or if you have been trying to fly under the radar, you want to pay attention to this.

If you don’t think this applies to you at all, but you have live music performance, you may find that it does. That band that plays at your museum during First Fridays is probably subject to music licensing.

With more opportunities for revenue available, especially if the strictures of the consent decrees are loosened, there is more incentive find the places that have been trying to slide under the radar.

If you have concerns, check out the MIC Coalition website to learn more or provide feedback to the DOJ.  Also –read any new licensing agreements you get very, very carefully.

 

Data You Need To Believe Over Your Gut

I so frequently tell my readers that Collen Dilenschneider has made an awesome post on her blog that it makes it difficult to convey the increased urgency to read one of her pieces when she has made an even awesomer post.

Despite this impediment, believe me when I say she recently made a post that is even more awesome than her usually awesome posts. Last week she wrote about how research results often contradict our gut feelings about a situation, despite being true. She confesses that as much as she deals with data every day, there are some instances where she asks the experts to revisit it just to be sure.

She goes on to list five data points that even she and her co-workers really wanted to believe were untrue.

Let me just say, I have seen some of this data before but part of what makes her post so great is this “contradicts our gut” framework she employs. As much as I read and write about arts administration, there are a fair number of instances where I raise mental walls against information I come across. It is useful to be constantly reminded that we need to take a deep breath and open our minds.

1) Local audiences have negatively skewed perceptions of the organizations in their area 

IMPACTS tracked 118 visitor-serving organizations and found that on average, people living within 25 miles of the organization indicate value-for-cost perceptions that are 14% less than those of regional visitors living between 25 and 101-150 miles away. In other words, locals believe their experience is less worthy of the admission cost they paid compared to the perceptions of those living further away. Interestingly, locals paid 20% less for admission, on average, than non-local visitors thanks to local discounts and promotions! They are also much less satisfied with their experiences than non-local visitors.

Even if this is influenced by a sense of sunk cost where long distance visitors arrive with a firmer conviction than local residents they will enjoy an experience given that they have already invested so much more time and money in planning and execution, it is important to recognize this dynamic is operating for different visitor segments.

2) An average visitor attends a cultural organization type only once every 27 months – and the average member returns to take advantage of free admission only once per year.

The average person who visits an art museum will not visit another for 28 months, on average. The average person who visits a history museum will not visit another for 32 months, on average. In total, the average visitation cycle for organization types that we monitor is 27 months. Here’s more on that data and what it means.

[…]

Subscription-based organizations such as theaters and symphonies: You’ve got it a bit better. Your members visit twice each year, on average.

I had actually written about this idea around 8 years ago. In the research presented at that time, it wasn’t that people felt they had enough of the organization and were going to wait a few years to go again, it was that people were so emotionally connected with the organization, they would swear they had just been there within the last year when it had been about two or more years.

Don’t immediately delete people from your mailing list if they don’t buy tickets to return, give it 3-5 years before you decide they are disengaged. (This assumes annual/semi-annual mailings vs. more frequent ones.)

3) Millennials are not “aging into” caring about arts and culture

Oooh, pay attention to this one!

This isn’t surprising to me and we have so much on this we’re getting into a “ridiculous” data volume category here, but this shocks other folks, so it’s making this list!

Millennials are not “aging into” caring about arts and culture as a natural function of getting older. Millennials also are not “aging into” other things some entities are banking on, like the belief that dolphins should be kept in captivity.

[…]

Millennials are a very important group for cultural organizations to engage. The take-away of these findings is critical: “Let’s just wait for people to think we’re important” is a failing engagement strategy.

Here is another point to be particularly mindful of–

4) On average, attendance goes back to baseline 5 years after a major expansion (but operation costs tend to be increased forever).

In a nutshell, attendance decreases in the years prior to a major building project as folks defer their visits until after the expansion opens. When an expansion opens, attendance certainly increases – 19.6% compared to the ten years prior! But that increase gradually decreases until attendance levels retreat to the baseline of the ten years prior after only 5 years. And the increased building space also means more staff members, more programming, more electricity, and more ongoing maintenance.

[…]

If you’re fundraising for or undertaking a major building expansion, make sure that you are clear on your goals and objectives – and that your expectations for long-term attendance and ongoing maintenance are grounded in reality.

And finally… (note the distinction she makes between mobile web and mobile apps)

5) Mobile applications do not significantly increase visitor satisfaction

Interestingly, people who use social media onsite in a way that relates to their visit report 7% greater visitor satisfaction scores than people who do not use social media in relation to their visit. Mobile web users experience a 6% bump in satisfaction. Even though all three of these methods (mobile applications, social media, and mobile web) take place on a mobile phone during a cultural organization visit, social media and the web significantly contribute to the visitor experience. Mobile applications do not reliably do this. One explanation for this may be that social media and mobile web “meet audiences where they are” and are examples of onsite technology facilitating the experience. Mobile applications, on the other hand, can be examples of technological intervention in which a visitor must interrupt the experience to figure out how to engage with the technology, or download it in the first place.

As much as I have quoted here, it is only about 1/3 of the data and rationale she presents in her post so check it out in order to get a more complete picture of things.

We Don’t Need No Stinkin’ VR Headsets

On Saturday, the Knight Foundation will be issuing a call “for ideas exploring how arts institutions can present immersive experiences to engage audiences” (disclosure: Knight Foundation has funded projects for my day job and supports tons of stuff in my community.)

In the announcement, Knight Foundation staffer Chris Barr writes about how virtual and augmented reality is already being used by arts organizations on an experimental basis.

From digital overlays of  museum spaces and VR interpretations of surreal landscapes, to artistic interpretations of climate change and digital recreations of fragile Cuban sculpture, artists, museums and other arts institutions are experimenting with these emerging technologies.

What they are looking for is projects in which technologists, companies and artists will partner with museums and performing arts organizations to explore some of the following ideas:

We hope to find innovative uses for this technology, new approaches for moving audiences through these experiences, and opportunities to engage new and diverse audiences.

How can these technologies help us reach new people? How do we make the experience before, during and after putting on a headset delightful? How do we service these experiences efficiently? How should these experiences be distributed and exhibited? How can this new form of storytelling be used for more inclusive stories? How can we use immersive tech to expand the reach of the arts beyond physical locations?

One thing I appreciated was that in asking how to make the experience before, during and after delightful,  they seem to understand that it is the entire experience and not just the technology that provides value.

As much as many of us, myself included, might resent the way the growing prevalence of technology/media is encroaching upon and competing with our practice, this is an opportunity to proactively be part of a conversation and effort at the genesis of the concept and application. The alternative is the current situation where you react to the emergence of a technology or trend.

Which is not to say that anything one might contribute to won’t quickly evolve and be used in a manner you hadn’t intended or conceived. How many of us knew a boxy cellphone would evolve to the point it replaced a watch, iPod, television and even voice conversations are moving to the margins.

When I saw the mention of “putting on a headset” in the passage I cited above, I chuckled because I suspect (and hope) that people will blow the concept of headset based delivery out of the water with the ideas they have.

If you are looking for some context or jumping off points for your own ideas, I have written about a number of projects associated with augmented reality in the past couple years, as well as projects in the Knight Foundation Prototype Fund

If you have an idea germinating,  guidelines will be posted on the Knight Foundation website on July 27. You can sign up for the July 30 informational webinar now.

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