Can It Happen Everywhere?

As I was perusing on Tuesday, I came across a link to an article covering the Knight Foundation’s final report on their Magic of Music Initiative.

I have read earlier installations of this initiative and did an entry on Penelope McPhee’s remarks at an initiative retreat in 2002. What got me to read the final report sooner than later was a section of the news article that said that the final report concluded:

Free events drew crowds, but attendees did not later shell out money for tickets. Nor did the bountiful numbers who attended off-site concerts later patronize the box office. Outreach programs to new audiences also failed to get people to buy tickets.

What I wanted to know was is it the free events, off-site programs and outreach programs that don’t work or is it that people weren’t interested in buying tickets to the symphony but might do so for theatre or dance.

Long story short, the report doesn’t really say because none of those surveyed were asked questions which might reveal if different attitudes toward dance and theatre might exist. I suspect, however, that it might be that people don’t like the symphony. The study reports that large numbers of people regularly listened to classical music, but “did not consider the concert hall the preferred place to listen to it. The automobile was the single most frequently used venue for classical music, followed by the home.”

Absent a similar study for theatre and dance, it is difficult to say that it is the concert hall environment and not the prospect of having to pay that is the barrier to attendance.

One thing I did see as encouraging was the finding that “…only 6 percent of those interested in classical music considered themselves very knowledgeable about it, while more than half described themselves as “not very knowledgeable.” Still, it gave them enjoyment.”

I don’t quite know how to constructively exploit this attitude yet, but I find it heartening that people aren’t reluctant to experience something they don’t completely understand. They may not feel confident or even interested in going to see a performance at a concert hall, but people are actively choosing to listen in their cars and homes despite a perceived unknowable quality.

The road to converting people to paying attendees might run through paid performances in a different setting or context preceded by marketing with a message to visit our website or come talk to our trained volunteer staff who will help make you feel competent in a low intimidation environment. And I say this in connection with all arts disciplines, not just classical music.

There is huge amount of interesting stuff in this report. I am not going to go in depth with a discussion because Drew McManus has mentioned he was going to talk about it and I daresay he will do a better job of it than I would. I am sure he will touch upon how the near impossibility of getting the musical directors involved essentially hobbled the initiative right from the start. (But if he doesn’t, now you know a little about it and should read the final report.)

In the interests of getting people to take a look at the final report, I will say that the process the Knight Foundation went through to initially solicit proposals and the mistakes they realized they made in the timing and format of their RFP is fascinating. I also have only touched upon about 1/10th of their findings and mentioned nearly nothing about the successful and interesting things some orchestras did.

Yeah, the report is about 50 pages long (with lots of large pictures) but there is much to ponder. You may not feel you have time, but commit to reading 5 pages of text a day and you will be done in a week or so.

There’s A Rat In The Audience (And It’s Not the Critic)

A recent article in the Chronicle of Higher Ed (subscription required) may have implications for arts organizations if some lawsuits and other efforts are successful.

Colleges across the country are being faced with students demanding that they be allowed to bring cats, dogs, snakes, rats, ferrets and tarantulas into dorm rooms and classrooms with the idea that they are service animals. Rather than claiming a physical disability, they are saying the animals provide “psychiatric service.” (I wonder though if claiming an animal that causes anxeity in everyone around you can be considered a comfort aide.)

A few students who have had their requests denied have filed suits under the Americans with Disabilities Act. The ADA “defines a service animal as ‘any guide dog, signal dog, or other animal individually trained to do work or perform tasks for an individual with a disability.'”

Some animals are trained to provide comfort and direction to people with agoraphobia and schizophrenia by their very nature and presence. As such, they serve a passive role so it can be argued that the ADA encompasses animals that don’t do specific tasks. Some groups are doing just that asking the Department of Justice to revise regulations to include such activities.

For the most part, courts have ruled with the idea that an animal must provide active service. There is at least one court that has ruled that a person could keep a comfort animal despite the no-pets clause in a rental lease.

The idea of needing animals to help one cope with all situations is spreading. Apparently people have tried to board airplanes claiming goldfish as service animals. (At least they didn’t want to bring snakes on a plane!)

The instances of people needing comfort animals is not isolated either. Rutgers University “received five requests to accommodate a psychiatric-service animal in a single year – three cats, one dog, and a snake.”

This is just something of which to be aware. People may start to appear at your box office wanting to attend a show with an animal that helps them cope with being out in public or even the subject matter of the performance. And it may not be accompanied by a dog in a service cape.

Freedom In Central Park Revisited

Two years ago I did an entry on the fact not all tickets at the Delacorte Theatre in Central Park where the Public Theatre/New York Shakespeare Festival are free as was widely believed. There had always been preferential seating available for some amount, but the article I cited in that entry mentioned that the Public was going to more widely publicize the pay program in an effort to balance the books.

My initial assumption was that this would bump the first patron who wasn’t paying back quite a few rows. Last week Robert Morse made a comment on that entry (scroll to the bottom) correcting my assumption. It turns out that the theatre has their crowd control pretty well organized and alternate paid and unpaid patrons in the even and odd rows.

The biggest benefit for paying for your tickets is that you don’t have to wait in line. This can be quite a boon since according to the Public Theater’s website, people apparently get online at 10 am to pick up tickets starting at 1 pm for an 8 pm show. They have line monitors present who enforce the no cutting, no holding spaces, no scalping rules and generally keep things organized. Recognizing an opportunity, apparently there are some local restaurants that will deliver to the line since the theater staff will provide you with that information.

My thanks to Robert Morse for correcting the information I originally had. Upon revisiting my original search, I found clarifying information that hadn’t been available before.

Unholy Envy

WAAAAYYY Back in the beginning of this blog I posted about co-opting some tools used by religions to promote the arts. I am even more convinced now because many churches certainly are borrowing from the performing arts.

On Sundays we rent the theatre to a church that is far more like entertainment than what I attended in my youth. They typically have three services unless we have matinee. They have a sound system they bring in that is three times the size of the house system and tend to make us concerned for the children in the audience when they crank it up.

Once a month, they hold a special service that is so technically involved, two of my people have to act as stage manager and light board operator. Occasionally dancers join the usual group of musicians on stage.

Yesterday I had to cover front of house for the services because none of the other employees at the theatre could. The first two services of the day are mostly families, but the third service in the evening is exclusively teens and twenty-somethings. One thing I noticed that jibes with observations at performing arts events is that the younger people like to socialize a lot more than their elders.

After the first two services, everyone was gone in a half hour and that includes breaking down the coffee set up, the nursery rooms and tables allocated to literature that wouldn’t be used during the evening service. After the evening service there were about 150-200 people spread throughout the theatre, lobby and courtyard an hour and a half after the service finished.

Because the stage and sound equipment has to be broken down, there was no reason for me to chase anyone out. None of these people were the ones breaking things down though. There were about 30-40 other people doing that. And when the breakdown crew finished, they corralled everyone who was hanging around about of the building of their own accord.

I have spent the day trying to figure out how to tap into that energy. All these young people hanging out chatting for that long without any source of refreshment but a water fountain. Hardly any of them were talking about religious topics. And they had 30-40 people of the same age voluntarily and efficiently stowing equipment.

While the motivating factors that got the young people there in the first place differ from those that will attract them to arts events, the desired result is one that has eluded the arts world. These young people gathered because of reason they were enthusiastic about and they stayed to chat about myriad other things with people who shared their interest.

It can be pointed out, truly enough, that these people are only continuing to express enthusiasm engendered in them as children by their parents. Parents, schools, society no longer places value on the arts as they once did.

Also, while there is a certain immortality available in the arts, how can it compete with the promise of everlasting life, eh?

At the same time, many who were brought up without steady religious encouragement become converts or born again if they have strayed.

Makes me wonder if the arts folks aren’t evangelizing enough. Sure, we can’t offer divine forgiveness and eternal life to those down on their luck folks who look to such things to renew their spirits. But renewal of spirit can be found in sublime beauty, too. Instruction in the interpretation and comprehension of art is no harder to master than are the same skills in relation to holy texts.

Perhaps it is lack of will or understanding of that the tools we ply so easily in our craft are well suited for evangelism of art. Is it more difficult to invite people to a First Friday artwalk than it is to a Bible study? Does the rituals of preparing to perform require so much less discipline than readying oneself for a Sabbath meal? Do Chick tracts make a more convincing argument than a pamphlet most artists could put together?

I have mentioned in the past, as have other writers and bloggers, that the atmosphere and language at an arts event is not welcoming to the novice attendee. If there is anything to be borrowed from some of these churches it is the welcoming attitude and the language of compassion and acceptance.

Obviously, I am not trying to supplant religion in any way. After all, some of the best art is religious in nature. The type of connection people feel for their religion can’t be directly translated to the arts. It can’t be denied though that there is a visceral appeal to both, however different it may be.

Ads and press releases can only do so much to draw people in. After that it is often the direct connection you make to with another person simply and effectively sharing your enthusiasm that causes people to be favorable inclined toward a cause.

Speak well of the arts to someone everyday and share your tips on what is effective with another arts person.