There Is An Ambush In This Violin Concerto!

Drew McManus reposted a promotional Facebook video for Wichita Symphony Orchestra’s (WSO) performance of “The Rose of Sonora” violin concerto.  I thought it was a cool little video depicting a 19th century printer creating a Wild West wanted poster. I commented on Drew’s post how I liked the how the movements were listed in the ad like chapters of a story and those titles were interesting and evocative – Escape, Love and Freedom, Ambush, Death and Healing, Vengeance.

But thinking of the post I made yesterday about the way arts marketing promises something exciting in their ads, but doesn’t really deliver on the promises in the experience, I thought it would be wonderful if the orchestra would consider projecting even one image at the start of each chapter to provide a visual connection for the audience.

When I clicked through to the WSO website, I was really pleased to see that the orchestra would be projecting images and video with a Western theme to accompany Samuel Barber’s Adagio for Strings and Aaron Copland’s Rodeo

By the time I swung back to Facebook, Drew had posted a link to a page discussing Rose of Sonora composer George S. Clinton’s concept behind titling each movement like a book chapter. Additionally, he provided a link to a set of images and introductory narration meant to be projected and/or read at the beginning of each movement–just like I was hoping they would have.

I have been casually following the development of Rose of Sonora, but never explored the website. I am really impressed by the amount of effort that has gone into making the experience interesting and accessible for audiences and easy for orchestras to decide to do.

While I am aware that The Rose of Sonora was written for violinist Holly Mulcahy, the goal of the content seems to be to get organizations to invite The Rose of Sonora into their programming rather than Holly. Presumably (and hopefully) Holly will be performing it everywhere for a good long time, but they are looking for the composition to have a life of its own long term. So it is great that will arrive accompanied by all these assets.

Grateful For The Recognition, But Recognize More To Be Done

A month ago Ruth Hartt posted an image she grabbed from my venue’s website on Twitter and complimented its presentation on a number of points:

If you follow the link to see the reply, you can see our marketing director’s response to Ruth and David Rohde with another picture of audience members. As she notes, we have actively working on expanding our library of images of the audience experience for the last few years. Between shifting the programming and improving our interactions with customers at different touch points, these images have helped us communicate a more welcoming and inclusive environment. We are definitely seeing some positive results.

Though we obviously have a lot more work to do and can learn a lot from other people. This past weekend we had a family show that was a very late rental for us. Somehow, in the course of two weeks they managed to sell 500 tickets at $30 adults, $20 for kids which we thought was a little high for our market. The audience they attracted was 98% Black despite the content not being specifically aligned to them.

As far as we know, they only promoted the show on social media so we are pretty much in awe of their social media targeting game and knowing their audience. A lot of artists aren’t so on-point and dialed in. It might have been that they aren’t as successful in other communities and their efforts just resonated well here but I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt and say we probably couldn’t have done as well promoting it ourselves.

Haven’t Seen You Around Recently

I’m happy to say that things are starting to get back to a place where I feel like I can start blogging again. Hopefully it will stay that way. I really underestimated how difficult things were going to become when I made the “On Hiatus” post in November.

When I finally got a chance to start reading about practices and trends in the arts, a familiar source caught my attention – Colleen Dilenschneider. Last week she posted that not only was visitation by new and non-recent visitors up on 2020 and 2021 versus 2019 and earlier, but that visitation by self-identifying non-white members of these groups was also up in this period of time.

The percentage of new and non-recent visitors who self-identify as non-White increased 52% from 2019 to 2020! It rose from 10.0% to 15.2%. This percentage fell to 13.9% of new and non-recent attendance in 2021, but is still a dramatic 39% increase compared to 2019 levels!

Earlier in February, she had posted that in recent years people have begun to perceive many, though not all, cultural entities as being more welcoming to individuals like themselves. That article is worth reading for greater insight into this trend. Unfortunately, symphony/orchestras were most strongly perceived as “not welcoming to people like me” among survey respondents.

In last week’s post, Dilenschneider provides some guidance about how to interpret the increased numbers:

Please resist the urge to see these numbers and think “Score! We got people who were disinterested in attending to visit us during the pandemic.” Behavioral economics and audience motivation studies suggest that entities should instead say, “Score! We got people who were already interested in visiting us to finally move us up on their to-do list and trial/re-trial our experience!”

She suggests that the uptick in attendance is likely due to the start of efforts toward diversity, equity, inclusion and justice (DEIJ). Specifically she mentions that due to the pandemic, marketing messaging shifted from “Visit Now” toward DEIJ and customer-centric values.

Do You Need To Feel Transcendent Or Sleep Better Right Now?

Ruth Hartt got a bit of a kick from the post I made last week where I termed her use of stock video footage and other clips to create an video marketing piece as a “Franken-Ad.” She tagged me and others about another set of Franken-ads she made more along the lines of print or social media pieces.

She uses these ads to address the pretty much cliched use of terms like “joyful,” “nostalgic,” “rhapsodic,” “timeless,” “refined,” and “sumptuous” to suggest that people will have a transcendent experience.  She associates this with Maslow’s hierarchy of need and raises the point that during current times especially, most people are focused on solving challenges related to health and safety rather than self-actualization.

Recent studies reveal that the benefits of a peak experience don’t end at self transcendence. Science tells us that awe increases pro-social behavior and has an integral part to play in health and happiness. In fact, people who report experiencing awe regularly have remarkably stronger immune systems and better mental health. Why aren’t arts organizations touting these benefits?

“Come for the classical music; stay for the lowered levels of inflammatory cytokines!” We chuckle at this imaginary tagline, but I’m confident that there are swaths of consumers who would be intrigued by this value proposition.

Frequent readers will know that I am not a proponent of arguing the instrumental value of the arts or positioning it as a prescription for ills,  especially since so much of the research on the benefits of the arts have had questionable results. So I am not entirely on board with all the claims her mocked up ads make. However, since it is true that any pro-social behavior contributes to health and happiness, an arts experience is just as valid an option as many others.

Tolerance for uncertainty and inspiring creative risk-taking may not roll off the tongue as easily as sumptuous and transcendent, but after years exposure to those latter terms, any alternative will catch the eye and intrigue people.

I am not really suggesting listing all the terms she uses in her ads, but I do like Hartt’s choice of an image of a woman who looks like she might be poised at the edge of anticipation or anxiety juxtaposed with “Warning this concert may cause: Lowered Stress, …Improved Mood, …Decreased Pain…Increased Alertness.” There is a sense that things could go either way.

I don’t know that I would use those exact terms, but an ad that communicated these general concepts instead of suggesting transcendence presents the experience as more relatable to the viewer.  If you are a new attendee still processing your experience, you might think you did something went wrong if you aren’t experiencing the promised ecstasy.

I also appreciated that one of her ads targeted businesses. While again I would be worried about companies seeing arts experiences as another tool to be used alongside nap lounges and ping pong tables to get the best work product from employees, the general idea that the presence of these experiences makes the community more attractive and liveable for employees is as beneficial as having sincerely motivated employees.