Who Gave You Your First Break?

Tweets responding to UK based Arts Emergency’s new campaign were filling my Twitter feed today. I have written about them a couple times before. They are essentially focused on cultivating the next generation of creative workers through training opportunities, scholarships and mentoring.

The organization’s name and raison d’etre is premised on the idea that cuts in funding nationally have created an emergency for the future of the creative economy in the UK.  Their newest push is #BreakTheGlass, as in “In Case of Emergency, Break The Glass.”

What I really admire about their execution of this awareness campaign is that they aren’t focusing on the negative consequences that cause their organization so much concern, instead they have asked people to tag & tweet about the person(s) who “gave you some key advice or encouragement early in your career.”

Today my feed was packed with people calling out those who helped them get jobs in theater, in broadcasting, print media, etc. I usually view Twitter with a chronological order setting and there were so many people talking about those who gave them their first big break, I was scrolling, scrolling, and scrolling only to find I was still viewing tweets that were only 5 hours old.

I don’t want to horn in on Arts Emergency’s initiative, but maybe folks here in the US need to pick up the tune and call out those for whose help we are grateful. October is Arts & Humanities Month which would make it a suitable time. Or if we don’t want to steal attention from Arts Emergency, next month around Thanksgiving would be appropriate as well.

Ultimately, over the long term I think advocacy for arts and culture needs to have positive messaging like this that doesn’t focus on economic impact, test scores and behavioral outcomes as benefits. Talking about mentors and being grateful for opportunities and investment of trust and faith is a good way to emphasize the benefits of arts and culture in cultivating relationships and reinforcing the social fabric without explicitly making those claims.

I Wish I Was Going With You Approach To Customer Service

This morning I attended a brand reveal for a Marriott hotel slated to open half a block from my venue in/around January. This particular collection of hotels is highly customized to the community in which it resides so there was a lot of detail discussed in the 1.5 hours of the actual presentation.

One thing that occurred to me during the presentation was that you should only pay for brand design that you have the budget to execute. The amount of money they are going to spend executing the branding vision is going to be significant.

When the designers started talking about the brand values that would be embodied, a couple struck me as concepts to be embraced by arts and culture organizations.

One was – we are not docents, we are friends-in-the-know. The other was – we are not interested, we are invested.   These statements seemed to embody the nuanced difference between good customer service and great customer service.

If you had two people working at the front desk and they each provided the same information to guests, but there was something you couldn’t put your finger on that made one of them seem superior to the other, something akin to these two concepts are likely to be present.  The better service comes from someone who isn’t just doling out information, but makes you feel they wish they were going with you or want you to have the same great experience they had when they were there.

So now I am letting these ideas percolate in my brain as I look around at our operation and think about how that can manifest at different points in our visitor experience. (Though I suppose we shouldn’t give people the impression we wish we were accompanying them when they ask directions to the restrooms.) Of course, however we decide that should be embodied in our building should be present where ever we are representing the organization outside out facilities as well.

Let me just point out that these are not entirely new concepts. In terms of marketing, they are a variation on Trevor O’Donnell’s “Gal In Starbucks” test from six years ago that I have written on a number of times. This is something the arts and culture industry should have been working toward for a few years now at least.

Visitor Expectations Of Proof of Vaccination? – Not Yet, But Maybe Soon

People working or closely aligned with arts organizations know that a central topic of conversation in recent weeks is whether to require proof of vaccination for audiences. Drew McManus has been tracking and collecting this information closely for a few weeks now.

As has Colleen Dilenschneider and her colleagues at IMPACTS. All through Covid she has been regularly updating her readers on shifts in perspectives on the question of what will make people feel safer about attending arts events as well as when they think they will feel comfortable participating in arts experiences. In her September 15 entry, she reviews survey findings about vaccinations. 

If you have been reading my blog or her’s for the last year, you will know that at one time attendees wearing masks wasn’t on the list of responses people gave and then suddenly it was in the top five. She says the same has happened with vaccine requirements.

It is worth paying very close attention to her analysis because she goes to pains to warn against letting biases and assumptions lead you to conclusions not borne out by the data.

But “requiring proof of vaccination” is the new factor to watch here. Remember that just because people say that it will make them feel safer doesn’t necessarily mean that they won’t visit if it’s not enforced – or even that they think it should be enforced yet. That said, the fact that 56% of visitors to performance-based organizations report that proof of vaccination requirements will make them feel safer is particularly notable. This safety preference may impact performance-based organizations first if these data offer any prescient insights.


As we’ve been reminding folks upon watching the data outcomes over time, people with kids under 13 in the household, as a group, were never cool with discarding masks. Kids are getting the virus and some predictions are grim. This may be one of the reasons why intentions to visit cultural organizations among people with children were lower during the time in which masks were no longer required.

She specifically addresses how easy it is to default to survivorship bias and availability heuristic:

Remember that this research contemplates potential visitors, not just recent visitors. “That’s not what we’re observing in our onsite surveys” is a silly response to this information if you don’t require proof of vaccination onsite. The people who don’t feel safe visiting aren’t there to fill out an onsite survey. They are likely staying home.


Most typically, we hear confirmation bias statements justifying and reconciling powerlessness over mask mandates, like “it’s a good thing we don’t require them because someone thanked us for being mask-free!” This is also an example of an availability heuristic when we mistake anecdotal evidence as representative data. People who don’t want masks may feel strongly about it and speak up, but those who do want mask mandates – a majority of US likely visitors to cultural entities – probably don’t think that they need to thank you for keeping them safe. Just because a group is loud doesn’t mean they are representative.

All this being said, in terms of the overall question about whether cultural organizations should require proof of vaccination, she writes that the answer isn’t currently clear but that “‘…the data suggests that the answer is “not yet…but maybe soon.'”

Enters Stage Right, Wearing Mask

There have been a lot of stories about shows re-opening on Broadway and how important that is to the economy of NYC. While I haven’t read everything single article, one that appeared on Bloomberg yesterday is among the most complete in terms of imagery and coverage of a variety of different arts disciplines.

The article discusses the hopes of Broadway shows like Six, which went from thunderous applause at its final preview performance on March 11, 2020…to nothing when Broadway closed down on March 12. It also takes a look at dance companies and dance performance venues, the Metropolitan Opera and NY Philharmonic and speaks to restaurant owners whose livelihood is nearly inextricably linked to attendance of Broadway shows.

The large number of images are an important companion to the article because every picture of artists rehearsing or performing–including those painting in parks–show them wearing masks. All the hopes and dreams for mounting a production are entwined with those pieces of fabric and people’s willingness to wear them and get vaccinated.

And so, even as costumes are sewn, lines are rehearsed, sets are built, and playbills are printed, organizers are acutely aware that, even in a best-case scenario, audience numbers are a long way from their 2019 levels. “It may be that people don’t show up for a while, and they come back when they feel safe,” says Deborah Borda, president and chief executive officer of the New York Philharmonic, who says the first weekend of the orchestra’s season has already sold out. “But increasingly, yes, everyone has anxiety, but people are feeling like ‘Good lord, we have to find some pathway to normalization.’”

That pathway, Borda is convinced, runs straight through live performance. “I like to think that music is a fundamental human right, like good health, clean air, fresh water,” she says. “It’s that important to human beings, and I believe that. And that’s what we try to deliver.”

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