But Why Do People Want More Diverse, Locally Focused Stories Told?

Last year (December 31, so technically) I had a post on Arts Hacker taking a look at the work LaPlaca Cohen and Slover Linett Audience Research had done interpreting the Covid edition of the CultureTrack survey through the lens of race and ethnicity.

My post focused on the findings which indicated an interest in having arts organizations offer more inclusive and community focused programming that reflect the stories and faces of everyone. There were some interesting findings about how some communities saw arts and cultural organizations as a trusted source of information whereas it was barely on the radar of other communities. Most everyone saw value beyond just fun and entertainment, though those characteristics are highly valued.

This greater emphasis placed by some BIPOC Americans on the social, civic, emotional, therapeutic, and creative-expression roles of cultural participation may help practitioners and funders think more broadly about service and relevance to communities of color during difficult times.

One thing I didn’t address in that post that stood out was a question the researchers raised about why people want a greater diversity of local stories told.

It reminded me that a lot of assumptions are made about the “why,” but no one has really sought out the answers in a deliberative way. The overall conclusion of the report was that the data raised a multitude of questions in need of study. (i.e. surprising Native American affinity for photography and strong digital consumption of classical music by Black/African-Americans.)

It’s worth reflecting on how a desire to celebrate one’s cultural heritage is connected to other desires; people who are interested in celebrating their cultural heritage are also more likely to want arts and culture organizations to feature “more diverse voices and faces,” focus more on local artists and the local community, and offer stories that reflect one’s life — all of which Americans of color are more likely to express than White Americans…Perhaps White Americans don’t think of arts and culture activities or sites as places to do that kind of celebrating — or perhaps they don’t recognize the extent to which some of those activities and sites do, in fact, celebrate and exemplify European cultural heritage. Might Multiracial Americans feel that their backgrounds and identities are too complex or nuanced to be celebrated in the arts? All of this begs for further research into why many people want more diversity, localness, and stories that reflect their experiences and whether they see those things as tied to their — or their community’s — cultural heritage


Plan For An Inclusive Post-Covid Cultural Experience

You’re Invited To My Pool For A Concert

I am sure a lot of people are wondering what other people are doing about performances as you plan for the day you can actually start again. Classicfm.com shared a number of images and videos of the way different venues have been spacing both musicians and audiences.

To me the most novel idea and location was a cello concert at the bottom of an empty pool in Germany. Are the acoustics of a pool conducive to the cello range?  There is another article with more pictures from other angles. The lane markers made for good spacing guides and the grade of the floor as it moved toward the shallow end helped with sightlines.

In Hong Kong, they had plexiglass between orchestra members, but in The Netherlands, they had empty seats and dividers to separate audience members.

There are a number of pictures of people arrayed in seating at social distance which may strike many as a bit depressing given the appearance of sparse attendance.

One image I found very striking was that of the London Mozart Players performing in a church. While there was no audience because they were video taping, when I saw all the musicians wearing vibrant red facemasks and bits of red clothing, my first thought was that they really made it work even spaced apart. Granted, some of that is due to good audio and video editing and the ability to zoom in close to the musicians, but for most of the video it is pretty clear everyone is spaced further apart than usual.



Reading Rebranding As “You Aren’t Wanted”

Last month you may have read a number of news stories about the Methodist church in Minnesota with declining attendance that decided to kick out all their old members so they could attract younger members. Except that wasn’t exactly what the church was doing. They just wanted to close the one church for about 18 months in order to do some renovations and rebrand it and were asking members to attend a sister church in the meantime.

The goal definitely was to attract a younger congregation and the new pastor would be about 30 years younger than the current pastor. It sounds like the renovations had the goal of creating spaces in which younger people felt comfortable worshiping.

Shifting all this to the context of arts organizations, there is an eternal conversation about attracting new, younger audiences. However, research shows, arts organizations are actually pretty good at attracting new audiences, but not too good at retaining them so they return with some consistency.

This story about closing and rebranding made me wonder if there is any value in doing so if it makes your organization look more welcoming to a broader range of the community. We know that one of the biggest barriers to participation for people who aren’t already doing so is not seeing themselves and their stories being depicted.

If you were going to pursue closing and rebranding in a similar manner, it would have to encompass more than just freshening up the physical plant with a renovation.  The type of programs the organization offered would need to be revised. Likely the way in which they were delivered might need to be changed. Staff would either need to be retrained and/or new staff hired to deliver on the promises the organization was making.

Is there a good chance that all of this might scare your existing audience away in the same way it is turning off the current congregation of the church? Yep, good chance of that.

In the past I cited a couple of Nina Simon’s talks about providing relevance to the people whom you hope to serve. While she talks about creating metaphorical new doors for people to enter, if you are doing a renovation, you might create physical ones. She notes that it may be difficult for long time supporters to understand that not everything that is being done now is for them, even if nothing has been subtracted to provide experiences for others.

As I wrote:

A new initiative may displace one of regular events. Instead of 10 things designed for you, you only get nine. For a lot of people even 1/10 of a change can result in them feeling the organization is no longer relevant to them. This may especially be true in the case of subscription holders. That one bad grape in ten ruins the value of the whole package.

In this situation it can be a little tricky to say, that’s okay you don’t need to come to that show, we have other discount configurations that may suit your needs. Not only might your delivery of that message be flawed and sound offensive, but even with perfect delivery, the patron may only hear “that’s okay you don’t need to come.”

Even if the new initiatives are additions and don’t displace any of the current offerings, patrons, donors, board members can still feel the organization is no longer the one they value, despite having lost nothing.

Reading the different stories about the church in Minnesota, I got the sense that the current congregants were hearing “that’s okay, you don’t need to come,” in the planned renewal of their church. While that may turn you off of considering making changes for fear of losing what you already have, consider that what you are already doing may be telling a lot more people who have never walked in your door or come once or twice, “that’s okay, you don’t need to come.”

Delivering Social Services At Libraries

Hat tip to Artsjournal.com which posted an NPR story about libraries that are bringing social workers on staff. The main reason is that libraries are serving the role as a community resource beyond a source of books. Libraries are increasingly a place for classes, after school activities, meetings as well as providing daytime shelter for homeless and unfortunately, those with drug addictions.

I served on the board of a library until about a year ago and there were frequent conversations regarding concerns about used needles and blood splatters in the restrooms. There were also debates about whether to stock Narcan and what the library’s liability might be if doses were administered. Just before I left the board, we were discussing signing a letter of agreement with social service agencies to provide services at some of the library branches.

The NPR story touches on these same issues facing the social workers at the libraries they profile. One of the benefits of having a social worker in a library is that it changes the dynamics of the traditional relationship people have with social services. Instead of people going to a government run office and waiting to petition for assistance, the social worker circulates among patrons, discusses services that are available and helps them connect with those services.

“I walk around and try to talk to people who might be experiencing homelessness. We never ask them directly, but I would just come up to them and say, ‘I don’t know if you’re aware there’s a social worker and there are social services here,’ ” she says. “Because of my role as a professional, clinical social worker, I can do assessments and determine if I need to provide extra support by linking them with community services such as clinics or mental health or for them to see a doctor.”


But Esguerra says the idea of bringing social workers into libraries isn’t just meant to help librarians; it encourages people in need to take advantage of the services the library-based social workers offer.

“Coming to the library is not attached with any stigma, unlike coming to, like, you know, other traditional settings,” she explains. “So public libraries really are the best places to reach out to the population and be effective at it.”

While not every arts organization serves groups that need this type of social service support, there may be other social support activities they can make available.  In some instances, they key may be to take the same approach as the social worker in the library. Instead of saying come here to receive these services with an eye to attracting larger groups of people, just have the services available in a low key way for those that do arrive.

During the summer there are a lot of free plays and concerts offered across the country. There may be people who show up whom an experienced eye could identify as potentially having a need for everything from food and medicine to help registering for school and getting school supplies. I am sure I am thinking too narrowly in terms of the type of support arts organizations might offer.

Then there is the approach from the other direction where arts organizations are present at social service and medical facilities. One of my favorite stories the project that put pop up art stations at a health clinic in Minneapolis.


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