Exposing, Part II

Yesterday I gave some information about questions I asked my mother and sisters regarding their experience with the arts. Today I wanted to mention some insights the whole exercise gave me. Some of the lessons learned were just about my family, but the process got me thinking about the way arts organizations go about collecting information.

First of all, out of curiousity I looked up some birth order studies and was mildly amused to learn that as the first born, I am not supposed to be interested in the arts. Though the study also says that I am supposed to be interested in intellectual and cognitive pursuits and I would imagine the fact I am producing this type of blog bears that out.

In speaking with my mother, it was interesting to see that her experience was mirrored in the second section of “Leverage Lost…” that I cited last week. While she didn’t attend any performances until she was in college, the arts had a greater presence in her life via popular culture. I had nearly forgotten that Broadway show tunes once topped the pop charts. I think the last cast recording to ever make it to Top 40 radio was “One Night in Bangkok” from Chess back in the 80s.

I think because she and my father were teachers we benefitted from their impulse to educate and expose us to as many things as they could on a budget. Neither of my sisters really remember going to any of these places which seems strange to me because I remember so many details so clearly. (1st Broadway show-Peter Pan with Sandy Duncan when I was in 2nd grade.) My second sister I can understand because I had a five year head start on her and our parent’s separation when she was nine put a damper on other experiences. All these experiences apparently didn’t make an impression on my other’s sister’s memories. Though a value for such experiences certainly seems to have been instilled in her.

I have to say I was surprised by the fervor with which Sister #1 responded. I had emailed her with my questions whereas I phoned my mother and spoke face to face with Sister #2. Perhaps she took advantage of the additional time she was allowed to answer the questions and mulled over her answers to make them reflect her image of herself as many survey takers do.

Knowing her as I do, I am aware of how enthusiastic she is on certain subjects and how interested she is in new experiences so I really feel her responses are genuine. As I had mentioned yesterday, I never really spoke to my family about their experiences with the arts before. I wasn’t really aware this was how my sister felt and it came as a surprise to me.

What really surprised me though was the answers from Sister #2. Despite having grown up in a house where music was always being played, having been in high school musicals, having lived in and near NYC and possessing a larger disposable income than myself, my mother or Sister #1, Sister #2 has the lowest attendance and participation in the arts and places the lowest value on the experience. Her outlook provided me with some insight into some of the challenges arts organizations may face.

I knew she was often busy at work and didn’t have a lot of time to attend shows. I also knew those she did attend were at the invitation of friends or as a result of something her company set up to entertain clients. It was intriguing to some degree to learn that while attendance wasn’t something she would instigate on her own, she possessed an elitist view that only productions in NYC were worth seeing. I don’t quite know if living and working in New York City shaped her view, (It is oh so very true that denizens of NYC view themselves as the center of the world on many fronts), or if it is because that is the only place she has seen performances.

There are a number of very good theatres in her immediate area like the McCarter and State Theatre as well as museums and two symphony orchestras. She was vaguely aware that some organizations did exist, but even knowing that she would have to travel and pass less for her experience, she was dubious about the quality of performance she would receive. I wonder how many other people living in the Princeton area have the same view of their local arts organizations. Knowing this might inform a better marketing and PR strategy for these places.

The brief process of interviewing my family got me to thinking about the market surveying arts organizations do. I have both administered and taken surveys and been a member of focus groups. I know that when you survey you have to be careful about how you word questions and how your non-verbal cues can indicate how you want people to answer. It occurs to me though that in some cases you might get better answers by being less clinical and more personal.

Instead of asking people what the last show they saw was and how they would rate it on a scale from one to ten, it might be better to draw them out by having a conversation about their experiences growing up and then segue into how they felt about more recent attendance. It seems to me if the interviewer is sharing their own ancedotes, the interviewed will being to feel comfortable enough to open up and provide a deeper sense of their relationship with the arts than they would for a neutral bias survey or focus group.

Certainly, it would be a more labor intensive process to survey in this manner. But when it comes to investigating trends and attitudes, you might be able to derive a better sense of things by talking to 20 people for an hour about their childhood experiences than by asking 60 people to answer on a scale of “often, sometimes, infrequently and never.”

It seems (and I say all this without any empirical evidence to cite) that people will provide a more complete answer if they are in a conversational mode where they feel they have time to think and reflect on past experiences rather than faced by a person with a clipboard whose demeanor suggests they answer quickly so the next question can be asked.

I almost want to say that the most conducive atmosphere is akin to people meeting to chat over coffee where the interviewer isn’t so much asking questions as nudging conversations in certain directions. The real question then is then how to conduct such an interview? I don’t really have an answer.

It is easy to get people who are really interested to turn out for such an event, but all that does is give you answers from people who you know already like you and the type of thing you do. Making sure you aren’t alienating your current audience base is fine. What you really want to discover is more about the people who don’t know much about you and what you do and find a way to educate and attract some of them to your organization. It ain’t easy. Schools have a hard time doing this and they deal with people who are required to be there by law. Getting people who are intimidated or unfamiliar with the arts to sit down and talk to you over coffee could prove difficult.

I would say the only solution is to take it slowly and be sincere about it. Have a juice and cookies reception after a children’s show and use the topic of their children as a conversation starter slowly turning the subject to their experiences as kids vs. their current experience with the arts. Show that you sincerely want to know about them and want to find a way to make it easier. If word gets around that you care and are easy to speak to, people may be more willing to accept invitations to express themselves at slightly more formal meetings. They may even start attending performances on the friendly reputation alone.

This comes back to what I have written quite a few times before–learning about people’s expectations and making a sincere attempt to answer them is really the name of the game for this technological age. The process of gathering the information is time consuming, but technology provides the tools to store, track and then act upon the information in a manner that is specific to an individual.

Exposing Yourself…

…To the Arts

Thanks to a link from Adaptistration last week, I had more visitors on the first two days of April than I had all of March. In order to retain the interest of all those who visited last week, I figured I had better start using salacious titles for my entries.

Seriously though, I am glad to see so many people interested in some of the things I have to say. I must say I was surprised to see someone from India has been regularly reading the blog since last month. Welcome to you all.

With all the writing and article citing I have been doing regarding the importance of education and exposure in determining willingness/interest in arts attendance and participation, I thought I would do a little research of my own. I decided to speak with my family about how our upbringing has shaped our view of the arts. The process was decidely unscientific, but I present the results in order to generate some thought on the matter.

I have never really had a conversation about the arts with my family. My sisters and mother have seen me perform and discussed those events with me. My mother has often mentioned the many things she used to do to give us fond memories of our childhood and some of those instances involved the arts. I often discuss my siblings’ and mother’s jobs with them, but I think because so much of what I do is behind the scenes, my jobs may be a bit hard for them to understand. The process proved to be an interesting experience and I have to admit to being surprised by some of the things I learned about my family.

Because this is likely to be long, I will give the general results of my survey today and then talk about the implications and surprises that occurred in the course of my discussions tomorrow.

A little background–I am the eldest of 4 children. Because a gentleman never reveals the age of a woman, I will simply say that I am in my mid-30s and my sisters are in their early 30s. My adopted brother is in his late 20s. A year and nine months separate the elder of the two sisters and I and five years separate me from the younger. My mother and sister #1 are both social workers in schools and have master’s degrees. Sister #2 works for one of the biggest ad agencies in NYC and has a bachelors. I didn’t include my brother in this because his educational disabilities and social development have created some obstacles to his arts education and exposure.

I essentially asked some basic questions-Last attended events, gallery, museum; impetus to attend; current participation in arts; importance of attendance in life; impediments to attendance; would background info available in advance online make them more likely to attend.

Mother

I spoke to my mother about her exposure to the arts as a child. She didn’t go to any events until she reached adulthood, but my grandfather would constantly watch and listen to opera and musicals. She also babysat for our family doctor and had access to his record library of classical music and opera.

In bringing us up, she felt the arts were an important thing to expose us to. In addition to playing recording of musicals (no wonder I could sing everything from Camelot 20 years later), she took us to see modern dance (my sister shouted “Mommy they are naked” when members of the Eric Hawkins dance troupe appeared on stage in body suits), children’s theatre, circuses, historic sites, Chinese acrobats and museums. We didn’t have a lot of money so my parents would save Christmas and birthday money an aunt sent to underwrite these trips. My mother played guitar at church services and played oldies songs at retirement homes and street fairs so our house was often filled with the music of practice sessions.

Today she takes singing lessons and sings with a choral group. She doesn’t attend too many full scale professional productions because of the distance, time and money involved. The last production of this type she attended was an Andrea Bocelli concert because I gave her tickets as a gift. However, she does attend school productions and will go to summer concerts at the bandshell in the park and various town and ethnic festivals in the area.

She said having information about the thought process that went into the development of a production would definitely enhance the experience and might cause her to attend something more often. She actually cited examples of how much better she understood something when she knew the director and felt she could approach them to talk about aspects of the show.

Sister #1
Has recently seen the Blue Man Group, Stomp!, Riverdance and a number of jazz shows and festivals with a (now) ex-boyfriend. The impetus to attend was mixed. Some times it was personal interest, other times it was because people invited her. Some of the jazz shows she went to because there were opportunities for her foster children to interact. She also attends ethnic festivals and summer concert in the park type events because she can bring her dog. As far as arts participation, she has been active in a belly dancing troupe for a number of years and intermittently performs at festivals and on cruise ships.

It is important to her that she is able to attend arts events. She says she was a little concerned when she moved from the NY City area to Tampa that there wouldn’t be enough opportunities to these types of things. She said she goes to the Florida Holocaust Museum and various art museums even though the experience might not be the most comfortable and she may not understand the pieces she is looking at.

She often watches how other people there interact with the displays and will attend with people who have more knowledge and interest than she does so that she emerges a little more educated. The biggest impediment to her attendance is cost. She often looks for coupons or discounted performances and dates.

She feels that having information available about a performance in advance enhances her experience and provides a reason to attend. She stated reading about how the Florida Holocaust Museum was created and about the process of collecting the items, interviews and photographs made her interested in seeing the place. She said that learning about the process gave her insight into the passion of the curators and stresses the importance of keeping such opportunities alive. I gave her a greater appreciation of the organization and the effort that was invested in creating the exhibition.

Sister #2

The last things she saw were all in NYC- Christmas Carol, Beauty and the Beast, Rent, Chicago and De La Guarda The impetus for seeing each of them was mixed-friends and in laws invited her to Christmas Carol and Rent, her husband got tickets for Beauty and the Beast and the others she attended with clients.

She doesn’t feel it is particularly important that she attend shows. She did express an interest in seeing The Lion King and Aida, though she wasn’t sure why in regard to the latter. (Perhaps the Disney/Elton John/Tim Rice connection of the two shows.) She also said she was uncomfortable with any show that broke the 4th wall like De La Guarda or Tony and Tina’s Wedding. She isn’t personally involved in any arts activities, though she was in the chorus for a few high school musicals.

The biggest impediment to her attendance is cost and time. (While she works in NYC, she lives in Central Jersey near Princeton. She formerly lived in Hoboken, NJ) She feels the only place to see shows is in the city. She doubts anyone who sees a show outside of the city (be it a tour, a production at a professional house or community theatre) has really seen the true show. She doesn’t often have the time or energy to attend after work. Returning to NYC on the weekends seems too much of a chore.

She might look up background information for a production in advance online, but hasn’t attempted to do so at this time.

That is about all the information I have collected in my interviews. Tomorrow I will discuss what I see as possible contributors to each person’s views and practices and the information about my own family that surprised me.

Right Place for Credit

Since I am getting some positive support and feedback for my blog, I have thought that mentioning it on my resume might be beneficial in my job search. However, I have no idea where an appropriate place might be to position the information. To that end, I contacted Anne Fisher who writes a job advice column for Fortune.

I wrote the following:

Dear Annie-

I am unemployed and in order to keep my skills sharp and synthesize my ideas about management in my particular field, I have been writing them down in a web log. I have received some compliments on the quality of my writing and research from some objective writers and managers in the field. I am thinking about referring to my blog on my resume and wonder what the etiquette and rules might be. Since blogging is such a new (but potentially influential), method of publishing and communication this isn’t something covered in the usual resume guidebooks.

I am not sure where to place a reference to my work either. Since it isn’t a volunteer or employment position, I don’t want to include it in that section. But I also want to show off my skills and innovation because it will set me apart from other applicants so don’t want to list it at the end of my resume near my applicable software skills.

My final concern is that like any quasi-journalistic endeavor, some days I am more profound than others. I want to present my magnificence, but I will never know when a potential employer will view my site and the first entry they see may not be the work of genius the previous entry was. From my point of view, it is still worth it for an employer to see a good entry rather than a fabulous one, but I wonder if there are variables I am not considering.

Any advice?

To which she responded by email:

This is a really interesting question (and one that, as you note, is on the “cutting edge”, so no real protocol exists for it — yet!). You know what I’d do? List the blog address on your resume at the top, right under your contact info, but set apart by a line or two so it stands out. It might just catch someone’s eye. You can’t stop them from going online and perusing your less-brilliant stuff (hey, I can’t stop that either!), but this is something that may intrigue just the sort of interviewer you *want* to be hired by: Up to date, open to new ideas, respectful of individual initiative. But also, I’d like to get an expert opinion — assuming I can find one, on so new a thing…! 😉 Thanks! A.

I will update the blog if she does find someone who feels confident in giving an expert opinion.

It occurs to me that this may become a new trend in the employment process. Not everyone will create a blog on a topic of interest to their industry, of course. However, people may be quoted in articles or have published papers that appear online and will want to make potential employers aware that the information is available. Rather than write out long, hard to accurately type URL addresses on their resumes, candidates can provide a simple web address that contains links to the relevant articles.

If anyone has some thoughts, I would be interested in hearing them. Either click on the comment line at the end of this entry or click on my name to email me. I would especially be interested in knowing if anyone outside of internet, graphic design and publishing industries are placing web addresses to their work on resumes and in what industries is this happening.

Qui suis-je?

Between the length of yesterday’s post and some technical difficulties that necessitated a few rewrites, I didn’t spend much time on the all important task of finding a job. Today will be dedicated to doing more research and mailing resumes.

However, since I am doing so much work telling people about my background so they will give me a job, I figured it wouldn’t be too tough to add some “who am I” information to the site. For those who are interested, a very brief precis of my professional life appears to the right. (For those who know French, I know the entry title isn’t technically correct. I just like the way it rolls of my tongue.)

For those who are wondering how I got into arts administration having started in acting and tech, I offer you this brief and mildly amusing story…

In high school I was BMOC in the school plays and planned to do the same in college. Once I got into college, I was devastated when I wasn’t cast in the first few shows for which I auditioned. I swore then that I would never been involved with theatre again which was an awkward thing given that I had my work study assignment in the theatre department.

One day I got a call asking if I wanted to help hang lights. I said I didn’t know how, they said they would train me and I ended up becoming a resident tech god. Despite the expertise I developed, I knew I couldn’t make a long term go as a technician much less a designer. (I have a hard enough time matching my socks to what I am wearing much less trying to do it for a full production.)

At the time I was writing press releases and running the box office for the theatre department and enjoyed it. I was also helping the department chair, Mark Heckler, coordinate some details of two Association of Theatre In Higher Education conferences since he was VP of Conferences at the Time. (He has since moved on to become Vice Chancellor at Colorado Univ.) I enjoyed the whole organizational process and so with Mark’s support, applied to the Theatre Management program at FSU.

The rest, of course, is history. I think I have a fairly good mind and disposition for arts management so the whole not getting cast episode turned out okay in the end. My hat off to Mark Heckler for putting up with a mixed up young man and guiding me to this path.

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