Art Lives Here at the 6th Annual Maryland Presenters Network Meeting
Today the 6th Annual Maryland Presenters Network Meeting kicked off at 9:30 am at the Maryland Hall for the Creative Arts. The morning opened with coffee, muffins and a tour of the venue. Founded in 1979, Maryland Hall for the Creative Arts is housed in a the former Annapolis High School and currently being used as an arts community center. They offer “year-round classes, performances, exhibits, tours, workshops and demonstrations people of all ages discover the transformative power of the arts.” Walking down the third floor hall towards registration it was impossible not to stop and peer in to each Artist-in-Residence studio, want to learn more about the each of the Resident Companies, or sign up immediately for a class.
Post tour, a second coffee and muffin in hand, Nehemiah Dixon III of Joe’s Movement Emporium and I joined other arts administrators and presenting organizations for a day of open discussion about best-practices and new ideas, especially when it comes to engaging our audiences.
The day laid out as follows:
“Connecting with Audiences on Their Terms,” a workshop led by community engagement specialist Christy Farnbauch of Strategic Links. View the session description at www.msac.org/mdpresentersnetwork.
“The Presenter Catalyst: An interactive discussion of opportunity for exploration, engagement and collaboration among Maryland Presenters,” co-facilitated by Paul Brohan of the Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center and Bill Mandicott of Frostburg State University. View the session description atwww.msac.org/mdpresentersnetwork.
“Maximizing E-Marketing Tools: Messaging, Strategy, Integration,” led by digital marketing expert Jamie Schneider of The Smithsonian Associates. View the session description at www.msac.org/mdpresentersnetwork.
The audience ranged from all over Maryland and was quiet vocal. One of the most interesting discussions was led by Christy Farnbauch of Strategic Links, “Connecting with Audiences on Their Terms.”
Farnbauch opened the session by asking us to take 60 seconds to write down our answers to the following question:
Here was my response:
Farnbauch next asked the audience to take a few minutes to share with their neighbors their stories. A few minutes turned into five or ten as Farnbauch has a hard time getting everyone’s attention again, all were so engrossed in telling their stories and sharing their experiences. She told us she’s been doing this at workshops and seminars across the county, and it doesn’t matter who they are or what their profession is, everyone has a meaningful performing arts experience, and everyone wants to share about it. They just needed to be asked.
Farnbauch pointed out that these words, these evocative responses to performing arts experiences, these are the words and language we need to use in order to attract that very audience into our venues. If we can tap into to what our audience enjoyed feeling, we are better able not only to provide them with that experience again, but to communicate with them what we are able to give.
By telling people we can offer you these experiences, we’re telling them to “Come as you are,” yet giving them the opportunity to “Leave Different.” A good value propositions makes a big difference.
The data on why audiences are not coming to arts events shouldn’t be surprising. After all, after a long week on a Friday night how often do you find one of these reasons cropping up before you can convince yourself to buck up and attend? In the age of Netflix, inescapable work e-mails on our smart phones, tweeting/facebook/instagraming/vining everything from our new shoes to our lunch choices, is it so shocking that presenting arts organizations have a harder time than ever in convincing someone to extend their day, their drive, their endurance just a bit longer for the promise of a transformative arts experience?
How do we meet these barriers head on?
Farnbauch’s answer, figure out what your audience wants, and continue to give it to them. That’s why ask them how they felt at a positive performing arts experience, and then offer that feeling again.
So what exactly is audience engagement? Farnbauch quotes Alan Brown:
And gives us the Arc of Engagement:
The Arc of Engagement lets us know where audiences and visitors can enter in their meaning-making artistic experiences, and helps us figure out how to move them along and retain them in an increasingly competitive marketplace.
While Farnbauch’s findings were about music, specifically a jazz presenter, she claims they are appropriate and applicable to all presenting arts organizations. For example,
Couldn’t these needs apply to all presenting arts organizations? Whether music, dance, theater, poetry, workshops, etc… wouldn’t it makes sense to think of taste in these as being socially transmitted as well? However one of the most rousing conversations centered around this following issue:
Farnbauch shared about a situation in which she and her family were enjoying an arts experience during which the traditional “please do not photograph or record the show” phrasing was omitted from the welcome remarks. So when the show began and the ubiquitous smartphones went up to capture the moment, it was not only surprising, but incredibly annoying as the ushers were let out in mass to engaging in the awkward “please don’t take pictures” conversation with each phone wielding audience member.
The presenters meeting erupted in responses, everything from avoiding lawsuits to ruining other audiences members experience by allowing phones came up. While Farnbauch recognized that many artists could be distracted by the lack of intimacy caused the obstacle of a smartphone and the possible negative effect on other art viewers experiences, she pointed out:
We have the opportunity to touch thousands by allowing our arts goers to post pictures and hopefully rave about what they are seeing. Should we say no to free publicity? Is it really free? What are the costs? Who are we to get in the way of an individual making their own take-home memory? If a person is in a seat, is the fact that they’re still watching through a screen our responsibility?
Most interesting to me, was this idea of a back story. Audiences are better able to connect with artists and experiences if they have already shared some level intimacy. How do we give them this connection? Is it through a story in a program, a video on social media, publicizing an artist’s twitter account? This connection not only brings people in the doors, but keeps them coming back.
Needless to say we had a wonderful day and learned a lot. To see more of our tweets from this event and future events please follow us at @art_lives_here.
We hope to hear from you about your thoughts on engaging arts audiences whether your are a member of the presenters or of the consumers. As always,