Tag Archives: arts

artists break rules

I’m on my way up to Boston in a little while to lead a workshop on Getting the Word Out for artists at a conference organized by my friend Kathy Bitetti, executive director of the Artists Foundation.  I’m pretty excited about it — it’s my favorite thing to do, work one-on-one with artists and arts organizations who are feeling their way around social media, trying to build relationships, broaden audiences, and generally raise their visibility.

So I was thinking, trying to come up with recent examples of how an artist or arts organization had succeeded in galvanizing me to come see a show, buy some art, or show my support in some other tangible way, and I only had to think back a few nights, to last Friday.

I had gotten home from school, pretty tired after my long commute, but excited about the long weekend ahead.  Sitting in front of my computer, catching up on the blogs and the twitter streams of my friends, when I received a quick and short little email from the theater down the street.

It was a reminder about the terrific review they had just received from the local paper for their current production, The Invisible Man.  It also reminded me how much I had wanted to see that show before it closed.

End result? I closed my computer five minutes later and headed down the street to see the show. Why is this worth remarking on? Well, it struck me that this email I received broke some classic advice about “effective online marketing.”

Who sends an email promo out at 7:00 pm on a Friday night? Anyone will tell you that it’s sure to be overlooked in Monday’s flood of competing emails, meetings, and crises.

But it was the right thing for the theater to do, because they got me at exactly the right time to make a decision.

Also, that email didn’t have a prominent Call To Action like it was supposed to.  It just pointed me to information I was interested in — how this local reviewer felt about the show — and let me take it from there.

In these harder economic times, we may be tempted to get a little harder about the sell in our online communications, try to push for more returns, more revenue, because that’s what it’s all about, right?

But the social web runs on relationships.  It runs on quirky, and it thrives on rule-breaking.

This is especially true for artists and arts organizations, and it reminds me why we need special gatherings like today’s conference in Boston, just for the arts community.  There’s a lot of advice out there for how to use social media for business, but some of it doesn’t apply to artists, or to cultural organizations.

Lots of it does — especially the basics, which always apply: Be Real, Be Honest, Be Helpful.

But the implementation might vary significantly for you if you’re an artist, a theater, a museum.

Artists, as we all know, are different.

And isn’t that one of the best things about them?

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passing notes and twittering behind your back

I’m in the final two weeks of presenting What’s Your Story: Personal Branding, PR and New Media for Artists — an eight-week class for artists who are just getting started in online promotions and sales — and today I spent some time firming up a few technical details with my next speaker, Len Edgerly, podcaster and videocaster extraordinaire.

We sort of jokingly raised the question of how we would handle the Twitter back-channel, if there was one, during his session — jokingly because this class is only just getting wet in social media, and only a few of them are on Twitter at all, and certainly not, to my knowledge, at the level of saturation that we are (for better or worse).

I think our laughter was somewhat nervous laughter, because we live-Twitter events constantly, and it’s bound to be our turn to be live-Twittered ourselves one day.

In any case, what would I do if I were moderating a panel, or presenting a class (which I do often), and the Twitter channel lit up?

As David Berkowitz wrote the other day, “… At a minimum, a speaker or mod(erator) should monitor the back channel, but keep the focus on those on stage.”

Monitoring the back channel, if it exists, is just as important as taking the emotional temperature of the room — both as a speaker and a moderator — and adjusting accordingly. Watching faces, listening to restless rustles, checking for questions or contributions — and watching what notes people are passing to each other — are all parts of being a good and attentive host.

I know I’ll be monitoring twitter at the concerts and public events coming up on my organization’s calendar, probably using Summize or Tweetscan.

Not just to listen in on what people have to say, but to meet the folks in my community who are using Twitter to communicate and navigate the world. If they are at my event, and Twittering, they are people that I want to know!

I’m interested to see how the use of Twitter evolves at large cultural events, like concerts and festivals. More people are discovering Twitter every day, and events like these lend themselves very well to communicating –both peer-to-peer and management-to-crowd, via cell phone.

I’ve seen people try to introduce Twitter to groups at events, which doesn’t really work. There are people who Twitter, and some of them might be at your event. Watch them. Figure out how to interact best with them — what works for them — while there are still only a few. Their numbers will grow, and when they do, we’ll know how to deal with them.

How do you use Twitter at your own events? How might you, if you did?

an artyr for the cause

The Boston Globe reported that some small arts groups are responding creatively to the Boston Foundation’s recently released report (PDF) on the state of the arts community in the greater Boston area.

Tomorrow night in an alternative gallery space in Cambridge, a self-proclaimed group of “artyrs” will drink Kool-Aid, eat chili, and participate in a “die in.”

Many feel that the report — which recommends smaller, struggling arts organizations consider merging, or an “exit strategy” that would lead to their quiet demise — took an unnecessarily cold, actuarial view of the plight of the small arts nonprofit.

It’s actually a fair bit more balanced than that. The report does recommend a number of strategies for struggling arts organizations, including seeking more grants and sharing performance space. But on the whole, the report appears to stand as a simple testimony to what are some harsh realities in today economy.

  1. Audiences are declining
  2. Subscriptions are declining
  3. Public and private funding has diminished

Is there a limit to creativity? To art? To the possibilities that a handful of passionate people can acheive?

No, of course not.  But there is a zero sum of donor dollars, and of audience members.

A more useful take on the report might be, to quote the authors, “to promote honest conversations and decision-making” about serious issues like sustainable staffing levels, leadership succession, the cost of maintaining facilities, and the public perception of and engagement in the arts.

These issues, or more precisely, the neglect of these issues, are what will doom a small or “wrong-sized” nonprofit. Caught up in the day-to-day struggle for survival, small arts groups often fail to address their overall strategic plan. Stop-gap measures and band-aid fixes are often easier to embrace.

Foundations like the Boston Foundation have the resources, expertise, and time to assemble the data and take a high-altitude view of the cultural sector. The vision laid out in this report is one that prizes innovation and the new, supports principles of sound fiscal governance and sober judgment, and calmly assesses the changing tastes and expectations of the local and tourism audience.

Imagine the ideal. An innovative sector that welcomes new ideas, new art, and organizations, and preserves the treasures of the past; a sector where organizations can grow, or end operations gracefully; a sector of resilient organizations with the resources to invest in ideas and programs that excite audiences and donors.

One might ask, what is the purpose of a report like this? To what constructive end might these findings be applied?

A few possibilities:

  1. Regional organizations might use the data to make the case for a large grant to address some of the more troubling issues. Maybe some arts groups could be helped by the building of some co-op performance space. Maybe a collaborative marketing plan would entice more visitors to explore smaller arts groups. Maybe a trail, a series of podcasts, or an interactive, multimedia map.
  2. Lobbyists might use the data to make the case for increased state and federal funding of the arts. Cultural facilities funding, artist live-work space, local arts agency grants, international tourism advertising, are all things that come up in budgets — when the data is there to support the need.
  3. Arts organizations might use the data: to try to attract seasoned businesspeople to their boards, to create or reassess a strategic plan, to finally talk about the unthinkable –what will happen when our founder is no longer here?

The Boston Foundation’s report is a physical exam, a check-up. The temperature of the arts and culture community has been taken, and a few questions have been asked about how healthy and proactive our habits are.

Does the Boston Foundation want you to die? I doubt it. But I think it would rather you see a doctor for that cough, rather than have you continue to maintain that it’s just a sore throat.

perpetual motion machine

At the end of the day today I spoke for a long time with Rebecca Krause-Hardie, an Arts/Technology blogger with whom I appear to have a great deal in common. It was a free-wheeling conversation, not least, I suspect, because I had ingested very little besides several vats of coffee throughout the course of the day, a circumstance that I fear might have led to some rambling and incoherency on my part.

I might have implied that I am against hugging. And certain southern cities. I’d like to state for the record that this is not the case.

In any case, I look forward to her summary of our conversation, which I gather will be posted on her blog in due time. I plan to return the favor next week, after switching to chamomile tea for a few days.

In the meantime, I am very intrigued by her desire to build a sort of resource/clearing house/online community for arts organizations using web 2.0 tools like podcasting, blogging, and social networking sites. We tossed around a few ideas about how this might be done, what would be useful, relevant, and interesting, and how such a thing might be constructed for the greater good.

In fact, we’ve got an idea that I’m going to spend some hours on this weekend, see if we can rig up some pulleys and weights and mirrors and buckets to make something interesting happen.

couldn’t DonorsChoose artists?

Beth Kanter’s recent post about the power and recent success of DonorsChoose caught my eye.  This recent success story of a blogger garnering a very impressive response in the form of big contributions to DonorsChoose doesn’t surprise me at all.  It’s an awesome idea.

When I first heard about DonorsChoose, a site where educators can post specific requests for charitable donations for their classes and projects, while donors can choose which projects to give (often small, manageable) contributions to, it struck me as absolute genius, and as as a potential model for other fields of philanthropy.

Why not fund individual artists in the same way?  Artists always need microgrants to fund various projects, forays, explorations, and experimentations, and giving them a place to post these needs where sympathetic donors could find them.

The potential for this is huge, I think.  This type of microgranting directly from one individual to another can be very powerful, and can give the donor a vested interest in the future and success of the project, while the recipient has an interest in maintaining the and nurturing the relationship with the donor.  I can see a relationship being sustained over time, where the donor — who was possibly attracted to the artist through an attraction to their art — becomes a collector, a supporter, an arts patron in the traditional sense of the word.

I will be interested to see how this model grows and expands – and how bloggers drive this evolution.