"Everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing himself."
Commentary: Change programming to include more diverse artists & audiences
Marianne Combs, Minnesota Public Radio State of the Arts blog, 4/24/12
When the Guthrie Theater announced its 50th Anniversary season [a few weeks ago], the absence of women and minorities among the playwrights and directors ignited a fierce debate in the Twin Cities arts community. Many who felt they have long been excluded from the Guthrie's main stage -- and some who haven't -- used the Guthrie's announcement to highlight what they called the flagship theater's failure to embrace diverse audiences. The theater's defenders rushed to say the Guthrie was only doing what it must do to fill seats and stay on budget. Does the theater have any obligation to present the stories of women and people of color? And if so, to what extent? If not, at what peril is a theater that doesn't do so, given the demographic changes transforming the nation? Is it impossible for large theaters to stage work by women, or playwrights of color, and still balance the budget? Many critics point to the Guthrie as the cause of its own problems. Bonnie Schock, Artistic Director of the former Twin Cities theater company Three Legged Race, said there are fewer "high profile" female and minority directors and playwrights because institutions of power and privilege such as the Guthrie are consistently failing to challenge the cultural assumptions that support that power and privilege. Making theater more inclusive is a national challenge according to Teresa Eyring, executive director of Theatre Communications Group: "...the theater field should be striving to model the world we want to see, not reflecting the parts of the world around us that are lagging behind."
Commentary: Change how artists interact with audiences
Kate Taylor, Toronto Globe & Mail, 4/21/12
People too busy watching Netflix in their pyjamas to show up? Patrons would rather tweet than listen? Canadian performers have interesting ideas about how to engage audiences in the age of distraction:
If you can't beat them: Following the lead of many other major symphony orchestras, the Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra will play a concert of music from video games next month. The Philharmonic also hopes to offer music education via Twitter next season, with live Twitter commentary offered during select performances of the orchestra's rush-hour concerts.
But is Twitter art? Praxis Theatre, a Toronto group with a reputation for tweeting during city council meetings about the arts, has done several experiments encouraging tweeting during shows, but artistic producer Aislinn Rose believes the technology has to be applied judiciously.
Let your audience vote: Toronto pianist Chris Donnelly has recently started asking his audience to vote on whether they wish to hold their applause until the end of a piece of music - or clap between movements. At a concert in Cornwall last month, about 400 people indicated - by the volume of their applause - that they would rather wait until the end of a Brahms clarinet sonata before clapping.
Bring them onstage: The Electric Company Theatre's recent production of All the Way Home began with an idea about audiences. Director Kim Collier wanted to bring them onstage. She picked an intimate family drama and produced it with some audience members actually sitting on the set. "Audiences said they felt they were extended family members or ancestors. They couldn't distance themselves."
Invite them home: Comic Rebecca Northan has a reputation for getting close to her audience - her Blind Date is an improvised piece featuring a man selected from willing patrons in the lobby before the show. She will even invite audiences home; she relies on word of mouth to draw ticket buyers to private salons of theatre, music and visual art that she holds in her Toronto loft. People lucky enough to find out about the shows are instructed to bring a bottle of wine and expect surprises.
...Or lock them up: In each performance of The Voyage, Vancouver's experimental theatre company Boca del Lupo shut 14 people in a shipping container and treated them to a sound piece about human trafficking. Audiences were warned beforehand about the situation: The claustrophobic chose not to attend, but the show was sold out before it ever opened, says artistic producer Jay Dodge.
Commentary: Change how arts orgs promote themselves to audiences
Trevor O'Donnell, Marketing the Arts To Death blog, 5/7/12
Echo and Narcissus, a tale about the dangers of being so self-consumed that you lose your connection to those who sustain you, illustrates a curious dynamic that exerts a powerful - and perhaps even tragic - influence on the way we in the arts communicate with the world around us. In the cultural sector, we look for validations of our worth: rave reviews, feature articles, quote ads, glossy brochures. There's nothing wrong with seeking affirmation, but consider a typical marketing meeting where the executive director is about to weigh in on some new campaign ideas. The first is a traditional approach with pumped up, self-congratulatory language, star photos and flattering media quotes. The second idea overlays a clever thematic through-line onto the season lineup and uses a witty bit of wordplay as its principal attention-getter. The third idea is less flashy, but it's based on research showing that less-avid consumers lack the ability to envision themselves enjoying time in the venue. It focuses on the audiences and the good time they'll have coming to the events. Which idea will generate more revenue? The third one. It's based on research and it focuses on the customers. Which one will the executive director pick? The first one, of course. The one that tells the world how wonderful his organization is. If being wonderful and constantly reminding the world how wonderful we are isn't enough to sustain the arts, maybe we need to focus a little bit more on the people who will be taking care of us when our wonderfulness is no longer evident.
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Commentary: Shift focus off those resisting change & onto those changing already
Andrew Taylor, ArtsJournal.com blog The Artful Manager, 5/7/12
I've been skimming through Anthony Weston's 2007 manifesto, How to Re-imagine the World (highly skim-worthy, since it has fabulous ideas and states them quickly), and actually stopped skimming and began to read when I reached the opening to chapter 9:
"Naturally we look to the sticking-points, the places where change is most visibly and powerfully resisted. At the same time, though we may miss the places and ways in which change -- complex and radical change -- is happening now already. What if we joined in?"
I stopped there, because I do that all the time. I rage against the machine of professional nonprofit cultural organizations and infrastructure. I whine about large organizations in major markets that seem bent on isolating themselves from their core value and their connections to the world. And in my Arts Administration classes, I teach by sharing the large, catastrophic failures in cultural facilities and clueless board governance, and thinking with students about how such catastrophes might be avoided. But they'll always be there. And they'll always be resistant to change (which is how they built up over time into catastrophes). So, now I'm shifting focus (if I can) toward the "inside track," toward the individuals and organizations who are changing things already, even if only in little ways. And it's not just a matter of finding 'bright spots' to copy them (although that's cool, too). It's about celebrating them, teaching through them, learning from them.