Museum head removes price barriers: "I want everybody to feel they belong here"

Michael Granberry, Dallas Morning News' Artsblog, 11/27/12

Beginning Jan. 21, the Dallas Museum of Art will take the unprecedented step of offering free general admission and free memberships, making it the first art museum in the country to do so. "Nobody has ever done this," DMA director Maxwell Anderson said. "We're going to build a model for museum engagement that we believe every other museum like us will want to have." The DMA will still charge for special exhibitions, but "low-cost shows will be free. Shows that are scholarly or aren't presupposed to have a big draw will not be charged for. So, I think it will be the familiar, seasonal, major exhibitions that will be ticketed. And those prices will be indexed to what the market seems to indicate. It won't be the same price for every exhibition." Even then, he said, those with free memberships will be allowed to accrue points that may allow them to attend some exhibitions for free. General admission is now $10, with discounts. "We're a public institution supported by the taxpayers of Dallas," Anderson said, "and many of those taxpayers don't have the disposable income to toss around for cultural endeavors... And I don't want an admission fee to be an obstacle to them." Anderson said he hopes to broaden the demographic base of those who attend the DMA and to do so dramatically. "When somebody from South Dallas walks up to the front desk, and the person behind the counter says, 'Welcome to the DMA - are you members?' What are they hearing? It's like walking into a country club. It freaks you out. It's exclusionary. I want everybody to feel they belong here, so I want everybody to be a member."


Commentary: Let's make it easier for consumers to buy Broadway tickets

Charles Flateman, Shubert Ticketing's Marketing Notes e-newsletter, Nov/Dec 2012 issue

There's an old marketing tale (which may or may not be true) that goes like this: Ajax Cleanser had a solid business, but growth was at a snail's pace. Everyone already had Ajax under their kitchen sink and used it every day. It was the ultimate mature business. So they gathered together all the finest minds at Ajax to figure out how to grow their stable, yet moribund, business. At first, conventional ideas were proposed: advertise more, raise prices. No one could come up with a plan that didn't cost a fortune to execute. Until...The most junior marketing guy took a can home and came back the next day, claiming he had the answer to improved sales. What did he do? He drilled the holes on the top of the can so they were 33% bigger. The stuff simply came out faster. The solution cost nothing to execute. People consumed a lot more product, and sales jumped. So what's the moral of the story for all of us on Broadway? We think of the industry as a mature business that's hard to grow in unit sales, so we rely on price increases to drive revenue growth, which ought to make us very uncomfortable. How do we get people to consume more of our product without losing revenue? Broadway, like Ajax, also needs to make the product "come out of the can" easier. For so many consumers, it's hard to find out how and where to buy a ticket, [and] we often present information using jargon. What is a "regular" ticket? Who wants a "full priced" anything? When we give customers the choice of "Buy Tickets" vs. "Buy Premium Seats," do they have any clue what we're talking about? We can learn a lot from the smarties who give customers an easier way to get the product.


Commentary: Your mouth says 'innovative', your pictures say 'status quo'

Joe Patti on the Inside The Arts blog Butts In The Seats, 11/27/12

Lucy Bernholz at Philanthropy 2173 reminds us about the importance of buzz phrases to the non-profit arts community. She cites a (tongue in cheek) grant proposal for ""The Innovative Art Jargon Creation Project -- An Activity for the New Millennium."  I got some pretty good chuckles off this. However, over on ARTSblog, Megan Pagado reflects on her experiences [at] the National Arts Marketing Project Conference noting that the choices arts marketers make often perpetuate the status quo even as they express a desire to change it:

"...the conversation shifted from marketer-created messages to marketer-perpetuated messages. A picture of an all-white, male orchestra elicited the most memorable response: "They're all dudes!"  Therein laid the dilemma for many of us in the room: What is our process of reviewing materials from artists?  What if an artist doesn't have a better, less stereotypical photo for a marketing team to use? And, as Amy Fox tweeted: 'Do artists always understand the stereotypes they perpetuate when they create?' Some marketers walked away with an action item: creating a diverse committee to review artist materials, for example. But I think many, including myself, walked away with more questions than answers: How can I be inclusive while avoiding tokenism? When does utilizing inclusive language achieve its desired goal of making all feel welcome, and when does it simply brush issues under the rug and avoid conversations that need to be had?"

I admit I had never really thought about whether an image an artist supplied was perpetuating a stereotype. Most frequently my concern is whether the image communicates the performance will be interesting. Taken together, these two blog posts remind us to be cognizant of the impression conveyed by the words and images we employ to promote our organization. Are we saying we are innovative because we are or because innovative is the trending term? Do the images we use back up that claim? I think it can easily slip our notice that while we may be explicitly saying, "we want to include you," the images we use may implicitly be saying "No we don't."


Commentary: Is your arts organization fun?

Chad Bauman on his blog Arts Marketing, 11/17/12

At a National Arts Marketing Project Conference session entitled "The Curated Arts Experience", Nella Vera started talking about something really fundamental - having fun. She gave several great examples of organizations that went out of their way to create fun and memorable experiences for their audiences. Immediately prior, we were treated to a session featuring cdza, a trio of guys who create musical experiments. They make classical music fun and accessible, and in doing so, have millions of viewers worldwide. Their motto: "first build your audience by offering them dessert before you introduce vegetables." Simple. Clear. Brilliant. In previous blog posts, I've mentioned that when building audiences, you must program "gateway drugs" - a couple of options that are easily accessible and offer up a fun evening of entertainment. Great art doesn't have to be devoid of entertainment value. [And, as] Adam Thurman [recently] reminded us: we need new audiences more than they need us. We have to make our organizations inviting, accessible and fun. And [we have to] understand that providing a fun experience doesn't equate to sacrificing artistic credibility. We don't have to sacrifice the core of who we are to attract new audiences, and those that make that argument, in my opinion, are short-sighted. 


Commentary: The intersection between an arts org and the community around it

Doug Borwick, blog Engaging Matters, 11/24/12

Community engagement almost always requires a partnership between an artist or arts organization and some non-artist community member or organization. (Otherwise, it's simply the arts doing "for" the community.) The core principle here is that artists and arts organizations are the experts in art. The community is expert in its needs and in what works in the community. The "What do we do?" question can only come from the intersection of those two areas of expertise. So you start in the middle with what the arts organization does well and what the community's interests/needs are. The most appropriate question would appear to be, "How can we take what we do well and apply it usefully in the community?" The arts can and should begin with what they have the technical capacity to accomplish, but the work should address the community's greatest needs. All of this puts me in mind of the theologian Frederick Buechner's observation about an individual's "calling" in life. He said it is found at "the place where your deep gladness and the world's deep hunger meet." In other words, at what are you best/what do you most enjoy doing and what does the world (community) most need? This has always resonated for me as an individual. It seems to make sense institutionally as well.

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