What I Believe: 2013

New Years Day is an excellent time to reflect on the beliefs we choose to carry forward into the new year – the pillars upon which our future efforts will be based.

Here are my TOP FIVE.

I welcome discussion – and would love to hear yours, too!


  1. An empty seat never recommended anything to anybody.  Arts & culture is a business driven by word of mouth.  Every empty seat (or whatever that looks like for your type of organization) represents a FAILURE to invest in the future of your organization.
  2. The only thing worse than having no audience is attracting the WRONG audience.  Don’t pursue short-term goals at the expense of long-term objectives.
  3. The value of arts & culture derives not from the success of any single genre, organization or venue - but from the nurturing of a multi-layered ECOSYSTEM that offers many people many different ways to achieve personally-meaningful connections.  (We too often take the term “arts & cultural community” for granted, but the plain truth is that NONE of our organizations can exist outside of such a community.)
  4.  “Return on Relevance” is at least twice as important as “Return on Investment.”  Sure, our endeavors need to make good “business sense” – but staff, volunteers, board and stakeholders need to appreciate that how an organization engages, renews and sustains RELEVANCE with its audience is, by far, the most important determinant of an organization’s sustainability.  Really.
  5. If necessity truly is the “mother of invention”, then the arts & culture sector in the year 2013 should be the EPICENTER of innovation!  Here are two great questions to kick-off your first staff/committee/board meetings of 2013:  What is the priority of innovation in our organization?  How can we meaningfully share the lessons we learn with others in our arts and cultural community?  How might we collaborate with others to build on our mutual learning experiences?       

With best wishes for a healthy & prosperous new year!


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  1. says

    Hi Matt,

    Good and useful information! What strikes me as the key to doing what we do is “but the plain truth is that NONE of our organizations can exist outside of such a community.” I live and work in rural Siskiyou County, we are located at the top of California in the Great Pacific Northwest. There a many small communities with populations around 3,500 and the county seat, Yreka, has about 7,000 people. Each community has their own cultural events. There are 4 or 5 theater groups, including a community college with lots of arts happening.

    This list has plenty to think about. I am working with a group who is opening the first and only Arts Museum in the county. We are exploring how we can become a vibrant part of the community by offering art shows that people will want to see and events to attend. This list will be helpful.

    I think 2013 will be the year of the Arts in my home!

  2. Johnson says

    Hi Matt, the core program needed in any city, to insure on-going audience development (supporting arts tourism economy), is for K-12 schools to offer vocal and instrumental music programs that reflect the National Standards for Arts in Education, published by the Music Educators National Conference.
    Text books are graded: First grade math, First grade reading, etc. Music is also graded in the same manner.
    So to meet the Standards, a school music program needs to looks something like this:
    Vocal music grades K-6 taught by classroom teachers trained in Kodaly vocal music ; grades 7-12 full choir rehearsal one hour daily; Suzuki strings grades K-6 taught twice a week in two, 30-minute pull-out lessons with like instruments by a specialist; grades 4-6 wind instrument lessons, twice a week in two, 30-minute pull-out lessons with like instruments taught by a specialist; one full 45-minute string orchestra or band rehearsal once a week after school; grade 7-12 full ensemble rehearsals one-hour daily, both string and wind ensembles.
    Over the past 20 years, the gradual and continuing cuts to public education in the St. Paul and Minneapolis K-12 achools, has resulted in the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra and the Minnesota Orchestra to loose their audience base. Both are on a “lock-out” by management and currently not performing. The quality and depth of k-12 Public School music programs determines the arts-music tourism economy in any city.

  3. says

    Y’know, as a musician, formerly of a major symphony, I began to share the responsibility for building audiences with management. This started a long time ago before I launched my first outreach ensemble. It intensified when I began working with our telemarketing group. These folk were on the frontlines doing a sales job the musicians themselves couldn’t do. Very few musicians had done any sales work and very few sales people had played any music. Yet their security on this job depended on understanding why people would want to come dressed up just to sit and hear our orchestra. If we musicians couldn’t help our sales team make sense of it, then what good are we… even if we are great at the nonverbal communication.
    I started meeting with telemarketing weekly. I’d bring in my colleagues to play and talk about how it’s personal, playful and ALIVE rather than “important to preserve the best music in the history of the universe”. Conversely, I listened to the sales manager instruct how to talk to customers, how to draw out objections and close a sale several times. It was then that I realized that new audiences are desperately looking for alternatives, information, inspiration and innovation in any form. This is a great time to be in the arts IF we can help new people get past what they object to about our art. It takes courage to look at the far side of the coin and imagination to flip it around for each other.
    Keep it up Matt!

    • says

      Thank you very much for your sharing this insight, Rick. It’s terrific & timely. A great example of how artists can (and should) be embracing the marketing & audience development challenge. I am very grateful!

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