Recently, an orchestra manager told me that his orchestra was going to be “the most innovative orchestra in the world.” I asked what he was doing that was so innovative, and he rattled off a list of initiatives – performing out in the community in unusual spaces, partnering with other artists and arts organizations on projects the orchestra had never considered, expanding repertoire to include music that wasn’t traditionally symphonic, as well as several education initiatives that would introduce the orchestra to more students.
I don’t know his orchestra well enough day-to-day to be able to judge its initiatives, but I do know that these days it is the rare arts organization that isn’t experimenting. And whereas not long ago venerable institutions traded on their gravitas and painstakingly honed traditions, today you’re out-of-touch if you’re not trying to meet your audiences where they want to be. If yesterday museums and orchestras set the terms of their relationships, today the audience is increasingly in charge. The question is, when audiences make and remake themselves almost moment by moment, which audience is yours, and how does it want to be defined? Thus the innovation imperative.
“As ongoing technological and demographic changes have altered the relationship between arts organizations and that of artists and the audiences for their work, the value proposition offered during the latter half of the 20th century is in many cases changed and less relevant. Many arts groups therefore struggle with diminishing audiences and instability as the connection between the arts consumer and the arts offerer has frayed.” [Clyde Fitch Report]
Innovation (on the arts organizations’ part) is usually driven by one of two things: 1. realization of new opportunities for interacting with audiences and deepening their experience; or 2. the necessity of attracting new audiences in a world saturated with distractions competing for attention.
More often it’s audiences asserting their preferences and the institutions (be they arts, entertainment, sports, retailers) following. Over the past year, the audience/artist/institution relationships have been defined, redefined and redefined again. Here are a few examples:
More and more independent filmmakers are turning to crowdfunding to make their projects. Because they need financing? Sure.
But “while there’s a pretty diverse range of voices, the unifying factor we’re finding is that all these filmmakers have an independent spirit – these are directors who are making work in their own way, and always have. There’s also a real desire to engage with the audience. They’re not just going to Kickstarter for financing, but for a more genuine, one-on-one relationship with the audience.” [The Globe & Mail]
Giving up some artistic control to an audience untrained in choreography does pose unique problems, but “some of the challenges are the same that we face as dancers working with professional choreographers.” [Oregon ArtsWatch]
The Ubiquity Of Cheap Production Tools and the Rise of the Amateur
Where it used to take expensive recording studios printing presses or cameras to sound or look like a professional, cheap digital tools have put the means of production in the hands of anyone. That has blurred some of the lines between professional and amateur artists, and been tough on institutions that formerly acted as gatekeepers. And it changes the experience of artists that audiences want to have.
“While GarageBand effects have directly blended into the sound palette of even the most popular music—the beat for Rihanna’s “Umbrella”, for one, was created using one of the program’s loops—it’s played a greater role by compressing the space between an expensive studio and a DIY artist’s bedroom, between professionalism and amateurism. For many musicians, the rudimentary software acts as their first home recording tool, digital effects pedal, practice space, and, in many cases, their first bandmate. [Pitchfork]
Reordering of Networks, Gatekeepers and Structures
Fundamental to the kinds of audiences you get is the kind of work you produce and the artists you work with. We are moving from top-down hierarchies to networked production.
“As much as I initially winced at the word “gatekeepers” when considering what makes creative work succeed, once I started reading biographies of famous artists, scientists, and musicians, it made a lot of sense. Talent is only part of the equation. The rest is network.” [Hackerpreneur]
“A great deal of event art is more about the event and the audience than it is about the art. The throng – the sight of people congregating – is being used to prove relevance, to demonstrate that cultural institutions are hip and popular. But in chasing the buzz and pursuing the people, the art – a poem, exhibition, orchestral work or a play – can get lost. The danger is once the novelty wears off there is little to show for it. The crowds will vacate.” [Apollo]
A Proliferation of Audience Data
We’re in the age of user data, and your ability to drill down on audience behavior is limited only by your imagination in the questions you want answered. The granularity of data offers new levels of insights not only in how people found you and what they did but also who your likely prospects are.
“New research drawn from Audience Finder, based mainly on performing arts data, shows that the most highly engaged attenders, those who made six or more bookings per year, account for less than 12% of all bookers in the last three years. This select group is, however, responsible for making more than half (52%) of all the bookings made in the last three years. At the same time, 54% all those who have attended the arts in the last three years have only booked once. At 17.3% these one-time bookers are responsible for making less than a fifth of all bookings made during that time.” [Arts Professional]
“Sociologist Aaron Reeves of the University of Oxford reports most forms of arts participation are strongly correlated not with class, but rather with education. To his surprise, he found that in a large sample of the English population, those with higher incomes were actually less likely to be active participants in the arts.” [Pacific Standard]
“Almost a quarter of those surveyed said that cast members were the biggest influence on a decision to go to a show, while 17% said the show’s creative team was most important. More than 80% of theatregoers said that costly tickets prevented them from attending the theatre more, while the second biggest barrier, location, was only mentioned by a third of respondents.” [The Stage (UK)]