In Shifting the Center I began a consideration of transforming the way we think about the relationship between art and community. Many of us in the arts see the world from the perspective of our arts discipline, and that discipline–along with the work that is its expression–is a value unto itself. Our commitment to art can be nearly all-consuming. But this is a hindrance to relationship building. It gets in the way of engagement. We cannot and should not expect others to share the depth of our passion. For most people, any art is a choice, an addition to lives that are often full to begin with. It is our responsibility to make the art we love meaningful to them. (If not us, then who?! Think of this as a practical rather than a moral responsibility.)
As is true in marketing, in engagement what the people we are trying to reach think is what must matter most to us. Our own perspective is meaningless.
[NB: I had finished drafting this post before Trevor O’Donnell’s 2012: The Year of Reality-Based Arts Marketing came out. Here is one thing, apropos of this topic, on his list of elements of such marketing:
Whereas arts marketing is almost exclusively self-centered, reality based arts marketing will be focused on potential audiences and the extent to which the products promise to satisfy their stated needs, desires or expectations. Rather than filling season brochures with self-congratulatory information about the events, artists and institutions, reality-based marketers will devote a reasonable portion of their promotional real estate to the audience and to demonstrating how the products they’re selling will make them happy.]
For the record, the fact that someone else does not find [fill in the blank] as captivating, uplifting, or life-affirming as you do does not demean them, nor you! People are different. The idea some hold that if only a person saw a *good* production of opera they would love it is false. Some will be won over. Others won’t. (I have had a similar issue with regard to good readings of Shakespeare. I think everyone will–should?–”get it.” I’m wrong.)
In order first to communicate and then to build relationships we must understand what is important to those we seek to reach. We don’t need to value those same things (although if it is possible, that would be a huge help), but we need to honor the importance of those things to others. If we don’t know what those things are–or worse, if we don’t care–relationships and, therefore, engagement will not be possible.
An artcentric perspective has several negative results. When it is perceived as being condescending, it prevents any possibility of creating trust. Who wants to be around someone who looks down on them? When it narrows our sphere of professional colleagues (especially if our sphere is limited to those in the arts or even those in our own discipline), we are cut off from collaborative options. We cannot form partnerships with people or organizations we do not know. When it precludes us from seeing the world around us, it removes us from identifying possible means of connecting with others. Since no one is looking to us for help, the task of finding collaborative entry points must often begin with us. (The Understanding Your Community questions to which I referred in Well Rounded Organizations are intended to help with this process.)
Expand your horizons and