Engagement Vocabulary in Action

DictionaryIn an effort to clarify the points from my last two posts (Engagement Vocabulary and Parsing Vocabulary), I’m going to try to describe the differences among audience development, audience engagement, and community engagement by using a specific work produced by an arts organization as an example.

[But first, to re-repeat, here are the operating definitions I’m using:

  • Audience Development is a marketing strategy designed for immediate results (sales, donations, etc.).
  • Audience Engagement is a marketing strategy designed for deepening relationships with current stakeholders and expanding reach over time.
  • Community Engagement is a mission strategy designed to create and maintain relationships with individuals and communities. The desired end results are deepened relationships and expanded reach for the arts organization and healthier, more vibrant communities.]

Let me take Michael Tippett’s A Child of Our Time, an oratorio written in response to Kristallnacht, as an example to consider. It employs African-American spirituals to highlight issues of racism and oppression. (Yes, gross oversimplification, but there it is.)

The company that produces this work and identifies synagogues in the community as good places to sell tickets is doing audience development.

The company that sponsors a scholar (or panel) discussing the Holocaust as a pre-concert talk is employing an audience engagement approach. In this it would be assumed that a deeper understanding of the Holocaust will enhance an audience member’s appreciation of the work.

The company that has an established relationship with both the African-American and Jewish communities and, as a result of discussing (with them) the need to build bridges between those communities, decides to produce A Child of Our Time is involved in community engagement. The arts organization could then sponsor workshops/panel discussion/presentations on the issue. Or even better, it could work with organizations in those communities as they develop ways to utilize the oratorio in the service of their own interests.

I don’t deny that it would be possible to use A Child of Our Time as a means of beginning a relationship with the communities mentioned in the previous paragraph. HOWEVER, that is difficult. Imagine someone you’ve never met coming up to you and offering you a shiny new Rolex saying they want to be your friend. The prospect might give you pause, at best, especially if this person was part of a family with which you had had a less than positive relationship before. Using a work of art to begin a relationship can be done, but it must be done with care and with awareness that it could appear to be simply a ploy to sell tickets.

It’s a good exercise to apply the same type of analysis to any work of art with which you are familiar. How might anything you would present be imagined in each of the three categories? The more you do it, the easier it gets. I’ll say, I’m still working through the thought processes myself.

Engage!

Doug

Photo:Attribution Some rights reserved by greeblie
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