Ideas: April 2008 Archives
Note: This article discusses an event in Charleston, S.C., called Kulture Klash 2, a kind of art party that I argue could be a model for "authentic" branding as posited by Bill Breen in a 2007 article in Fast Company. Inspiration for this piece comes from Andrew Taylor's hugely insightful blog on arts and the business of the arts and my fellow Flyoverstani Bridgette Redman's August post about authenticity and audience connection.
Song of Experience
Kulture Klash 2 and the authenticity of an emerging arts brand
By John Stoehr, Charleston City Paper
One way of explaining the astounding popularity of the iPod, YouTube, and Facebook is that they feel authentic.
We, the consumers, are in control. We pick the songs we want to hear, the videos we want to see, and the people we want to befriend.
In a consumerist country saturated by corporate rhetoric, marketing hype, and the commercialization of you-name-it, these devices might offer respite from the out-of-control anxieties of a seemingly out-of-control marketplace. They can provide a comforting break from a heavy psychic burden -- the knowledge that someone, somewhere at any given time is willing to say anything to sell you something.
For those of us in GenX or GenY (if those are still useful terms), this is old news.
We were raised on TV. We've become intimately familiar with the verisimilitudes of bullshit.
We grew up wanting to know that there's more out there than commercials for toys, games, and breakfast cereals interspersed with Saturday morning cartoons. We eventually found ourselves searching -- for what, we weren't really sure. Whatever it was, though, it had to be something we could trust and believe in. It had to be something, as a sage songwriter once put it, that's "really, really real."
When it comes to the arts -- and when I say "arts," I mean all of them, from classical ballet to parkour, from Greek tragedy to krumping -- it's no surprise to see people of this younger generation being put off by the standard strategies of arts marketing.
Marketers typically tout the product -- good actors, good singers, good whatever. A classic case in point concerns the symphony orchestra, which has, since the postwar era, used the term "masterworks" to describe endless performances of Bach, Beethoven, and Brahms.
Hyping the best still sounds like hype, and unfortunately for symphony orchestras, that hype is increasingly falling on deaf ears. For young patrons (i.e., those born after 1964, the last year of the Baby Boomer generation), sensibility, quality, and taste are for the consumers, not producers, to judge. The more arts groups adopt the superlative rhetoric of toothpaste commercials and all-weather tires, the less young people are likely to listen.
I know, I know. Generalizing is a fool's errand, especially when it comes to the ambiguities of generational difference.
But I can't help wondering about these things in the days running up to the second Kulture Klash.
Kulture Klash is a one-night event that might be best described as a semi-annual party featuring visual artists, dancers, musicians, and performers gathered in one place at one time. Organizers Scott Debus (artist and art dealer) and Olivia Pool (editor of ART Magazine) were aiming to invite their friends, and the friends of their friends, to participate in a single night of camaraderie, interaction, and conversation -- oh, and partying.
"We wanted to bring this group together to encourage community and dialogue between artists," Debus says. "We want the graffiti kids to know about the palm tree artists and the palm tree artists to know about the graffiti kids.
"Usually, they clash," he continues, "but this is about collaboration."
After the jump, read about how Kulture Klash 2 might be a model of "authentic" branding.
The daily newspaper that I write for has three freelance critics who share most of the reviewing duties plus a staff writer who occasionally writes a theater review. The alternative newspaper in town rotates its reviews among six freelance critics. A local television broadcaster makes it to nearly every single show and posts reviews on his Website as well as on the air. Depending on the semester, the college newspaper will have a critic. Then the Detroit papers send critics to town for the professional shows. An alternative newspaper has three critics that come to town and the Free Press usually sends someone.
We are also blessed that it is a fairly collegial community and we enjoy good relations with each other.
Last fall, Don Calamia, the critic from Between the Lines, a Detroit weekly newspaper, and I were discussing how Patrick Shanley's Doubt was dominating the 2007-2008 professional season. Three groups were performing it in a four month span, with two of the shows opening within a week of each other. The first was in Lansing, the second in Detroit, and the third in Ann Arbor. While these are somewhat spread apart in distance, they are all within an hour of each other and there is some overlap in audience between the three groups.
During this discussion, we agreed that we would each see all three shows and then do some sort of joint discussion comparing the three productions. We didn't know what form that would take when we started, but we eventually turned to our respective blogs: Don's Confessions of a Cranky Critic and my Front Row Lansing.
This week--on April Fool's Day to be specific--we began a week-long blogfest comparing the three productions. On Tuesday, we independently created our own all-star casts drawn from the three productions. On Wednesday, we revealed which of the three productions we thought was the best. On Thursday, we discussed whether the priest was guilty or innocent--and came up with different answers for each of the three productions. Finally, today, we arranged to have a live chat free-for-all and post the transcript on our blog.
We didn't come up with the idea for a live chat until the last minute, so our invitation for our readers to join us didn't get out until less than 24 hours before the lunchtime chat--not really enough time to give people notice. However, both the director of the BoarsHead show and the BoarsHead artistic director was able to join us.
It was a fun way to look at theater in a larger context than an individual show and we had a lot of fun discussing our different takes on the show. It's something we're both planning to do again, though we're still brainstorming what the next topic will be.