This is the second part of a two-part post, abridged from a paper in Artivate, an online journal of entrepreneurship and the arts. In the first part (where you can also read the reasons why we’ve abridged the version we’re publishing here), Jeff Nytch set forth a problem: That far too often in the performing arts (and maybe especially in classical music), we expect people to come to performances because the performances are supposed to be worthy in and of themselves. And so we don’t do anything to make the performances an experience worth having, and as a result, people don’t come.
That problem of course is especially acute in classical music right now. In the first part, Jeff also described in evocative detail how the Pittsburgh New Music Ensemble solved that problem while he was Executive Director, from 2003 to 2007, with presentations they called a Theatre of Music. Here he talks about the implications of the solution he and his colleagues found — about ways that artists, arts administrators, and presenting organizations should rethink their relationship to their audience.
And have the changes in Pittsburgh continued? Emphatically yes, said Jeff, in an email to me (quoted here with his permission):
The artistic changes have absolutely “stuck” — it’s the central piece of our brand/organizational identity. The explosive audience growth we saw in the early years (2002-2006) has leveled off, which was not unexpected: the kind of growth isn’t sustainable indefinitely. We have absolutely succeeded in transforming not only the art we present on stage but our identity within the arts marketplace of Pittsburgh.
The broader application of the PNME case is where its real power resides; it is more than an example of entrepreneurial success in an arts setting or an illustration of important entrepreneurial theories in action. The way in which PNME went about reinventing itself, and the theories exercised in that process, have broader implications for artists, arts organizations, and scholars of arts entrepreneurship theory.
Implications for Artists
As mentioned above, artists have traditionally taken the attitude that the self-expression of their artistic impulse was the defining force of their work and that audiences are, at best, incidental, and at worst, irrelevant. The PNME model illustrates that artistic excellence and authenticity need not be sacrificed in order to reach a wider audience. In fact, not only are authenticity and audience connection not mutually exclusive, it is the authenticity itself – when expressed with an understanding of audience sensibilities – that is crucial to establishing and maintaining that connection. This is a completely new concept to most classically trained artists, particularly musicians. It must also be distinguished from the long-held practice of creating artistic content designed at the outset for broad popular acceptance. The PNME does not chose content based on what they believe will be most easily accepted by their audience, but rather structures programs with an understanding of audience behavior and sensibilities, creating a structure that is designed to maintain their interest and engagement with the art. This understanding was informed by their own experience as artists, the experiences of colleagues and peer groups, and by keen and careful observation of their own audiences.
That said, the Theatre of Music need not be a source of direct, literal imitation for artists. Rather, it should be viewed as what can result when an understanding of how the sensibilities of one’s audience (both existing and potential) can be the central driver of creative reinvention of the concert experience. This is a powerful concept for artists and presenters to apply to the challenge of shrinking audiences and dwindling financial support. Such a reorientation of the artist’s perspective deserves further case examples of how individual artists and arts organizations implement such an approach (both in terms of their own creative process and their business success). Study of what I will term “applied creativity” may in turn result in new conceptual frameworks and practical tools for working artists across a range of disciplines.
Implications for Arts Administrators and Presenting Organizations
Through discussions with colleagues and carefully following the travails of arts organizations nationwide, I have noted that organizations faced with declining attendance and tightened budgets tend to react first with external changes (a new marketing campaign, community outreach) followed by internal administrative changes (replacing or reorganization staff, recruiting a new crop of wealthy board members). These changes are sometimes successful in the short term, and can be valuable and even necessary components to an organization’s survival. The downside to such an approach is that it rarely changes the underlying issues driving the problem: audiences and their communities are valuing the artistic product less, and, as in any market, the less a product is valued the less viable it will be in the marketplace. An approach in which consumer needs becomes the impetus for transforming both the product and the method of delivering it is likely to have a greater chance of viability and sustainability. Bringing an understanding of the audience’s relationship to the artistic product to the beginning of the problem-solving process, instead of leaving it on the sidelines, is a critical concept for artists and administrators to embrace. An additional benefit to this approach is that it provides artists and administrators, often at odds with each other over the best way to revitalize their organization in economically sustainable ways, to find common ground from which to create mutually agreeable solutions to the complex problems facing their institutions.
There are a handful of symphony orchestras that are beginning to take just such an approach in the face of deepening financial crises and declining audiences. The Colorado Symphony, for example, has recently negotiated a new contract with its musicians that will allow players not required for a given subscription concert to engage in community outreach and educational programs across the broad geographical range of the Front Range urban corridor. The result will be a greater community engagement in both new and existing markets, at little additional cost to the organization. Another example is the Brooklyn Philharmonic, which is restructuring its artistic product to better reflect the history and culture of Brooklyn (as distinct from its larger and more influential neighbor, Manhattan) by engaging local artists in neighborhood-based initiatives designed to create grass-roots connections with the organization. The orchestra is also modifying its business model through new cooperative marketing relationships with their corporate sponsors. Given a few more years for these initiatives to take root, these groups will provide excellent opportunities for case studies that could help define new paradigms for the symphony orchestra’s relationship with its community, and how that relationship can help create a financially sustainable institution. Such case studies in turn may provide useful models for other types of arts presenting organizations. [From Greg: Sadly, the Brooklyn Philharmonic no longer exists. It ran into problems unrelated to its community innovations, which were successful.]
During recent years of stress within the arts economy, artists and arts organizations in need of renewed vitality often look at their artistic product last; they will look first to issues of new funding, marketing initiatives, or other cosmetic and/or administrative issues. Often the art itself is simply taken for granted, or, ironically, is considered only as an afterthought and not as central to the question of organizational mission and identity. If artistic content is considered at all, it is usually in the context of altering it to accommodate the perceived tastes of a more popular audience, rather than examining the way in which the content they wish to perform is presented and framed, and how those frames influence the relationship between their audience and the art being offered. The result of this disconnect between the artistic product and its audience is that change initiatives are either short-lived or fail entirely, artistic integrity is often compromised, and the underlying issues of audience need go unaddressed.
The PNME case demonstrates how creating a new artistic product grounded in an understanding of how the consumer will receive it can be a powerful transformative force resulting in a rebirth of an organization, critical acclaim, and explosive audience growth while maintaining the highest artistic standards: in short, an entrepreneurial success. The case also demonstrates the distinction between altering the artistic content in hopes of appealing to more individuals (the so-called “dumbing down” approach) versus using an understanding of the audience’s inchoate need to create a more effective aesthetic experience of the art one wishes to present. The design of the Theatre of Music was driven by an understanding of such inchoate demand, not an attempt to cater to the perceived tastes of a particular audience, and is therefore an example of a new type of artistic innovation with intriguing implications for a broad spectrum of the performing arts.
While the PNME study is a powerful one for artists and arts administrators to contemplate, it also raises fascinating questions for scholars of entrepreneurship theory to contemplate. For instance, what new sorts of products (artistic or otherwise) might emerge if the aesthetic essence of a product is not an incidental characteristic, but is the product itself? Might such products expand beyond purely artistic ones into the realm of objects of utility (the ultimate Platonic union of form and function)? Can the hedonic consumption model [see the addendum below for more on this] be applied beyond the realm of marketing, serving as a focusing mechanism for developing an aesthetic component in a wide range of products and services? How might further exploration of the concept of inchoate demand highlight the roles that creativity and aesthetic sensibility can play in the innovative development of new products/ventures of all kinds? These questions are offered as springboards for continued research into the relationships between artistic creation, aesthetic consumption, and entrepreneurial activity.
With accumulation of a new category of artistic case studies, entrepreneurs can gain new insights into the nature of innovation by understanding the initial creative act through a new lens. These illustrations may in turn further illuminate theories of hedonic consumption, effectual entrepreneurship and inchoate demand, and help practicing entrepreneurs – artists and non-artists alike – unlock new avenues for creativity and innovation in their entrepreneurial endeavors.
This post is excerpted from “The Case of the Pittsburgh New Music Ensemble: An Illustration of Entrepreneurship Theory in an Artistic Setting” by Jeffrey Nytch, originally published in Artivate: A Journal of Entrepreneurship in the Arts, volume 1, issue 1. You can access the full text at http://artivate.org.
The content of this article is copyright by the author. All rights reserved.
Jeffrey Nytch enjoys a diverse career as composer, educator, and consultant. He holds dual degrees in geology and music from Franklin & Marshall College and masters and doctoral degrees in composition from Rice University. Previous to his tenure as Director of the Entrepreneurship Center for Music at The University of Colorado-Boulder, he was Executive Director of Pittsburgh New Music Ensemble and maintained a busy freelance career as a composer. In addition to these ongoing pursuits, Nytch has begun a consulting practice in which entrepreneurial principles are applied to strategic planning for arts organizations and other non-profits.
Addendum: Theories at Play in the PNME Case
[From Greg: In its original form, Jeff’s piece was a paper in an academic journal, and included both extensive references and discussions of entrepreneurship theory. These discussions, while important to those interested in them, seemed to go beyond what most readers of this blog want to know, and so with Jeff’s permission I omitted them.
[But Jeff did want what follows to be included, and we decided to add it as an addendum to the rest of the post, complete with all its references. It’s worth reading. Speaking for myself, I was greatly taken with the idea of “inchoate demand,” a term for desires or demand that people don’t have until they are confronted with the experience. People in a symphonic audience, for instance, might long to know more about the musicians in the orchestra, and more about how performances are prepared.
[But because they’ve never had a chance to know these things, and have never been asked whether they’d like to know them, their desire remains unformed and unexpressed. Or inchoate. If, however, an orchestra began bringing the audience into things it hasn’t before been told about, the result might be an enormous spike in interest and enthusiasm.
[There’s more here than that, of course. What follows is well worth reading.]
Although the new directors of PNME were not being consciously “entrepreneurial” as they set out to rebuild their group, their approach illustrated entrepreneurial thinking in a number of important ways. In the general sense, turning the mindset from one of “present it and they will/should come” to a customer-oriented approach of “how we can create a better experience for our audience” is entrepreneurial thinking at its core. In addition, the PNME case provides an excellent study in how several specific theories relevant to entrepreneurship can operate within an arts setting.
PNME’s consideration of how to create an aesthetically engaging product for its audience relates directly to the hedonic consumption model, but with an interesting twist.
The hedonic consumption model (developed by Elizabeth C. Hirschman and Morris B. Holbrook) articulated a critical divergence in consumer behavior between consumption of products that are more about aesthetic experience (a perfume, for example) than traditional consumer goods with specific utility (a toaster, table, or electric saw). In the traditional models for consumption, the consumer determines the value of a product by its utility alone, whereas hedonic consumption recognizes that the emotive and sensory aspects of a product can be equally powerful components in determining value to the consumer.
But while the continuum between different categories of products (hedonic/aesthetic on one end of the scale and purely utilitarian on the other) is a critical observation, the focus of this model is still primarily as an instrument of marketing: the aim is to understand consumer behavior as it relates to existing products. Additionally, studies of aesthetic products (and the philosophical study of aesthetics in general) are based on the product first, and either studying how consumers react to it (hedonic consumption model) and/or the nature of the object itself that commands our attention (the philosophy of aesthetics). In neither case is the consumer the beginning point of the process by which an aesthetic product is created. The PNME case is an example of inverting the traditional focus of the hedonic consumption model, an inversion with direct implications for artists as the vast majority of artists and arts organizations proceed on the assumption that their product exists for the purpose of artistic expression, not the satisfaction of customer needs. This inversion also broadens our understanding of how the hedonic consumption model can operate in an arts setting. The enormously positive response that PNME has enjoyed also underscores a specific aspect of the model, which maintains that “substantial mental activity” can represent value to the aesthetic consumer: the very nature of the continuously integrated and dramatic style of the PNME concert results in an intense experience for the audience, which is encouraged to remain engaged with unfamiliar and challenging material for an extended period of time. The enormous increase in numbers of the PNME audience over the past decade – growth that has largely attracted patrons who are not aficionados of contemporary music – along with audience feedback gathered by directors, performers, and surveys alike, indicates that challenging the audience is not only not a deterrent to growth, but is actually one of its driving forces. This stands in sharp contrast to the traditional sort of survey-based programming, because those survey responses inevitably result in programming what the audience already knows. In the case of PNME, the audience is not likely to be familiar with any of the works programmed; consequently, the goal is to create a concert that will stimulate the most potent hedonic response possible, rather than what is simply the most familiar, or “easy.”
The mindset shaping the Theatre of Music paradigm is reminiscent of the effectuation model articulated by Saras Sarasvathy, which asserts that entrepreneurship is a process borne out of creatively leveraging existing resources to connect with (or create) a new market rather than devising a process to deliver a pre-conceived product to an existing market (the traditional approach of artists). When implementing the new Theatre of Music, the directors began with the company’s core resources. On the artistic side, this included their expertise and excellence in the realm of contemporary chamber music. On the operational side, they worked within their modest cash resources and their established presence in the community (embodied in patrons, audience members, and local institutional supporters). A local grant provided short-term support for a very small amount of equipment purchases and operational support, but the vast majority of the re-launch of the new PNME was accomplished through leveraging existing resources to their maximum extent. In short, the new PNME was by and large an act of artistic entrepreneurship. This suggests that effectuation may be a more productive method of generating entrepreneurial opportunities in the arts by encouraging artists and presenters to see the artistic product as a resource to be effectively leveraged to accomplish the ultimate goal of connecting with unmet need in the marketplace. This is fundamentally different than the usual treatment of the artistic product as the end in itself, and to see it as an isolated thing that exists in a state fundamentally disconnected from the needs of the audience it seeks to attract.
The PNME case clearly illustrates a fulfillment of inchoate demand. The architects of the Theatre of Music knew from their own experience, as well as, anecdotally, the experience of both existing audience members and potential audience members, that the typical contemporary chamber music concert was not, on the whole, a satisfying experience. They also inferred, from their professional experience as artists, that there was an unfulfilled desire on the part of their audience for a different kind of artistic experience of concert music generally. They also believed that if a more compelling vehicle for presenting contemporary chamber music could be developed, a broader audience could be harnessed as well. Just as Jeffrey G. York, Saras Sarasvathy, and Andrea Larson (in a joint paper; see references, below) have noted, identifying inchoate demand tends to result in products/ventures that are familiar to the observer. PNME’s directors used their own knowledge and experience in the field of contemporary music to guide the redefining of its artistic product in such a way as to satisfy the desire of their audiences for a more compelling and engaging experience – a desire that, to quote from York, Sarasvathy, and Larson’s paper, was previously “unformed…[and] non-existent in an articulated form.”
It is important to note that the entrepreneurial impulse was not a new venture; rather, the entrepreneurial impulse was the art itself, a new artistic product (and a new organizational identity) designed to better connect with its market/audience.
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Sarasvathy, S. (2008). Effectuation: elements of entrepreneurial expertise. New horizons in entrepreneurship. Northampton, MA: Edward Elgar.
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