an ARTSJOURNAL weblog | ArtsJournal Home | AJ Blog Central

Friday, February 6, 2004

The old (sacred) bait and switch

What do you do when what you offer the world isn't immediately appealing to a good chunk of the public? Or when, in fact, what you offer has negative social stereotypes that put people off? Well, if you're part of an emerging group of evangelical sites (not arts...but wait), you rely on the old bait and switch.

This New York Times article on the new web evangelism describes just such an effort by an increasing number of religiously motivated web sites. Says one webmaster who hosts a site with 'no overtly religious images or affiliation, and articles about weight lifting, nutrition and profiles of athletes':

'I wanted it to look like a sports magazine....It's a little covert. I know that religion or Christianity is a turn-off with a great part of the population. I didn't want to shove it in people's faces.'

Another maven in the emerging trend adds this ethical caveat:

'You're not trying to trick people....You can't appear to be something you're not. But Christians should legitimately appear to be taking a starting point on a subject that doesn't appear to be religious.'

The situation should seem eerily familiar to anyone that markets 'high art' for a living, especially in a world where opera is used as a punishment in court. But beyond the queasy feeling of selling out, or the frustration of a public that doesn't connect to the art form like we want them to, there's a kernal of important truth in this approach, if we're careful:

In the segmented realms of the Web, said Tony Whitaker, editor of a guide for online evangelists, sites that use overtly Christian material will reach only people who are already Christians, while everyone else can click by. Unlike Christian radio or television, the new medium calls not for powerful religious symbolism or rhetoric but for the absence of them, he said.

If you take a dispassionate look at the web site, brochures, flyers, mailers, and other media of your arts organization, are you preaching only to the converted?

(Thanks to Mark Nerenhausen for the article link!)

posted on Friday, February 6, 2004 | permalink