Listen vs. Tell

Over a year ago I began presented a somewhat tongue-in-cheek means of differentiating among two vastly different styles of approaching sales, audience development, audience engagement, and community engagement–the means by which we connect with the public. It was rooted in the difference between Web 1.0 and Web 2.0, the “tell” and “interact” versions of the internet.

In sharing the concept with people I realized that basing it on Web 1.0 and Web 2.0 was confusing since Web 1.0/2.0 are not universally recognized and, to be honest, are more than a bit geeky. I revised the presentation around the true essence of the matter: telling and listening.

So here, as we all break for the Holidays, is the new version. (My coding skills are far less than excellent, so a prettier version of this can be found on pp. 2-3 of this document.)


In the past, it has been common for arts organizations to adopt an “If we present it, they will come” attitude in which they simply told people about what was happening and assumed someone would respond. But in a world where the consumer is far less predisposed to “buy” the arts than they once were, we need to build relationships with those we hope to be our supporters. We do this by listening.

The charts that follow present a comparison of how this might work in the “We Tell” and “We Listen” scenarios.

We Tell
Spoiler: Not the way we should be doing business!

Sales

Audience Development

Audience Engagement

Community Engagement

   This is what’s happening.

   Buy a ticket.

   This is what’s happening.

   This seems to us like a reason you might be interested.

   Buy a ticket.

   This is what’s happening.

   This seems to us like a reason you might be interested.

   Here’s something we think is worthwhile/relevant to you about it.

   Buy a ticket.

   Get a grant

   Find some poor people

   Tell them why what’s happening is good for them

   Be surprised when they don’t show up

It does not take much imagination to understand why one-way communication has very limited success. Two-way conversations–dialogue–should be the default mode for our interactions with the public. Something like this:

We Listen

Sales

Audience Development

Audience Engagement

Community Engagement

    This is what’s happening.

    This is why it’s going to be worth your time and money.*

    Buy a ticket.

   This is what’s happening.

   This is why it’s going to be worth your time and money.*

   This seems like a reason you might be especially interested.*

   Buy a ticket.

   This is what’s happening.

   This is why it’s going to be worth your time and money.*

   This seems like a reason you might be especially interested.*

   Here’s something that might make this even more worthwhile/relevant to you.*

   Buy a ticket.

Step 1

   Pleased to meet you.

   Tell me about yourself.

   This is what we do.

Step 2

   If we do [this thing*], will you help us make it better/be successful?

Step 3 (Post event)

   Let’s keep in touch.

*Suggestions made based on what we learn from listening.


Happy Holidays . . . and

Engage!

Doug

Photo: AttributionNoncommercial Some rights reserved by susie2778

Case Studies

The Community Engagement Training offered by ArtsEngaged is also preparing new trainers. As a culminating part of their work, they prepare a case study critiquing a project they know well. Here are the first four. To see the full case study, click on the links.


A successful, on-going project between a major symphony orchestra
and the city’s African-American communities

Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra (CSO) Classical Roots
by Anne Cushing-Reid

Classical Roots is an uplifting concert celebrating the richly diverse African American musical experience, with the power of the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra. Bringing together 150 singers from churches throughout the region, the Classical Roots Community Mass Choir (CRCMC) prepares over a 10-12 week period with the Classical Roots resident conductor, William Caldwell. The culminating concert takes place in Cincinnati Music Hall with the full Cincinnati Symphony & Pops Orchestra led by conductor John Morris Russell. (from CSO website) [See more]


A major performing venue partners with an Alzheimer’s support organization

Segerstrom Center for the Arts
by Jason Holland

A few years ago, my organization launched a new, discrete Community Engagement department and placed me at the helm.  One of the first programs I was assigned to launch was our Center Without Boundaries program – aka community partnerships. Center Without Boundaries establishes civic partnerships with local non-arts organizations working in communities we want to engage and helps them address their specific goals.  “Where do we start?” was a common first question from colleagues and board members. I decided to focus in two areas: organizations in the health services sector and organizations primarily serving the Hispanic community in our County. (currently constitutes 34% of our County’s population and largely underserved)

By noting some of the health services organizations with whom we shared board members, Alzheimer’s Orange County came to my attention.  Knowing what benefits the arts can provide individuals living in various stages of dementia and Alzheimer’s, I requested a meeting with the CEO of the organization.  We discussed at length the goals of his organization and found many ways that we, as an arts organization, could support and deepen the impact of the work they were doing.  That was the beginning of our partnership work with Alzheimer’s Orange County.  [See more]


A growing partnership: Cincinnati Arts Association and the Urban Appalachian Community Coalition

Urban Appalachian Showcase
by Kathleen Riemenschneider

The project was to assist in providing two performances (one for schools and another for the public) in association with the Appalachian Studies Association’s (ASA) annual conference, which was held in Cincinnati April 5-8, 2018. The 2018 ASA conference was the first time the conference had been held at a location outside of the Appalachian region. Cincinnati was selected because it has cultural ties to the Appalachian region through immigration and a community organization that supports the Appalachian culture in the Greater Cincinnati area—Urban Appalachian Community Coalition (UACC). UACC wanted to showcase local talent at the conference and for the community. Since most of the musicians who played in the performances would also be attending the conference, the school performance was scheduled a few weeks before the conference on February 21, 2018. The public performance was incorporated into the schedule of the conference on Saturday, April 7.  [See more]


A productive partnership: Sidewalk Film Festival and Shout LGBTQ Film Festival–Brimingham, AL

Shout LGBTQ Film Festival: Birmingham, AL
by Webb Robertson

The subject of this case study is the Shout LGBTQ Film Festival in Birmingham, Alabama. Shout features films that are thematically of interest to the LGBTQ community. Shout began in 2006 as a stand-alone event, coordinated and managed by the Sidewalk Film Festival. In 2010, Shout became a sub-festival under the umbrella of the Sidewalk Film Festival. Shout takes place during the Sidewalk Film Festival.  [See more]


Engage!

Doug

Photo: AttributionNoncommercialNo Derivative Works Some rights reserved by amysept

Small Wins

Last time, I mentioned the idea of “small wins.” It’s a common concept in change management discussions and a fairly self-evident one. Still, I’ve been struck by the number of community engagement professionals leading organizational transformation to community engagement who have cited it as a critical factor in the process. These mini pilot projects developed jointly with new community partners lay the groundwork for bigger things, establish trust and credibility, and, mentioned as often as anything else, excite staff and board members of the arts organization who did not participate in producing them. Seeing a room full of community members enthused about something that the arts organization has helped put together makes community engagement real and goes a long way to demonstrating why it is so important. Another commonly cited benefit is the buzz they can create through media or simple word of mouth that piques the curiosity of funders.

I am indebted to Jason Holland, VP for Community Engagement at the Segerstrom Center for the Arts in Costa Mesa, CA and a new ArtsEngaged CET Trainer, for reminding me of this. He has generously offered the following as examples and inspiration:

I found it was important when launching pilot community engagement programs to get some ‘quick wins’ early on.  I know this may sound antithetical to the process that is so important in sustainable, quality community engagement, but when there are detractors around you who may be looking for this work to fail, it’s important to deliver quick wins to begin to paint a picture of what the future of our work in the community might look like.  Photos and video from these quick wins are critical.  Combined, these assets help the drum beat begin.  Now maybe we can wrap our brains about who this mysterious ‘community’ is and what working with them might FEEL like.

Small wins are not too dissimilar from quick wins but they can happen later in the journey.  I have recently had a small win while working with a community organization with whom I needed to build trust and invest time.  In our first year together they weren’t quite ready to activate any program or events together.  No problem!  But this year I just kept checking back and making sure they knew we were here and ready to work when they needed us.  Low and behold, they came knocking on our door with an idea they wanted our help with. We were happy to roll up our sleeves and pitch in.  Our pilot effort was small – a “one off” – but critical in demonstrating that we were there to support their goals and that we would uphold our end of the work.  After that small win with them, ideas and excitement began swirling around the next steps together.  I can see that we will be doing more together later this year and that was only possible after that small win gave us all a shared success on which to build!

By definition, small wins (and quick wins) are inexpensive and low risk. They won’t all be wildly successful but even the ones that are not provide experience in working with communities, lessons about what worked and what didn’t, and put the organization on record as serious about working with communities.

Engage!

Doug

Photo: AttributionNoncommercial Some rights reserved by Banana Custard

Understanding Engagement

ArtsEngaged is pleased to introduce a new resource for engagement practitioners. We are making available the content of Understanding Engagement, Unit 1 of our Community Engagement Training course. The Unit is divided into two sections. The first concentrates on definitions and principles of effective community engagement practice. The second addresses objections to community engagement, some of the reasons it is so important to the future of our industry, and how a community engagement focus can realign the mission of arts organizations for a sustainable future without losing any of the essence of our work.

We encourage people to use this resource freely and to share it with colleagues. It would be particularly appropriate for study groups or as a means to introduce people to the basic concepts critical to community engagement.

If you do make use of it, we would love to hear from you about how you used it, questions/suggestions, and observations about the application of the material and the concepts to your work. To do so, email us at CET@artsengaged.com.

Engage!

Doug

Funding Engagement

In the relatively near future I will be facilitating a Community Engagement Network conversation addressing the topic of “Funding Engagement.” (To join the network, click here. If you are not Facebook friendly, email us at CEN@artsengaged.com) I get questions on this topic frequently and always have to gird myself before responding. So here is what I try to bear in mind in answering the questions:

If you have to have funding before you can begin community engagement work, you are not prepared for it. At a bare minimum community engagement involves getting to know new people/communities. That is not an expensive endeavor. Begin with the basics:

  • Commit: Effective community engagement demands organizational commitment. The inability to pursue it without external funding is evidence of a lack of commitment.
  • Act: Exhaust the possibilities of re-imagining and partnering on current work in ways that address the interests of communities around you.
  • Plan/Partner: Develop relationships with communities and explore mutual interests as a basis for project development.
  • Achieve Small Wins: Implement small projects to demonstrate to your organization, your communities, and to potential funders your commitment and capacity.

After this you will be ready to pursue external sources of money.

Typical arts funders fund the arts that they typically fund. (That’s a purposely circular statement.) Often, community engagement is not part of their mandate. They can be won over on the basis of expanding access and improving an arts organization’s viability, but that can involve a long-term funder education project. Perhaps there are better ways to spend your time?

Funding for community engagement often comes from sources that do not traditionally fund the arts. Their interests are those of the communities with which you will be working.

  • Success in seeking funds depends on your credibility. The “small wins” above go a long way toward demonstrating that.
  • Learn what funders are concerned with the issues that are of interest to the communities with which you are partnering. Approach these partners with your partner communities.

Granted there is at least a little hyperbole in some of the above, but the essence of it all is true. And I know nothing in the arts is easy. This is especially true of community engagement. It is new to many of us and is about dealing with people with whom we are not familiar; it can be intimidating and messy. But we owe it to the future of our organizations and the well-being of our communities to enter into this work.

Engage!

Doug

Photo:Attribution Some rights reserved by AMagill