We have been considering the prospects for making the most of our organizations’ post-pandemic potential. (Getting the Question(s) Right and Connect.) The thread that binds these posts together is this quote from Getting the Question(s) Right:
So our questions should be, first, “What are our communities feeling/ experiencing?” and second, “How can we help them?” Once we have our questions right, we will need to position ourselves to be of help. In order to do that, we must first Connect and then Matter.
Connecting is the initial stage of relationship building. But for the connection to be fruitful, the arts organization must come to matter to the community. When it matters, the community will support it.
But how do arts organizations come to matter? At the risk of being overly cute, they come to matter by mattering, by doing things that the community views as important. As I said in an old blog post (Matter by Mattering):
Communities must recognize what we do as meaningful, important, even life-changing to them–collectively and/or individually. To be seen that way, we must be and do things that make us so.
The mindset that “We matter because we present great art.” does not cut it. It is only things that people see as important to their lives that fill this bill.
To do that, in our internal conversations we need to see the world from the community’s point of view. If we have gotten to know what is important to them, we can craft our work in ways that support those things. Externally, after getting to know them and gaining their trust, we together develop programming that serves our mutual interests.
The central question (and to some (many?) arts organizations it is a new one) is “How can we serve the interests of our community?” Note that I did not say “serve the needs.” Meeting needs can be and often is an important result of an engagement focus, but facilitating celebrations and fostering relationships (social capital) are equally valuable community interests. Plus, seeing communities solely as “needy” is patronizing and a barrier to successful relationship building.
To bring this three-post series full circle, will arts organizations emerge in a post-pandemic environment seen in a positive light by enough people to be sustainable for the long term? Unless we significantly alter our relationships with the new communities that are vital for our survival, we may not be seen at all.
We can and must become important to our communities–matter by mattering.