Response to Listen vs. Tell

In Listen vs. Tell I spoke of the necessary switch from telling people about our work to listening to them as a pre-requisite for effective communication. 

As happens not infrequently, Carter Gilles responded thoughtfully and at length. He has given me permission to share his expansion on my thoughts here.


Carter Gilles

This particular phrasing [Listen vs. Tell] reminded me of the work that the philosopher Carol Gilligan did I think in the 80s. She has been criticized for framing her distinction in gender terms, and this is a bit unfair (she was not giving the final word but hoping to open a conversation). Her main point was that there are two different styles that we have in acting in the world and how we self identify. For me it seems they map directly onto the distinction you are making. She makes the point that “women define who they are by describing relationships. Men define themselves by separation, or the use of “I” statements.” 

In other words, the ‘male perspective’ embodies a sort of atomic conception of how things work, where the individual and his/her actions are isolated and act on others from the outside. The ‘female perspective’ by contrast embodies a conception of our actions that specifically live in the wider context of a community or conversation. The sense things make is from the INSIDE of these frameworks.

“Listen vs. tell” seems to capture some of that emphasis in that when we base a relationship merely on our own ability to tell things to others we treat ourselves and others as separate and isolated. When we listen there is an admission that we are merely a part of some larger whole, a conversation or a community, and that the role we necessarily share with others is active and engaged. 

I know you are searching for ways to phrase these ideas and help others make better sense of what you have in mind. There are happenings in so many fields that parallel what you are attempting to do. Your allusion to the internet styles was spot on, of course. 

One other distinction I find interesting that has some relevance to your ideas is the political analysis of George Lakoff who describes two basic styles of expectation for the role of government. He suggests that conservative minded folk have a more hierarchical expectation where there are defined roles and that the duty of a government is something like a strict parent, to keep folks in line and defend the borders/ideals. Liberals by contrast are folks who expect government to function by caring for the needs of the folks represented. Rather than handing down the law, the idea is seeing what things are necessary or important from the point of view of constituents as self-described, and then building out from there. “What matters to you?” rather than “This is important despite what you think.”

How I believe this relates to your distinction is that the strict parent version defines the role of those who tell us what is important and the rest are on the receiving end, much like in your “We Tell” version. The nurturant parent model is much more concerned with getting to know the people affected and to represent their unique circumstances and beliefs.


It’s wonderful to be able to take advantage of the insights offered by people smarter than I! Many thanks, Carter

Engage!

Doug

Carter Gilles is a working artist, a longtime arts instructor, and practicing Philosopher living in Athens, Georgia.

An Orchestral Musician’s View of Community Engagement: II

Guest post by Penny Brill

Penny Brill is an alumna of the Community Engagement Training offered by ArtsEngaged. Here she continues her advocacy for musicians to participate in community engagement efforts. (Part I of her essay was posted last week.) As she points out at the end of her essay, however, this work is not for all artists. In addition, for a variety of reasons arts organizations should not insist that artists participate in or lead community engagement efforts. (Let (Make) the Artists Do It (?)) The onus for commitment to and efforts in engagement must rest with arts organizations. Partnered with artists dedicated to and trained in engagement, their efforts can yield great results.


An Orchestral Musician’s View of Community Engagement: II

Repeated from last week: In a time of divisiveness, heightened awareness of inequalities, and lack of diversity, we as orchestral musicians have an opportunity as individuals, as part of small music ensembles, and as part of the full orchestra to collaborate with others in making a significant contribution toward positive change in our communities.

We can begin by asking” How can we help?” With the resources we have available in the form of contacts, visibility, and musical skills, how can we support pressing needs in the community? Can we collaborate in ways that will optimize use of our respective areas of expertise?

Our first step in answering that question is to go out into the community, out of our usual pathways, to observe and listen. We begin to see our city through other people’s eyes by spending time in their neighborhoods and noticing what issues they face. What does connection or engagement look like? Here are two more examples, ranging from one musician up to a large ensemble. Interactions utilizing individual musicians involve the greatest learning curve and adjustments, but each of these four settings requires some modification of the orchestral musician’s role.

Example 3: Over ten years ago, a string quartet of PSO players began participating in a memorial service at the local children’s hospital (CHP) to honor children who died there in the previous year. Spiritual Care, the medical team, support staff, the CHP music therapists, and administrators all contributed in one way or another to the service. Families contributed messages to their loved ones in the program booklet. Parents and siblings of children who died years before each talked about what life was like now. Our music, a mix of quartet arrangements and an improvised solo meditation, chosen to give hope, reassurance, and support, was an essential and powerful component of the service. The unspoken message of the service was that the whole community was working together to help these families through an unimaginably difficult time. Family members felt understood, connected, and supported.

Example 4: This past January the orchestra presented a creatively designed concert entitled “Lift Every Voice: Resonating Music, Words and Legacy” which was a long overdue recognition and celebration of African American talent, accomplishment, and culture. Narrated by Phylicia Rashad, it included the August Wilson Symphony by Kathryn Bostic, “Teenie Timeby Jay Ashby, Lyric for Strings by George Walker, 14-year-old Sphinx cellist Ifetayo Ali playing Lalo, and an inspiring, wide-ranging collection of other solo and ensemble pieces. This was a spiritually uplifting, unifying, and powerful shared experience with a remarkably diverse gathering of musicians and audience members.

Developing and implementing these kinds of group events challenges us to recognize what the audience needs, creatively find appropriate music, and identify musicians with the appropriate skills. This takes some time and much thought. But when we see positive results, we are profoundly energized, knowing we have connected in a very meaningful way. Our musical contribution is valued and has a positive impact.

Note: Not every musician is suited to participating in interactive, small group experiences: the musician may play an instrument that is too loud, hard to move, or unavailable at the venue. A musician may be uncomfortable working with the intended audience.
They may need help finding the right music, identifying the needs of the audience, discovering how to address those needs musically, or developing appropriate social skills to address the participants in an inviting manner. Because of the learning curve involved, the musician may not have the time, ability, or willingness to learn, follow someone else’s lead, or adjust as needed. But for those with a willingness to put in the time to listen and connect musically, this kind of interaction can be meaningful and uplifting.

There is ample opportunity to create programs as varied as the cities and the people we find to partner with. It takes a willingness to step into unfamiliar territory, listen, notice, create, and grow, but this work couldn’t be more necessary during these turbulent times.

Listen. Connect. Engage.

Penny Brill


Penny Brill is a graduate of Smith College and the Juilliard School and has been a member of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra’s viola section since 1980. Previously, she taught at the Oberlin Conservatory for two years and played viola for one season with the Buffalo Philharmonic. Ms. Brill was part of the AW Mellon Orchestra Forum as well as the Mellon Task Force, both of which were looking at the future direction of orchestras. She is the former Treasurer of the International Conference of Symphony and Opera Musicians (ICSOM) and chaired the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra Committee. She is currently on the Board of U.N.-affiliated Music as a Global Resource, as well as the International Association of Music and Medicine (IAMM).

An Orchestral Musician’s View of Community Engagement: I

Guest post by Penny Brill

Penny Brill is an alumna of the Community Engagement Training offered by ArtsEngaged. Here she advocates for musicians to participate in community engagement efforts. As she points out at the end of her essay, however, this work is not for all artists. In addition, for a variety of reasons arts organizations should not insist that artists participate in or lead community engagement efforts. (Let (Make) the Artists Do It (?)) The onus for commitment to and efforts in engagement must rest with arts organizations. Partnered with artists dedicated to and trained in engagement, their efforts can yield great results.


An Orchestral Musician’s View of Community Engagement

Over the last twenty years I have played for children and adults with special needs, dementia patients, hospitalized children, grieving parents, and veterans in rehab or hospice. The number of musicians ranged from one to a hundred players. Audiences varied from ten people to thirty-five thousand. Some events were onetime only. Some were a series of interactions over a period of months.

Each interaction, no matter the scale, has the potential to improve our connection to each other, to reveal how our differences can be strengths and to reaffirm our common humanity. Ideally we all grow from these experiences.

In a time of divisiveness, heightened awareness of inequalities, and lack of diversity, we as orchestral musicians have an opportunity as individuals, as part of small music ensembles, and as part of the full orchestra to collaborate with others in making a significant contribution toward positive change in our communities.

We can begin by asking” How can we help?” With the resources we have available in the form of contacts, visibility, and musical skills, how can we support pressing needs in the community? Can we collaborate in ways that will optimize use of our respective areas of expertise?

Our first step in answering that question is to go out into the community, out of our usual pathways, to observe and listen. We see the urgent issues that a neighborhood faces, and look for ways to be supportive.
What does connection or engagement look like? Below are four recent examples, ranging from one musician up to a large ensemble. While interactions utilizing Individual musicians involve the greatest learning curve and adjustments, each of these four settings require some modification of the orchestral musician’s role.

Example 1: Twenty years ago I first started playing for patients and their families in the radiation oncology waiting area of a local hospital and under the guidance of a music therapist in the transplant area of another hospital. In addition to acquiring and learning a large amount of music I didn’t previously know, I observed that:

  • The people in the waiting area weren’t talking to anyone before I played, but began to talk to each other afterward.
  • Some wanted to share their stories, and playing music was the start of that conversation.
  • They were listening to my sound and musical intention, not how I played technically.
  • When I was teamed with the music therapist I was more effective at picking the right music and aiding the patient or family than when working alone. I could support and enhance what the music therapist was doing. 
I could see that playing and interacting in those settings completely changed the atmosphere from one of isolation and anxiety to one of connection and relief.

Example 2: Just this week a staff member and I interacted with a group of fifteen Alzheimer study members. They sang rounds, moved to music, and practiced deep breathing using some methods we adapted from the teachings of former Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra principal tubist Arnold Jacobs. By the end of the session the participants were visibly more relaxed and interacted with or were more aware of each other. Through connection and engagement with us, our interaction helped them with the social, cognitive, physical and artistic goals of the program.

[Next week, Ms. Brill will provide more examples as well as advice about the role musicians can (and perhaps should not) play in this work.]

Listen. Connect. Engage.

Penny Brill


Penny Brill is a graduate of Smith College and the Juilliard School and has been a member of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra’s viola section since 1980. Previously, she taught at the Oberlin Conservatory for two years and played viola for one season with the Buffalo Philharmonic. Ms. Brill was part of the AW Mellon Orchestra Forum as well as the Mellon Task Force, both of which were looking at the future direction of orchestras. She is the former Treasurer of the International Conference of Symphony and Opera Musicians (ICSOM) and chaired the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra Committee. She is currently on the Board of U.N.-affiliated Music as a Global Resource, as well as the International Association of Music and Medicine (IAMM).

Are You Getting Enough Bang for Your Buck?

by Zannie Voss
Director, National Center for Arts Research

This post is part of a series in conjunction with TRG Arts on developing relationships with both new communities and existing stakeholders through artistic programming, marketing and fundraising, community engagement and public policy. (Cross-post can be found at Analysis from TRG Arts.)

In the National Center for Arts Research’s Edition 3 report on the health of the U.S. arts and cultural sector, we include insights on trends as well as updates on seven performance indices key to assessing organizational health, all related to earned revenue, marketing and participation. If we look across two of these indices — Response to Marketing and People per Offering – together they tell a story about supply, demand, and the tension between marketing and engagement.

Response to Marketing
image002Overall, marketing expenses per attendee trended upward over time but the rate of increase fell just shy of the rate of inflation. This means that the average organization spent nearly the same on marketing to attract each attendee in 2013 as in 2010 in inflation-adjusted figures. A closer examination, however, reveals different realities for different arts and cultural sectors.

Very different stories emerge from Response to Marketing trends for each of the 11 arts and cultural sectors we studied. It took fewer marketing dollars to bring in each attendee over time in the Arts Education, General Performing Arts (i.e., multidisciplinary performance series), Music, and Community sectors. Of these, all but the General Performing Arts sector saw annual attendance increase over time. When it costs less to bring in each person and more people attend, it’s demonstrates effective marketing and robust demand.

By contrast, the Art Museum, Opera, Performing Arts Center (PAC), Orchestra, Theatre, and Other Museum (e.g., Natural History and Science Museums) sectors experienced true growth in this index – growth that surpassed inflation. In other words, the average organization in these sectors had to spend more in marketing over time to attract every person who attended, and, of these sectors, all but Art Museums saw fewer people attend over time. When it costs more to bring in each person and fewer people attend, it is likely that there is either a marketing problem, a demand problem, or both.

Only the Art Museum, Dance, Community, and Music sectors saw growth in annual attendance; all others saw attendance declines to varying degrees.

People Per Offering
image001Lower attendance could be the result of fewer programmatic offerings – i.e., less supply. However, this was not generally the case. Arts Education was the only sector to average a reduction in the number of programs offered. All other sectors adopted a program proliferation strategy to varying degrees.

As a result, the overall number of people engaged per offering diminished slightly from 2010 to 2012 then declined dramatically in 2013.  The 10.8% drop in this index over time is due to increases in programmatic offerings that outpaced growth in the number of people participating per offering.  As we see in the details of trends by sector, size, and geography, the mushrooming of programmatic offerings is not driven by an outlier.

The Music and Community sectors – which spent fewer marketing dollars over time for every person who attended — added programmatic offerings and had growth in touch points that exceeded the growth in the number of offerings.  As a result, the number of people engaged per offering grew over time. For all other sectors, People per Offering declined.

For six of the 11 sectors, the average organization touched fewer people over time while continuing to add programmatic offerings.  There are numerous reasons why the mismatch of supply and demand might have occurred.  It may be that new programmatic initiatives are taken on for mission-fulfillment purposes, not because they are expected to draw in large numbers of people.  Or, it may be that funders encourage new program development without recognizing an organization’s need to concentrate on attracting more participants to existing offerings.  Another hypothesis is that the divergent trends may be indicative of gaps in communication and strategy between departments responsible for programming and those responsible for connecting the organization to its community. Lastly, organizations experiencing a decline in touch points may see the need to bring in new, diverse participants and add new program offerings intended to attract them.  Audience development is a long-term investment that requires dedicated marketing resources and may show little in the way of short-term returns.

Take Aways
A recent May 11 TRG Arts blog post by Chad Bauman, Managing Director, Milwaukee Repertory Theater, offered keen insights on whether and when to focus resources on developing new audiences or on increasing loyalty to bolster return on investment and per capita revenue. Our findings underscore the extent of the tradeoffs involved.

Supply or demand? Whether through desire, pressure, or necessity, the average organization in 10 of 11 arts and cultural sectors added programs over time. Bauman points out that nothing is sexier to most artistic directors and trustees than developing new audiences. Our data would indicate that developing new programs is right up there with it, perhaps as a means of developing new audiences, or perhaps in pursuit of mission or in response to a creative impulse or funding initiative. In six of the 11 sectors, the problem wasn’t sluggish attendance growth relative to growth in the number of programs, it was that the average organization actually touched fewer people over time with its programming as a whole while continuing to add new programs. Whatever the reason behind the program proliferation, at a minimum organizations should discuss across departments whether there is a mismatch in their supply and demand trends and determine the best path forward based on data, and the alignment of goals and available resources.

Demand or marketing? Organizations in numerous sectors spent more marketing dollars to bring in each attendee while the number of people engaged per offering declined. The marketing dollars requirement depends, of course, on which attendees are targeted. As Bauman points out, it costs more to bring in new audiences than it does to deepen loyalty with existing audiences, so higher marketing expenses per attendee may be a telltale sign that an organization is developing new audiences. In this case, the higher marketing spend is substantiated with a strategic rationale. Or, higher marketing expenses per attendee may also be driven by lackluster demand for the organization’s programmatic offerings. We’ve all been in meetings where marketing is blamed for poor attendance at a concert or production that falls flat. Another underlying cause of high marketing dollars spent per attendee centers on how marketing dollars are spent. It may well be that an organization’s marketing spend is in line with that of its peers, but it isn’t getting the same bang for the buck. It may be investing in marketing channels that are not a fit with its target audience or missing opportunities to better target campaigns.

Where does your organization stand on People per Offering and Response to Marketing relative to organizations like yours nationally? Later this summer NCAR will launch a free, online dashboard that provides organizations their scores on these and other performance indices, taking into account who you are and where you operate. These performance indices are internal conversation-starters. If you’re organization’s performance is where you’d like it be, that’s something to celebrate. If not, then is there a solid reason why, and what strategies and course corrections can guide you to your goals? There is not a one-size-fits-all ideal. It is up to every organization to decide where it wants to be, and whether its current number of offerings, levels of attendance and engagement, and marketing spend are aligned to achieve those goals.


About NCAR
Launched in 2012, the vision of the National Center for Arts Research (NCAR) at Southern Methodist University (SMU) is to act as a catalyst for the transformation and sustainability of the national arts and cultural community. The mission is to be the leading provider of evidence-based insights that enable arts and cultural leaders to overcome challenges and increase impact.

NCAR’s Director is Dr. Zannie Voss, also chair and professor of arts management and arts entrepreneurship in the Meadows School of the Arts and Cox School of Business, and Dr. Glenn Voss, endowed professor of marketing at Cox School of Business, serves as Research Director. Through this leadership, NCAR sources its cross-disciplinary academic expertise in the fields of arts management, marketing and statistics from Meadows and Cox faculty.

In 2012, the Meadows School of the Arts and Cox School of Business at SMU launched NCAR. The Center, the first of its kind in the nation, analyzes the largest database of arts research ever assembled; investigates important issues in arts management and patronage; and makes its findings available to arts leaders, funders, policymakers, researchers and the general public. With data from the DataArts Cultural Data Profile and other national and government sources such as the Theatre Communications Group, the League of American Orchestras, the National Endowment for the Arts, the Census Bureau, and the National Center for Charitable Statistics, the National Center for Arts Research is creating the most complete picture of the health of the arts sector in the U.S.

Artists and Relationship Building

by Laura Zabel

This post is part of a series in conjunction with TRG Arts on developing relationships with both new communities and existing stakeholders through artistic programming, marketing and fundraising, community engagement and public policy. (Cross-post can be found at Analysis from TRG Arts.)

ZabelHeadshotThere is a lot of work right now on building demand, value and interest in the contributions of art and artists to places, social change, economies and communities. This is the long overdue work to knit our creativity back into our daily lives and the way we address and confront the issues and inequities that face us. I am a true believer in this work and its many forms and structures. I also believe that it is not enough to work on the demand for this work – we also need to work on the supply of this work. Essentially, art comes from artists and if we are building the demand for artist-led, community-engaged work, then how are we supporting artists to build the skills and capacity they need to fulfill this demand?

Things that hold us back:

6 artist syndrome: At Springboard, we travel a lot and we’ve started making this joke that every community has 6 artists. There are usually about 6 artists that everyone in a given city points to as the exemplars of work that engages community. We call on them whenever we need a mural, a community created play, an innovative project with the city. These six artists do amazing work, work that is powerful, important and in need of support, but they can’t do everything. By relying on the same people over and over again we’re not building systems of investment, support and training that would allow more artists and more communities to make creative change.

“Of course, this work is not for everyone…”: People say this to mean that OF COURSE not all artists are interested in community-based work, or creative placemaking, or engaging in social issues. I’ve said it myself. But the more I think about this idea, I think it is wrong. ALL artists need relationships, ALL artists need to understand the context in which their work happens, ALL artists are trying to communicate and connect. In repeating the “this work isn’t for everyone” trope we are reinforcing a binary between artists who have a studio practice and artists who have a social/civic/community practice. This perspective narrows down the ways in which artists contribute to community life to a fraction of the full possibility. Yes, some artists work intentionally to co-create work with community members and other artists work alone in their studio. But the reality is that most artists do some of both. Our communities benefit from multiple ways of approaching and defining artistic impact. Even the most studio based artists need relationships with their community to inform and support their work.

Artistic quality vs. community engagement. Honestly, I can’t even bring myself to write about this conversation anymore. This tedious, insider argument serves no one.

What we need:

Expansive definitions: Artists are everywhere and every community has creative capacity within it. We need artists from all backgrounds and all walks of life to be recognized, supported and celebrated for their contributions. There is room for everyone. There are a lot of different ways for artists to build relationships, support communities, use their artistic skills to make contributions. For example, a singer-songwriter who lives in a neighborhood that is changing rapidly and is worried about displacement of longtime residents might write songs with her neighbors, or she might write her own song about the neighborhood and perform it on her national tour, or she might be intentional about playing gigs at bars and restaurants that are important institutions in her neighborhood—these are all equally valid ways to make an impact.

Multiple on-ramps and opportunities: We need to provide opportunities for artist training and learning, and, more importantly, low-risk opportunities to try new ideas and ways of working. Opportunities for artists to build new relationships and test ideas. This isn’t work that can be learned in a classroom alone, artists need an invitation and a charge (and resources) to find partners in their community and begin a relationship. At Springboard our artist-training in community development is almost always coupled with financial support to try out a small project. People learn by doing and when it comes to building relationships, only the experience of actually doing something together gets you farther down the path.

Mechanisms that make it easy for communities to find and connect with artists: In the arts we consistently underestimate how opaque it is for those who are not steeped in this work to navigate our systems and jargon. Here’s a conversation I’ve had approximately one thousand times:

“Hi, I’m calling from a community development organization/city agency/private business and we are working on an exciting new project to build affordable housing/address health disparities/get community feedback and someone told me we should work with artists.”

“Yes, absolutely, you should do that!”

“But how??”

Because we’ve had this conversation so many times, at Springboard we’re kind of obsessed with mechanisms: how to make the bridge between two people or two sectors easy to see and easy to cross? We recently launched a project called Ready Go that is a roster of artist-designed projects purpose-built to pique curiosity, prompt interaction and are available for hire. Our goal is to make it just as easy for a community organizer to work with an artist as it is for them to rent a bounce house. We hope Ready Go is a mechanism that introduces more people to the idea of working with artists, and also introduces them to actual artists.

There is so much opportunity right now to help communities understand and value the role creativity can play in supporting the agency and power of people, in building new social connection, in contributing to health, equity and happiness. So many of our challenges need and want artists’ contributions. We need to make sure we’re supporting, challenging and resourcing artists to make these contributions.


Laura Zabel is the Executive Director of Springboard for the Arts, which operates Creative Exchange, a platform for sharing free toolkits, resources, and profiles to help artists and citizens collaborate on replicating successful and engaging community projects.

An economic and community development agency run by and for artists, Springboard provides programs that help artists make a living and a life, and programs that help communities connect to the creative power of artists. Based in Minnesota, Springboard’s projects include: Community Supported Art (CSA), which is based on the Community Supported Agriculture model and connects artists directly with patrons; the Artists Access to Healthcare program; artist entrepreneurial development; and Irrigate artist-led creative placemaking, a national model for how cities can engage artists to help reframe and address big community challenges.

An expert on the relationship between the arts and community development, Zabel has spoken at leading conferences and events including the Aspen Ideas Festival, the Urban Land Institute, and Americans for the Arts. A 2014 Bush Foundation Fellow, Zabel’s insights on industry trends have also been featured in outlets from The Guardian to The New York Times. Zabel serves on the board of directors of the Center for Performance and Civic Practice and the Metropolitan Consortium of Community Developers.