Follow? No – Informed (Let’s Go To The Data)

I'll admit I am surprised. When I started putting this conversation together, I thought it would be easier finding people to take the "follow" side. There is so much attention being paid right now to social media and starting conversations and finding ways to let the audience express itself, I thought the preponderance of arguments would focus on the value and utility of audience interaction. But of course artists lead. That's what they do. As I wrote at the beginning, the  question was … [Read more...]

What Leadership Can Do

By leadership and leading, I mean influencing. As I suggest in my first post, it begins with understanding and respecting your various stakeholders—an audience being one of many important constituency groups. Observe and learn from them, inquire and engage them. Take the time to create trust and fortify the relationship. Also, learn to take the good with the bad and be better for it. Sustain the effort for the long term. Institutions, and therefore its leaders, should invest in their futures … [Read more...]

Red Pill, Blue Pill – Is Engagement An Either/Or Thing?

What if our audiences are confined by our predetermined ideas about what they are? A professor who began to get hundreds of thousands of views online wonders why he confines himself to a classroom with only a few dozen students...Watch the video. … [Read more...]

CONTINUED: Institutions can learn by following…and following they must, for now

Hi Adrienne, I appreciate your comments to my earlier post. Truly, it furthered my thinking and I hope it furthers this debate. A little call and answer below. Adrienne: “I appreciate the larger debate here about the balance between leading and serving the cultural audiences we work with in the visual and performing arts. Key to this debate is indeed striking a true BALANCE rather than swinging to one extreme or another. As 'popular' trends influence everything from programming to funding, … [Read more...]

A Critic’s Perspective

Artists and arts institutions aren't the only ones who have to worry about engaging their community. Critics, used to leading with their opinions suddenly find that the vast audience wants to engage... … [Read more...]

Empty Forest. Tree Falls. Was It Heard Or Felt?

"If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?" How would the City of ______ be damaged if the ______ Symphony Orchestra / Opera Company / Ballet Company / Theater Troop / Art Museum were to disappear tomorrow? How would the City of ______ be damaged if the all arts education programs were to disappear tomorrow? Recent data from the Americans for the Arts Economic Impact reports that there are $63.1 billion in total expenditures from arts and culture … [Read more...]

Institutions can learn by following…and following they must, for now

By following, I mean observing. Institutions are not static.  In fact, the best of them are living, breathing places from which there is a great deal of interactivity.  Key to assessing one’s impact is to understand the nature of this interactivity at every level.  By keen observation, one only begins the process of trying to suss out the importance and meaning of art and culture today.  Unfortunately, many leaders operating in today’s cultural sector lack this ability. I’m presuming that … [Read more...]

Leading From Behind – We Need a Better Definition

I'm wondering about what has brought about this frenzy of attention to engagement in the last few years. Facebook pages and Twitter feeds. Artists making video of their work. Online chats. Endless behind-the-scenes interviews and making-of opportunities. Contests. Prizes. Parties. Games... Sure technology has made it easier to communicate with one another, and now people don't need to go through publications and institutions to communicate to a wider audience. But the promise of the web was … [Read more...]

Who Foots the Bill?

There are literally hundreds of new museums nationwide that didn’t exist forty years ago.  Museums have never attracted greater crowds nor have they held more flexible hours to accommodate an increasingly dynamic public. They’ve made themselves places of social gathering with the introduction of music, film, and fine dining. So what’s the problem? Corporate support has all but evaporated. Government aid remains modest at best (and compared to many European cities, infinitesimal – sadly … [Read more...]

…. It is more about the courage of imagination and the plural

In regards to “Lead or Follow?” and its relationship to audiences,  I say yes to lead, yes to follow and yes to question. Leadership is not a black/white, lead/follow proposition, life is and audiences are more complicated and slippery than this binary set-up. As a director of The Tucson Pima Arts Council (TPAC) a local arts agency my charge is to serve the general public, an audience that ranges from the white gloves to the anarchists – the plural, with all its complexities and … [Read more...]

Messengers of the Gods

When Hermes, the messenger god, discovered language and writing and gave it to humans, he invited us to engage in the process of translating our experience and perception into words; in short, he gave us the gift of interpretation. In homage to Hermes, the Greek word for interpret (hermeneuō) focuses on the role of language: how we use it to organize our sense of the world by linking words into structures of thought; how those structures express, intend and signify other structures of thought … [Read more...]

Leaders Build Lasting Relationships

Anyone can be a follower. To borrow from Tolstoy, followers are all alike; leaders are leaders in their own way. Organizations that lead set themselves apart from the rest and provide unique experiences. If we are to build organizations that survive—organizations that people want to make time to visit—then we need to lead, at least in the sense of maintaining curatorial responsibility. We all know that the public’s leisure time choices are exponentially growing and arts organizations need to … [Read more...]

What Does Audience Engagement Really Mean?

I think arts organizations and the arts sector at large throw around the term “audience engagement” quite irresponsibly, using it as the new buzz word that makes us feel like we are doing something. It is no longer apropos to just focus on putting “butts in seats” or the more delicate euphemism “derrieres in chairs” or having educational programs that focus on the K-12 space with the hope it will pay off in developing audiences twenty years into the future. In this day of fast moving innovation, … [Read more...]

Change We Must (As We Lead)

For a very long time the arts field resembled the companion on a road trip who said "I know the way, I'll drive." Our systems in the nonprofit part of the sector are set up so that arts organizations lead with authority and with the power to dictate much of what is consumed as art. The quality of these products is extremely important and should continue to be, so we have understandably set up our feedback systems to be responsive to their quality production and presentation. If that’s called … [Read more...]

We are the Movers and Shakers of the World Forever, It Seems

My position in this debate was stated most eloquently by a man who studied frogs for a living, as quoted by a Welsh fighter pilot and re-purposed by an Oatmeal company hoping to launch a new candy bar. His name was William O'Shaughnessy. And he said, We are the music-makers, And we are the dreamers of dreams, Wandering by lone sea-breakers, And sitting by desolate streams. World-losers and world-forsakers, Upon whom the pale moon gleams; Yet we are the movers and shakers, Of the world … [Read more...]

Selective and Sophisticated Followership

"Do our artists and arts organizations need to lead more or learn to follow their communities more?" These are two questions. The charge of an individual artist or artist collective is not the same as that of an institution or organization. I believe that artists ought to follow their own inspirations and motivation. I do not feel it necessary for a successful artist to lead anyone else, although it's neat when it works out that way. In order for an artist's work to have any impact, someone … [Read more...]

Art with a Point of View

Think about it. Great art in any genre succeeds because it has a unique point of view and has been elevated from obscurity to accessibility by virtue of advocates, be they organizations, cultural taste makers, or the public. Who would want to read a piece of literature where there is no clear point of view from the author, or go to a play with no dramatic arc or plot, or listen to a piece of music that was a random collection of notes assembled by a community of amateurs with no set of rules … [Read more...]

If this is leading, what is following?

In his influential book, Art Worlds, published in 1982, Howard S. Becker writes: Though audiences are among the most fleeting participants in art worlds, devoting less time to any particular work or to works of a kind than more professionalized participants, they probably contribute most to the reconstitution of the work on a daily basis. Audiences select what will occur as an art work by giving or withholding their participation in an event or their attention to an object, and by attending … [Read more...]

The Problem of Taste

As Michael frames it, the question on the table is whether arts workers (my term for artists, presenters, producers, educators, funder and commentators) should lead “taste” rather than follow it.  But there’s a fundamental problem here, one that needs to be explored before I can take a side.  What exactly do we mean when we use the word “taste?”  The elite has always told the public what to value when it comes to the arts, of course, and gatekeepers have always been concerned with identifying … [Read more...]

Art or Audience; Chicken or Egg?

This week we examine the nature of leadership in the context of developing the most fruitful relationships with our audiences. Good relationships often strike a healthy balance between competing interests, and frequently this balance is forged over the course of many years. Arts organizations have relationships with their patrons, donors and communities, and those relationships are constantly evolving. As such, I find the framework of this debate limiting, as I would argue that great arts … [Read more...]

Lead we Must

Not-for-profit arts must lead audience taste rather than follow it. Just read the mission statements of not-for-profit arts organizations. Their missions are proactive and reflect a desire to bring a specific aesthetic, or a range of aesthetics, to their audiences. I know of no arts organization with a mission to do simply what the audience wants it to do. (Of course the mission of for-profit arts organizations is to make a profit and pandering to audience tastes is not only acceptable, it is … [Read more...]

The Cultural World Has Fundamentally Changed

The question hangs on the meaning of the word ‘lead’. There are many styles of leadership: at one end the Scottish model, where the chieftain runs in front of his clan as they charge into battle; at the other the English, where an aristocrat sits on a horse and attempts to direct the fighting from a safe distance. Not that long ago, leaders in the arts world adopted one or other of those positions: the avant-garde charged ahead, leaving the rest of us struggling to keep up, while Lord Clark made … [Read more...]

Lead or Follow? A debate about leadership

Increasingly, audiences have more visibility for their opinions about the culture they see. Cultural institutions know more and more about their audiences and their wants. Some suggest this new transparency argues for a different relationship between artists and audience.  So the question: In this age of self expression and information overload, do our artists and arts organizations need to lead more or learn to follow their communities more?   … [Read more...]