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...]

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...]

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...]

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...]

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...]

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...]

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...]

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...]

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...]