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June 15, 2007

Brave New Inconveniences; same old people

by Robert Levine

Steven Tepper wrote:

...the greatest barrier for many students when it comes to attending the arts is the notion of "opportunity costs" - many students don't want to commit to an event because they want to wait and see if something better comes along. People want convenience; they want to leave their options open; they want to "drop in and drop by," they want to be able to customize their play lists rather than trust someone else to curate their experiences.

Isn't the last statement called into question by the great success that at least some museum exhibits seem to be having these days? They are as much "curated by someone else" as were exhibits 100 years ago.

The issue of potential concertgoers wanting to keep their options open is not restricted to students. Nor is it new; it seems to be behind the near-universal trend away from the subscription ticket model (which has been going on for a couple of decades now).

There is a trend amongst "big thinkers" to believe that people want different things in the 21st century than they did in the 20th ("people want to 'drop in and drop by'" and such). I'm very suspicious of that notion. People don't change. But what's available to them does. If, for example, 500 channels of cable had been available at the dawn of the TV age, people would have subscribed in droves. The three-network model only existed because of lack of alternatives.

There have always been people creating music, and other forms of art, in their garages (or stables). We used to call it "folk music," among other things. But now it's both easier to create (or to cobble together from pre-existing art) and to distribute new art (although now we call it "content").

Steven Tepper also wrote:

There is probably a place for certain organizations to focus only on artistic innovation, with little regard for audiences. These organizations might be doing critical R&D which has little day-to-day relevance. Good for them. In the end, some will be serving a public interest if their innovations take hold and animate a new generation of audiences and artists.

The problem is that it's hard for orchestras to take those risks. And the non-orchestral organizations that can afford to do so provide models that aren't really "on point" for orchestras. So we get stuck in old models (of concert presentation, for example) that seem to be working less well, but we don't have the resources to take the risks to innovate our way out of the old models.

Posted by rlevine at June 15, 2007 7:01 AM


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