Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Communal Conversation trumps Marketing: Trend 5/7 Future of Arts

This is part six in an ongoing series of posts on 7 Trends for the Future of the Arts. Originally published (and partially reprinted here with permission of the publisher) in the book: 20 Under 40: Reinventing the Arts and Arts Education for the 21st Century. I'm presenting selections from each trend, and you can follow the whole post series from here. If you are interested in these arguments, check out and think about purchasing the book here.

Trend 5: Communal Conversation trumps Marketing

The Conversation. East End Faces.photo © 2011 jeff hubbard | more info (via: Wylio)When people join a social network, they do so for a variety of reasons including connecting with colleagues, sharing information, or possibly to find friendship, romance, or work. If you glance at most arts organizations’ websites, however, it appears that the administrators think social networking is just about marketing. Themselves. Constantly. If an organization is event-based, one usually finds a flurry of postings just before and during the events it offers, but rarely afterwards—unless it’s a tweet saying “hey, thanks for attending, see you next year.” This couldn’t be further from what audiences want, which is an ongoing dialogue and real sense of connection.

Arts organizations must participate in the building of online communities in a natural way or they will become, as many already have, just so much more noise in the Internet social sphere. This isn’t easy for arts organizations, or for most artists and other people, because real dialogue is hard. In fact, this is precisely the area where one often learns that one’s real queasiness around social media isn’t technical—almost anyone of any age group can learn how to use social networks. What’s hard is conversation, whether that’s in the lobby or online. The entire architecture of most museums, theaters, and arts organizations seems intended to minimize the chance that a staff member could engage in even brief conversation with the public. The architecture of the Internet, however, requires true, engaged conversation.

Until arts organizations realize they must actually participate in a dialogue with their community, they can’t create a proper presence online. While that dialogue will necessarily be different from one institution to another, reflecting different ideas of what constitutes dialogue, it must be genuine, ongoing, and it must have some compelling voice—be it from everyone on staff/commission or just the artistic director or performers. Arts organizations should also begin thinking about how this will evolve over time—likely becoming more participatory, more enriching, and more argumentative at the same time, and likely leading to entirely new art forms which could be co-created by those organizations who take the lead.

Next Up: The Future Lies in Find

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