Notes on Crisis and Opportunity 2.0

Last Thursday night I had the opportunity to attend Austin Creative Alliance’s dialog “Crisis and Opportunity: Audiences Everywhere”

 Matt Lehrman of Arizona’s Alliance for Audience and ShowUp.com, opened the discussion by inviting everyone in the room to introduce themselves, which was helpful for those of us that are new to the area (me…). I was pleasantly surprised to learn that the vast majority of the audience was made up of individuals who work in arts organizations.
Takeaway messages from Matt’s presentation:
·         Your audience is limited by opportunity, money, time, and ability.
·         The appearance of failure is just as harmful as failure itself (an empty seat never recommended anything to anyone).
·         Stop picking from the bottom of the tree: don’t just market to your most devoted audience; seek to find solutions for those audiences limited by opportunity, money, time, ability, or interest.
·         Seek audiences everywhere.
·         Compete and cooperate. Arts organizations are always in competition with each other, but there is always room for collaboration, cross-promotion, and supporting one another.
After Matt’s short presentation, he opened up the room for discussion, encouraging people to speak out about things they were doing or ideas that they had. To my surprise, a number of individuals in the audience shared their thoughts and talked about the ideas that Matt was suggesting. In some cases the arts organizations in attendance were already practicing some of Matt’s suggestions and in some cases they weren’t. All in all, people were talking and discussing things, and these people were the ones actually in the field doing the work.
I found this very encouraging!
My expectations for this event were set low. After reading “Austin arts groups feel strains of growth,” which ran in the Austin American Statesman the Saturday prior to the event, I was unsure of what to expect. The article outlined the troubles facing arts organizations in Austin and pointed to the organizations currently operating above the line as those who lead the rest into the future. While I found the article useful in many ways, I wondered how it would look to donors or potential donors. Is painting a bleak picture of Austin’s arts and culture sector the way to improve stewardship? As a firm believer in transparency and authenticity, I think that explaining one’s troubles can be productive; however the media already thrives on this. Negative news makes headlines, so in some respect, it could be argued that the general public has already read about the troubles facing the art world. What they haven’t read about is how organizations are attempting change, and taking steps to not only survive, but support one another. I think that article would have encouraged me to support my favorite local arts organization.
I would hesitate to say that everything I learned last Thursday night was a new. I would, however, say that for the first time in my life, I attended a dialog that promoted change and collaboration with the people who had the power to make it happen.