BUILDING CAPACITY/developing audiences
Excerpts from An Elegant Process The Artistic Process/The Planning Process by Nello McDaniel and George Thorn, ARTS Action Research
The Marketing Innovation Program, a new project of the Philadelphia Cultural Management Initiative by Emily Sweeney
©2007 ARTS Action Issues Publications, all rights reserved
If an arts organization of any kind is successful, it is because of what occurs on stage when the curtain goes up, or in the gallery when the doors open. Not really such a revelation—except for the fact that the curtain going up is the result of an extraordinary series and sequence of actions, interactions, decisions, inventions, revisions, solutions, discoveries, and resolutions. All of these are shaped and driven by a disparate group of arts professionals with shared vision, passion, commitment, trust, discipline, craft, precision, acute attention to time, money and detail, and a degree and intensity of collaboration that business gurus endlessly talk about, rarely achieve and never fully understand. This amazing amalgam of activity that we broadly refer to as the artistic process is the reason that any artist, or arts organization, or program or body of work, works. The artistic process is a unique combination of vision, creativity, intuition, and collaboration balanced with craft, technique, accountability, discipline, and use of time and resources. In a highly relative world, the artistic process is one of the few absolutes irrespective of artistic discipline, style, size, age, locale or working format. The artistic process is, without qualification or quantification, the most effective planning, problem-solving, decision-making, relationship-building process available to any arts organization. It may be the most effective process available to anyone. But because the role and work of artists is so devalued in our society, and the artistic process is not understood outside artists’ arenas, it lacks recognition, validity and value. No two artistic visions are the same, and likewise no two artistic processes are the same. The thing that makes the artistic process so rich and elegant is that each artist and each arts entity understands why and how its own process works. Even if they have not fully conceptualized or articulated the process, on some level, if only instinctively, each artist or
group of artists understands the critical elements of constancy and continuity that allow the work to emerge. The challenge is how the professional arts leadership of each arts entity can bring the artistic process, in all of its richness, complexity and effectiveness, to the center of the organization. How do you help all of your partners, both professional and community, understand your particular process and how to use it to best advantage? How do you transfer something so organic, ephemeral and instinctive in the studio to practical application throughout the organization? When we suggest bringing the artistic process to the center of each organization and everything it does, we are speaking quite literally. Often when working with an arts organization’s professional leadership on a problem, we ask them how they would approach the problem if they were in rehearsal. Or, if it is a big and complex problem, we ask how they would make a work about the problem. The artistic process is more than a metaphor. It is the clearest and most effective way that most arts professionals work. By its nature it is healthy and it is balanced. It can and must inform and transform every aspect of the organization’s life. This is where we begin.
In the spring of 2006, the Philadelphia Cultural Management Initiative (PCMI), a sister program of PMP, with a shared interest in garnering public and media attention to the arts, housed in the Philadelphia Center for Arts & Heritage (PCAH), began research for a new endeavor, the Marketing Innovation Program (MIP). As Martin Cohen, PCMI’s director, explains, “We saw a consistent lack of resources for organizations to invest beyond a very simple and normal push strategy, which is what we do mostly in the arts. We create something, and then we say ‘Oh, we have to go find an audience.’ It began to raise questions like, ‘What is marketing capacity?’ I don’t think any of us have an easy answer to that, but I think this was our way of beginning to address it.” The first step was to hire Roy Wilbur, former associate managing director for Public Engagement at the Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts, as project manager for the new venture. Ten organizations have been invited to participate, as determined by adjudication panels early in 2007 in the various artistic initiatives, which identified projects of high artistic quality that could most benefit from additional marketing and public engagement resources. “We’re in a pilot or a test phase,” Cohen says, “asking ‘What can we do in order to enhance the way organizations think about audiences and communicate with them?’ We’re even beginning to look at changing the internal communication about where marketing is brought into the picture, asking, ‘How can marketing, or the question of audience be folded in at a much earlier stage?’” Helping an organization balance the weight of consumer-driven tactics, which could risk compromising its mission, with questions of relevance is a subtle dance. With audiences changing due to generational and demographic shifts nationwide, arts and heritage organizations everywhere are examining their marketing toolboxes, trying to pinpoint what makes their work relevant to constituents, and how they might broaden their base. The demographic shifts are substantial: 70% of Americans over the age of 45 are Caucasian; 70% of Americans under the age of 16 are non-Caucasian. And, as Cohen points out, “Young people have integrated technology in a way that older adults don’t even realize.” Soon, the adult consuming audience will look vastly different than it does now. How are organizations to address this? “I’m not sure it always takes a huge amount of resources to respond,” says Cohen. “It does take an open mind, however.” Cohen believes MIP will gain perspective by engaging with multiple disciplines. “Roy is in a unique position, with his particular experience, to be a wonderful observer, and to know how to respond and tie it all together. Similarly, PCMI is in a great place because we talk to a lot of people and have a lot of information.” “There are extraordinary environments in Philadelphia for the arts, culture, and heritage community that don’t exist in other parts of this country,” Cohen points out. “I think in that sense Philadelphia is very privileged and on the cutting edge. The existence of PCAH, which is not even two years old yet—I think that will begin to resonate over time in this community when we begin to look at the collective effect in a way that I’m not sure I can predict.”