Sunday, July 29, 2012


Good morning.
"And the beat goes on..................."

Leverage / Engagement and Effectiveness:
The nature of blogging is somewhat akin to critical journalism - the focus and emphasis is too often on criticism and pointing out weaknesses and what might not be working.  There are so many good things and positive, encouraging developments that go unreported and unheralded.

I am a huge fan of the Random Acts of Culture movement.  Not only are these isolated events uplifting theater and art in their own right, but, over time, I am convinced the aggregate effect of what is 'advocacy' and 'storytelling' itself is to engage the public in why art matters and how it makes us feel.  The most popular of these events (which are, of course, not truly random as at least some thought and planning goes into the where, when and how of each randomized act; and indeed some are logistically more demanding) are the large events involving scores of musicians, dancers, and singers - and which seem to spring up spontaneously in some very public arena (from bus stations to town hall squares) and capture the attention and interest of whomever is fortunate to be in the right place at the right time to bear witness to these uplifting art moments in time.  Invariably, the result is to bring smiles to the faces of the onlookers, and genuine - if only momentary - rapture on the part of the "audience".  Also inevitable is that most of these events are videoed (the whole world is now videotaped) and uploaded to You Tube or wherever and make their way around the world so that they are shared exponentially beyond the original audience.

It is that reach via new technologies that leverages each random act and gives them their collective power.  And it is that reach that benefits us enormously as a storytelling / advocacy tool in the continuing task of making the case for our value.  These little acts are very effective, crowds-pleasing tools that help our cause.  The trend is growing.  The Knight Foundation, the James Irvine Foundation and others are pioneering funding for this phenomenon and I salute those efforts.

I also wonder though (and here comes the blogger moment of exception - you knew it was coming, right?) whether or not we are missing out on a real opportunity to more widely and effectively leverage this trend (and, by implication, whether or not we miss out on lots of opportunities because we don't look for greater ways to leverage what we are doing as a protocol which ought to be institutionalized somehow into our thinking).

Here's what I mean in the case of the random acts of culture:
WHAT IF we were to organize a little bit more the 'already in existence' program of funded random acts of culture out there.  WHAT IF one of the larger random acts of culture (those involving lots of people as opposed to the smaller one person acts) was held on the same day, at the same time, in each of fifteen cities -- and we did that for each of 15 days in a row.  Unannounced, but videoed and uploaded to the net. WHAT IF we were to organize a buzz about that.  Without comment on it by any of the perpetrators (is that a bad word to use in this instance?  I like it, makes it sound kind of conspiratorial.)  WHAT IF after the fourth or fifth day of these events happening all over the country, we nudged (in an organized and well thought out way) the media that something was afoot out there that they ought to look it.  And nudging the media might not even be necessary.

I would bet that by the 10th day of these cross country random acts of art and culture, the media would be all over this as a phenomenon that would be irresistible to them; that the coverage would go from local to national like a wildfire.  This is precisely the kind of thing the media loves (other then tragedies and mayhem); that they can't  help themselves but fawn over and lap up.  It presses too many of their buttons for them to ignore.  And then for the last five days of these random acts, the public would be looking for these 'happenings'.  And there lies the payoff.

And so what you ask?  Here's what.  Once the media stampede to cover "what's going on with this random acts thing" began, we would then have a brief national stage to drive home some points to the public - like our value to society, and the need for more arts education, and more public support, and politicians who can make the link between the arts and value to the public.  A chance to command an audience (in newspapers, on television and more) for our message that we don't now have; haven't really had yet.  If we were then ready all across the country, with facts and data, and bullet point sheets about all we bring to the table, and spokespeople to do interviews, and already written op-ed pieces to hand out, and if we were ready to pounce on the opportunity and exploit it to our advantage - we might just make a small dent in all the negativity we now have to battle every day.  Would it forever change the paradigm of our struggle -- of course not.  But would it move us a tiny bit closer to where we want to be.  I think it would.  And that is how battles are won.  A tiny little step forward, followed by another one.  Moreover, it would teach us that we are capable of manufacturing moments that we can seize to our advantage.  Empowering.

The point is this really wouldn't be that hard to put together.  We're talking 225 separate acts of random culture.  A lot, but do-able.  Yes it would take some real organization and coordination to make such a collaborative effort come off - but the random acts themselves are already happening and will likely happen with greater frequency (at least while the idea is still novel and fresh), and they are pretty much already paid for to boot.  All that would be necessary is some man hours to package them in a way that would leverage the power of each one of them as part of a larger (temporary) effort.  And some planning as to how to best capitalize on the anticipated media coverage objective.  I have seen a score of exercises far more complicated carried off successfully by our sector just this year.

One of the things I like about random acts of culture is that they help people to viscerally respond to the power of the arts.  One of our problems is that while the public can appreciate the arguments (economic and otherwise) that we have value, for too many, in their heart of hearts, they just don't "get it".  Not like we "get it".  That has long been a problem for us in making our case and winning converts to our cause.  The random acts, in a small way, address that challenge.  They help people, if just for a moment, to "get it" - and internally register how art makes them feel. That in turn opens them up for change. And that's what we need, because if we can facilitate people actually "getting it" we will have succeeded in "engaging" them in the way I think all the programs, projects, and thinking about engagement envision.

Even if you don't like my thinking on how we might package our Random Acts of Art and Culture to better effect, I strongly urge you to think about how we can better systemically and purposefully leverage the good things we are doing so that they will maximize the benefits they bring to us. Expanded efforts to leverage what is already working for us to greater effect is ultimately a smart and essential business strategy and ought to be on the front burner as part of our business thinking as managers; one that will help us in our efforts to collaborate and cooperate as well.  We ought to be continuously thinking about what can be leveraged and how.

Have a good week.

Don't Quit.

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