Sunday, July 9, 2017

In Times of Deep Division and Turmoil, What is the Role of the Arts: Refuge or Resistance?

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

And Should You Market Towards One or the Other?

For some artists, creation is virtually always a political act and their art is directly related to what is happening in society.  They want to influence and impact with their art; to provoke, console, to relate. For others, their creation never relates to the politics of the times, rather it stands separate and independent in whatever statement it makes, or doesn't make.  They create their version of beauty for the beholder.

The decision belongs to each artist.

Audiences too may make a similar decision, with some people drawn to exhibits and performances that respond to the issues and feelings of the times, and others put off by art that carries a message of any kind relative to current events.  Some people find comfort, solace and strength in art that address how they are feeling towards those current events.  They are attracted to art and artists who can help them make sense of what seems hard to fathom.  Art can provide a refuge from the clamor and din of strident voices and warring factions, and that can be a powerful attraction.

For others, artists that address the turmoil are using art as a pulpit to lecture and preach and it amounts to propaganda, and irrespective of its level of excellence, it is off-putting and they want no part of it.  To them it only contributes to the divide, rather than helping to heal.

Again, the decision belongs to the audience.

But art organizations - presenters and exhibitors - have a similar decision to make in what they present and exhibit, and how they market their performances and exhibitions.  Does an organization elect to present art that more obviously than not seeks to provide either refuge or encourage resistance to its audience?  Does the organization present art that does one or the other, but consciously choose not to emphasize or highlight that aspect?  Some performances and some art will be more provocative and elicit more strident supporters or detractors,.  And in a no win situation, the decision not to make that decision is itself subject to criticism in some quarters as a sell-out.  

The question looms - from a strictly marketing perspective - are organizations better off marketing art as refuge or as resistance?  Does one approach stand a better chance of attracting a larger audience?  Or are they better off not considering the issue or making a conscious choice in their approach to marketing?  Or at least not making a point of it?  And do they know their audiences well enough to make the right decision?

Any decision on the marketing question, is likely to be based, in large part, on an organization's understanding and appreciation of its own audience, their preferences and their mind-sets.  Marketing seeks to increase audience size and share and is directly related to financials, and so whether or not to characterize offerings in troubled times as providing refuge or offering the chance for resistance (or purposefully doing neither) will depend on the belief that with certain audience segments, such characterization, one way or another, will increase ticket sales or deplete them.  That decision may be more accurate if based on some data, if data is available, but it may also be a decision that might more properly be governed not by standard marketing considerations, but by the decision aligning with the organization's mission and vision.

The easiest and safest path is, of course, not to characterize either the content of the offerings or the intent of programs in any way - neither as meant to console nor as a call to action (whatever that action may be).  Yet that may be avoiding an important decision the organization should not be avoiding.  Thus the whole decision may be a moral one for the organization on one hand, or a purely practical decision on the other.

And whose decision is this?  The executives, the staff, the Board or the organization's ecosystem community?

The questions seem to be worth asking, even if there are no right or wrong answers.  By asking, the organization may learn something about itself and come to understand both the art it is presenting and the audience it attracts.  That may be valuable information.

Have a great week.

Don't Quit
Barry


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