It isn’t that people don’t want the art, it’s how we make people feel when we talk about it
Perhaps the biggest thing I harp about in the arts industry is barriers to engagement. I have written numerous posts about it and I even do a conference session literally titled “Removing Barriers Though Authentic Communication”.
We, as arts organizations, are masters at creating barriers to engagement with our offerings. Sometimes those have to do with prices but more so, they have to do with how we talk about what we do. More precisely, how we make people feel when we talk about what we do.
When you talk to someone in a way that makes them feel stupid, they’re likely not going to want to engage with you, right? When you wrap up all the great, relevant, and timely things about the art in a thick cloak of pretension, the instinct will be to run away rather than run toward.
In recent days as closures due to the COVID-19 pandemic sweep our industry, many organizations have begun offering programs online. The response has already shown that people want to engage with the arts.
The Met Opera’s free online broadcasts just about broke the internet because tens of thousands of people around the world were trying to view it. (There are tons more streamed performances to come from organizations worldwide.)
I found myself following the National Cowboy Museum on Twitter (those of you who know me know how funny that is) because the nature of the posts have completely changed as their security guard — now the only person at the museum — has started tweeting. The Museum’s tweets usually average between 5 and 10 likes, but Tim The Security Guard’s tweets are garnering 300 or more likes. Why? Because he is speaking authentically.
Yes, this engagement is partly due to people staying inside, but there is precedent for this.
That time in Canada when 70k people under the age of 25 signed up for a free museum membership. A similar thing happened in Ohio where, instead of asking for donations on #GivingTuesday, an art museum gave away free memberships, resulting in over 10,000 new members.
#MolluskMonday tweets from the Carnegie Museum of Natural History featuring Tim Pearce exploded in popularity because his dad jokes are accessible by everyone, whether or not they know about mollusks.
As we see more and more organizations take to the web to provide authentic content, this effect is multiplying.
We are now putting attention to creating content that is truly engaging to our audiences and we are already seeing the result. This genuinely serious, scary, and uncertain situation has forced us up our risk tolerance and focus in on our mission without the luxury of being able to hide behind all the pomp and circumstance, jargon, and barriers to which we are so accustomed.
Why do any of us do what we do? We do it because we want to share what is so gosh darn cool about art with the world.
When this is all over — when we have come out the other side — let us not forget about how we were able use art to impact humanity by distilling it down to it’s core, presenting it authentically, and distributing it on channels where it is easily accessible.