Audience development for the arts end of year a-musings (Part I)

Today I have been thinking about the year 2010. With all the “Best in 2010” articles floating around, it can’t be helped.  In the near future, I will be sifting through my tweets to find the best tweets for the 2010 Audience Development Twitter Awards.  At this moment though, I have been giving much thought to New Year’s resolutions.

2010 is nearing the end and a bright and shiny 2011 is due any day now.  What would you do differently next year?  What new ideas, programs will you want to implement? In terms of audience development, here is my “best of” advice to my fellow artists and arts organizations:

  1. Find your niche!  I cannot stress this enough. With all the new artists and arts organizations popping up, it is extremely important now to differentiate yourself from everyone else.  If you have not discovered your niche, ask yourself the following questions. What do you do better than anyone else?  What is your main focus? If others have similar missions, what makes you different from them?  In a world of saturation, you need to define what makes you special.  This defining will help get you in touch with others that relate to your niche.
  2. Brand yourself correctly so the right audience can find you.  After discovering your niche, make sure your brand matches and helps promote your niche.  It is time to individualize your marketing.  In my humble opinion, the reason why some artists and arts organizations get overlooked is due to the fact that their branding is just like everyone else’s.  I see the same old types of photographs, messages, missions and programs that everyone else is doing.  No wonder people may think the arts are not new and exciting!  It is time to be the artists that we are, creative individuals that push beyond the status quo.  Let yourself be brilliant and brand yourself so there is no doubt as to who you really are.
  3. Put the passion back into everything you do.  It is such a buzz kill to hear artists belly aching about not being recognized, not being paid enough, not selling enough, not having enough gigs… Guess what?  The audience can pick up on these vibes.  We need to ask ourselves again – Why am I creating art in the first place?  We need to put the passion back into creating and enjoying our art.  This positive vibe will also be perceived by the audience and will translate into positive actions.  Let’s be completely honest.  Maybe the arts are suffering due to lackluster offerings.  Maybe we are lackluster since our passion has been replaced by righteousness or the “we deserve better” act.  Art comes from the soul.  Without passion, the soul cannot produce high quality art.  With passion, the soul will be joyful and create offerings that other souls will be drawn to.
  4. Don’t be afraid to ask for support.  All artists and arts organizations need support, but many of us are afraid to ask for it.  Why?  I had a discussion yesterday about this very point.  I came to the conclusion that the reason we may have trouble asking is that we do not define our art in terms of a tangible product.  Maybe this needs to change.  The arts (proven time and time again) have many beneficial gifts for our society.  They benefit the individual and our communities.   This means that the arts can be defined in a tangible sense.  The arts are worth supporting due to these benefits.  Do yourself a favor and get over being shy of asking for support.  You have a product that is worthy of support.  Define all the benefits of your art and make it easy for someone to relate to the reasons why your art is worth investing in.
  5. After you realize you are worthy of support, ask in a personal manner.  This is the other reason why people may not be supporting your art.  You need to ask personally!  We as individuals are inundated with donation requests.  Sending a form letter is going to end up with all the other form letters, “filed” in the trash mainly.  The reason people give to one particular cause over another is when they feel connected with the cause.  Connect with people again and ask them personally for support.  If you know so and so, don’t send them the same old form letter, write a personal ask to them or take them out for coffee.  Form letters are not working anymore, and we have been hiding behind them due to our fears of asking for support.  Get up the courage to relate personally again.  You will find all the support you need this way.
  6. Collaborate more! Due to the saturation point and the economy, we need to collaborate more, not less.  We need to get over the mentality that there is not enough to go around and instead share in the bounty that is here.  I want to challenge you to find at least one creative collaboration for 2011 and put your passion into it. Take the time to look around you and see how we can help support each other!
  7. Discover the talent that is in your own back yard to expand your resources.  I hear people talk about capacity issues, but there is an easy solution.  I could get in trouble for discussing this one, but I feel that we are too hung up on qualifications and letters after our names.  Of course, if you need to see a doctor you want a qualified one.  I myself am applying to an Arts Administration Master’s program next year to give myself a little more polish.  However, the talents of individuals can go unnoticed and unused due to this mentality.  For example, I was looking for a graphic design artist.  I interviewed several for the job.  There were some that had the fancier degrees and some that didn’t.  I actually ended up hiring a person that was intelligent and talented, someone without the fancier degree.  You see, education is important, but so are the individual gifts, talents and experiences that we have.  Do not overlook someone simply based on credentials.  Do not place someone strictly based on credentials either.  Instead, take the time to discover that person’s individual gifts and how they can be useful.

To be continued tomorrow…


Cheers to happy and loyal audiences,


Shoshana Fanizza
Audience Development Specialists


“Never treat your audience as customers, always as partners.”
~James Stewart

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Filed under arts management, arts marketing, Audience Development, Volunteer Management

2 responses to “Audience development for the arts end of year a-musings (Part I)

  1. Hi Shoshana!

    This is a great post. Particularly number 7. And 1. And 2. And 4/5. Especially 3. #6 is good, too.


    Well, this is good stuff and I hope I’m hooked on these things if not necessarily doing all that well at all of them. Did you see my blog post today? We’re having to ADD SEATS for my concert on Jan 12! Most of the audience I know and are relatively new to classical music, but they’re coming because they’ve seen how I engage the audience and get them to participate through listening and imagining.

    Looking forward to Part II!

  2. Enjoyed reading this post very much. I just started in the newly-created position as Communication Coordinator for the Performing Arts Center (and the Arts and Communication Department) at a community college in Central Illinois. We are currently examining our marketing efforts of the past and having internal discussions about every facet of how we promote our various offerings. If any other readers of this post have any insights or stories of what has worked well for them, they would be highly appreciated.

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