Audience development and the fear of working and of working together

I’m starting to see some discussion about why arts organizations are failing.  Some people are pointing to transparency issues, or rather that the organizations have not been transparent enough so their patrons know the truth about their financial situations.  Others are pointing fingers at their board and management staff  for not stepping up to make the changes needed to save the organization.

I think both of these points have some validity.  I am throwing my hat into the ring to sight two other issues – the fear of working and the fear of working together.

The fear of working – change requires doing something different.  It requires doing something.  I have seen organizations fold due the organization not doing anything.  For example, there are several organizations that I know of that have a boat load of staff and board members listed.  Why is the organization failing if they have all the people power necessary to do the work?  There seems to be a fear of doing the hard work needed to make the organization truly successful.  They attempt to hire others to do the work for them or add other board members that will pick up the slack.  Since audience development requires time and effort, no wonder these organizations are not building audience and support for their art.  I can understand the argument that there is not enough time to do everything you are supposed to, but when it comes to saving an organization or project, maybe you need to make the time and effort by getting over the underlying fear of doing the work.  Do you want to keep making excuses, blaming others and creating failure or do you want to succeed again?

Part of the problem is the issue of people promising the moon and the stars and not delivering.  We all need to make note of this.  Perhaps you do not have the right people on your team to be successful if this keeps happening.

The fear of working together – the arts are becoming too territorial.  There is a fear of working with other arts organizations and artists.  There is the egos need to do it their own way  instead of making a collaborative effort.  There is a fear that if you share and help another that you will not have enough audience and support for yourself.   With more and more arts efforts happening, and the shrinking of the existing audience, we either need to expand audiences fast or we need to start collaborating more.

What I see happening without collaborating is that your efforts might hurt others’ and vice versa. I have seen instances where the many events that were scheduled within a weeks time of each other have all suffered.  I feel this territorial attitude is going to create a great deal of bad karma in the arts.  What goes around, comes around, which in the case of our arts industry isn’t good for any of us.  In terms of audience development, no one will be able to win a more happy and loyal audience with this underlying problem.  The underlying fear of not having enough is going to become a self fulfilling prophecy.  It is time to rethink this fear of working together.

Maybe I am wishing for too much, arts organizations and artists working together in a variety of ways so everyone can reap the benefits of a better audience.  However, I have seen instances when arts organizations work together and usually something wonderful happens in the process.   All of the collaborating organizations benefit and the ability for audience development to bloom for all is created.  It gives me hope that my pie in the sky idealism could actually come true one day.

A girl can dream!

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, Audience Development

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