Audience development and arts relevancy

Every once in a while, I seem to need to ramble about a topic that has popped up in my head with aspirations to be explored more.  Today, I have been thinking about relevancy.  When we think about the products we buy, they need to be relevant to our lives or we will not purchase them.  Products and services have to fill a need or a want that makes sense for us.  Why should the arts be treated any differently?  In consideration of audience development, the audience will require the art to be relevant to them in order to connect with it in the first place.  In order for us to connect and build relationships with our audiences, we too need to become relevant to them.

Though, there is tradition to consider.  Yes, some of our art forms have traditional presentations.  The presentation is a part of what the arts are all about, right?  However, as I mentioned before, the arts pre-19th Century had a different presentation that was tradition in those times.  The arts were presented among the people instead of the standard of asking people to come to the arts and be subservient to the arts that was established as the new tradition.

So, if tradition is actually a standard that is set by the status quo, in order for the tradition to make sense, the traditions need to be relevant for the time (or rather relevant to the people of the time).

The status quo needs to be what people of the day accept, expect and need.  If there are changes that have happened, the status quo will change too, right?  Just because we do something the way we have always done something doesn’t mean that this way is relevant to the new times.

The arts have gone through many changes already.  The arts reflect the surrounding times and function as historical markers for points in history.  We seem to be in a battle with a time for the arts to change once again.  The old status quo is not happy with the changing status quo.  Perhaps this happens all the time, but we are now the ones living through this phenomena so it becomes a personal and relevant issue to explore once again.

The arts are very much like a living, breathing human being.  Let’s say we have a person that wants to look like they are in their 20’s even though they are 50 years old.  This person can attempt with plastic surgery, exercise, diet, etc., but to be honest, they will never be able to turn back time to become what and who they were in the past. Since the arts is a living, breathing and a changing being as well, why are we attempting to control the changes that are upon us instead of becoming accepting and adaptable to the new times with these changes?  Maybe we need to learn to accept that the changes are going to happen and become more at peace with these changes?

The way I see it, the status quo has changed.  How the new generations want to experience the arts and what they want to experience is different than what the older generations want.  The change is upon us and is inevitable, as sure as we grow older each day, we have little control over this fate and function of life. This doesn’t mean that we couldn’t have niches that glorify the days of the old, but that is what these arts presentations will be, representations of the past for people that want to remain in this past.

In order for any art form to “survive,” in terms of audience development, it must become relevant to the new status quo and format and/or blend with new traditions that are relevant. The art form must also change with the times.  The basics of the art form may still be there, but it will be different. These changes are not necessarily bad, just different.  Sometimes the changes might end up being perceived as better.  To the new status quo, they may strongly feel the changes are better.

I see this same struggle throughout history.  People struggle for old customs or values that may not be relevant for today’s general society.  The new generation marches to a different drummer.  The new generation has a different status quo, and when this new generation becomes strong, the traditions will need to change to be relevant to their wants and needs.  Why continue to hurt ourselves when it is so obvious we have once again reached this stage in the life of the arts?

We are artists after all.  Let the arts and artistic creativity be the living and breathing entity it has always been and allow it to grow and change to be relevant for today.  The struggle against this growth only robs us of valuable time and precious peace of mind and the ability to once again reflect the times and be relevant for the audiences of today.

What do you think?

Cheers to happy and loyal audiences,


Shoshana Fanizza

Audience Development Specialists



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