Audience development and combatting the “elitism” of the arts

I just finished reading

Classical music ain’t just for snobs

When I saw the title, I was expecting an article detailing the various reasons why classical music can be enjoyed by everyone and anyone.  I should have known better.  It turned out to be another critical essay regarding the format of how someone is presenting classical music to the masses.  On the one hand, the message is clear, and the article is worth reading.  On the other hand, this essay was written in such a fashion that the average person would probably not read it.

I read it, but I am not the average person that does not know about classical music.  I was born and raised into the world of classical music.  If I hadn’t been, I may not have been interested in this article.

Is this what we have come to?  We are critical of each other in our attempts to get classical music out to the general public, and yet, we end up speaking to ourselves and talking in circles.  I am currently picking on the classical music world, but the arts in general have had a big fail in communicating to the general public in ways the general public can understand.

It is not a matter of “dumbing down.”  I really don’t like this phrase.  Instead, we need to think about the fact that people that have not been in touch with classical music may not understand our jargon.  This creates a barrier that doesn’t need to be there.  It is a matter of getting real about the music again so we can explain in ways that will be understood by people that are new to classical music.

Let me put it this way, if a mathematician were to go through one of his detailed proofs to show you the glories of math, and you were not at his level, wouldn’t you be completely lost, bored, turned off?

It is time we start communicating again with the general public.  We can do this in smart ways (no dumbing down required).  Currently, there are children’s programs that do a fantastic job.  Why not translate the basic concepts of these formats for adults too?   I will say here, in defense, that I have seen a few programs that are starting to do this.  I look forward to the day it is more standard in our industry.

Classical music (art in general) will continue to be considered “elite” until we allow ourselves to let our hair down.  Plus, the music will speak for itself, if we can stop speaking for it.

Cheers to happy and loyal audiences,

Shoshana Fanizza

Audience Development Specialists


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

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Filed under arts advocacy, arts management, arts marketing, Audience Development

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