Fly by the seat of your pants and arts audience development

I have to say something.  After years of witnessing and dealing with, I can no longer remain silent.  Many artists and arts organizations have a “fly by the seat of your pants” mentality.   I’ve been prompted to break the silence after reading an article about the arts in Florida:

Arts groups’ weak finances prompt ‘call to action’ 

Less than 20 percent of local arts organizations have a fundraising strategy

Less than 40 percent have a strategic plan to carry out their missionJust 57 percent of arts-group chief executives receive performance reviews from their board of directors

Only 17 of the 81 arts groups that participated have endowments to provide ongoing support. Those endowments provide just $590,000 per year across the 17 groups — against $33 million in operating expenses.

Holy cow! If this is a snapshot of other areas of arts in our country, we are most certainly embracing a “fly by the seat of your pants” mentality.

When you engage in this type of arts management, poor planning is the biggest result which turns into audience development, marketing and fundraising campaigns that don’t even have a leg to stand on.  Planning is crucial for running a successful business, let alone a thriving arts business that relies more on solid foundations of quality in every aspect of the business.

Some companies can get by with status quo, but arts organizations are folding now due to this lackadaisical attitude.  In the past we were able to rely on rich patrons because we were artists.  Today, if we don’t deliver our part, patrons do not want to contribute.

A “fly by the seat of your pants” attitude is not going to attract serious investors.  It will only show the lack of planning, lack of follow through, lack of quality to your actions.  Instead, you will find your half baked plans and actions will not result in building an audience and building your monetary and volunteer support.  Your campaigns will continue to not succeed.

If you want to build an audience that is happy and loyal, planning must be a priority.  Follow through must be a priority.  Planning quality art and the customer service to back your art is extremely important.

Doing everything last minute without enough thought is not going to get you anywhere positive.  You might be lucky to stay status quo, but you most certainly won’t grow to become a healthy, thriving arts organization.

How can you break this negative cycle?  Set priorities and stick with them.  Many artists and arts administrators take on too much.  With their plates overloaded, each component gets less time and attention and each action, campaign, production is lacking in conviction.  Yes, focusing on a few things instead of taking on the world can create the change.

Audience development takes planning, creativity and thoughtfulness.  It takes time and effort to design and implement a good plan.  You need to plan time for relationship building for a bigger and better audience and a loyal audience that will support you and your art.  Do you really want to continue flying by the seat of your pants?   It won’t be too long before your unchanged underwear is showing.

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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