Yes, it might be strange to hear from me over the weekend. I had something on my mind I wanted to share. I have come to the conclusion that we in the arts are attempting to solve a puzzle without the actual background knowledge needed to solve it. We are fighting an uphill battle to have people value the arts again. We have our talking points that have been proven over and over again, yet the majority doesn’t seem to be listening, or they have come to not care about the arts the way we do.
Has anyone stopped to consider when the breakdown actually occurred? I liken this to using medicine for the symptoms instead of figuring out the root of the illness. What is the root of disvalue for the arts? When did it first take place?
I recall research on the transition of the audience from the light into the dark. Is this when it happened? The invention of the light bulb increased the light for the artists yet put the audience into the dark. Is this what did us in?
The arts used to be a “sports” of the time. It was part of the Olympics once. It was a main event in people’s lives in parts of history. What made this all change?
The only thought that comes into my mind is that during the transition of the artist being in the light and the audience being in the dark, it might shed some light on the fact that we pushed our audiences away and disvalued them in the process. What occurred during and after the transition: the entitlement for money (instead of the humble ask from our patrons), the ego of being better than the audience and choosing for them (instead of working with them), the refusal to engage instead of being engaging like we once were in our communities. Perhaps the light bulb changed the value of the arts due to all of these other changes that came with it.
What really happened is, we disvalued our audiences during this transition. We disvalued our audiences when we forgot to price for all types of people like we once did. We disvalued our audiences when we told them to shut up and become secondary to our art. We disvalued our audiences when we no longer asked for their feedback. We disvalued our audiences when we no longer provided them with the customer service that they deserved. We disvalued them as we went into the light and shut them out into the dark.
Like all products and services though, when more competition comes into play, and technology changes our society and how people experience their lives, the value of the original product and service (the arts) can change. The audiences with all the choices they have now , and the ability to use technology to speak their own mind and create their own arts, they have come out of the darkness into the light again. They now have an equal value that they haven’t had in a long time.
Yet, we in the arts industry failed to keep up with this change. We instead attempted to treat the audiences like we always have, like they were in the dark, and the audiences have retaliated by disvaluing us.
This doesn’t mean that we can’t get audiences to value the arts again, but it is going to take more than simply the talking points we have created to fight the dis-ease. It is going to take valuing our audiences again, like we used to before the light bulb.
If you take a good look at the artists and organizations that are healthy and thriving, you will see that this is what they are doing. The audiences are a part of the picture, not simply told to look at the picture.
This is why audience development is probably the most crucial tool that we have at this time. Getting the audiences involved again in every aspect of our arts, knowing that they deserve to be in the light as much as we do, this just might be the answer to the puzzle.
I once read a statement – “The arts are not meant for everyone, but they are meant for anyone.” I now add, this was our doing, yet we can make the arts meant for everyone again if we can learn to share the light.