The Wall That Keeps Our Audiences Away
As I write this, I’m sitting on the subway headed uptown and see people chatting on their way home, subway ads chanting phrases such as: “Like us on Facebook” and “Follow us on Twitter” (as if these commands were some sort of mantra to chant). When I walk around Manhattan everyone on the bus seems to be taking a picture with a friend to upload to Instagram show all their other friends what a great time they’re having. Around my office at work everyone has Facebook and Gmail chat pulled up in a tab on their Internet browser all day long and trying to compete as to who can send the wittiest quip that day. What do all these things have in common? One word: CONNECTIONS.
Everyone wants to feel connected to someone else. (If you say you don’t want to be connected to anyone else, remind me why you are reading a blog about ideas in the performing arts community?) The technology revolution has changed the way we communicate with one another. We can follow the intimate details of the lives of our friends and loved ones, we can keep in touch and share humor and exchange stories without ever saying a single word to the other person.
We also tell the story of our lives in so many dynamic and interesting ways. With things like blogs (guilty as charged), Google Circles, Facebook, and meticulously curated Pinterest boards (also guilty as charged) we can share parts of our personalities and of our lives with the world. We are literally in the greatest era of human communication and exchange in our entire history.
So keeping all of this in mind, I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the cliché of the so-called Invisible Wall that stands between performing musicians and their audience. To put it gently, In an age where communication and access to all the details is the norm; WHAT ARE PERFORMING ARTS ORGANIZATIONS THINKING BY KEEPING THE AUDIENCE ON THE OTHER SIDE OF THE WALL……..?!!
In all seriousness though, the Wall (as I have come to call it) is doing major damage to the image of orchestras and other traditional performing arts organizations throughout the United States and around the world. In fact, I would venture to say this problem has the single most detrimental effect to audience growth in the past 10 to 15 years.
This is a touchy subject, and I know it. Many leaders in the arts world blame the decline of audience growth on the usual suspects including: decrease in budgets for arts education, lack of funding by the National Endowment for the Arts, the rise of digitally recorded music, parents not teaching their children how valuable the arts are…the list goes on. While these things clearly have had an effect on the arts world as we know it, I prefer to think that these circumstances have changed the course the performing arts are taking in the 21st century rather than believing these factors have stopped all performing arts’ progress dead in its tracks.
I simply refuse to believe all those who bemoan that the arts are doomed. They say that because these factors have occurred, and because they are out of our immediate control, then we have lost the battle. I say no. I believe that we must adapt our art forms to the rapidly changing circumstances. We must do something to revitalize how the arts relate to peoples’ lives today.
So in the words of a great Republican president (who was a performing artist in his own right)…
“…tear down that wall!”
More on just how to do that will be coming your way soon.
- 20th Century History of Berlin – Berlin, Germany (travelpod.com)
- Quiet Rioters | A Colorful Show of Support in Berlin (tmagazine.blogs.nytimes.com)
- Times are a changin’. (tuxedorevoltblog.wordpress.com)