I just got back from a trip to Kentucky and I’ve got to tell you, I’m shocked at the amount of arts advocacy I saw in the mainstream public forum in this past week. It seems things are a bit different than when I left the Bluegrass State four years ago to study in New York City. It left me to wonder, how come the “leading” arts institutions in the Northeast aren’t as proactive about vying for the public’s awareness?
In my sister’s college graduation ceremony at the University of Kentucky (shout out to Sara-Elizabeth Bush, I’m so proud!), President Capilouto’s address to the graduating class of 2013 mentioned the importance of the performing arts multiple times. The pre-ceremony videos featured Reggie Smith Jr., a student graduating from the UK opera program and entering the world as an emerging artist with major performance engagements coming up in the near future.
The Lexington Airport featured ads for classical music events on well designed billboards throughout the airport. That wasn’t the only advertising I saw to support classical music either– the mall at Opry Mills in Nashville featured large artwork of orchestral instruments and I also ran across mainstream advertisements for classical music events in the Nashville airport. The impact of these small awareness campaigns is much greater than the sum of their parts. Where is all this chatter and advertisement in the Northeast?
The one exception that immediately comes to mind is the Metropolitan Opera. Their photography and advertising campaign is, in my opinion, the best classical marketing effort I’ve seen in the past 5 years. New York’s WQXR radio station comes in at a close second place with their “Obey Beethoven” campaign that flooded subway ads for time in 2011. But that’s two notable campaigns in the last 5 years— just two. Where are all the other “big” organizations? Or for that matter, where are advertisements for individual classical artists the way Gaga covered the 7 train with vinyl wrap ads?
Advertising is expensive– but what is the more costly: a long term decline in audience growth, an inability to be seen as relevant by the public, or worse— the public simply not knowing your organization exists at all? Advertising must be a centerpiece in sustainability plans for arts organizations. Even though online advertising may reach more views than traditional print, seeing traditional ads lends a credibility to branding and also helps bring your organization and its work into the general public’s eye. If you want to catch salmon, fish in a stream. If you want to catch everything possible, go fish in the ocean. That’s what traditional advertising does. It can help bring traffic to your (hopefully by now awesome) online presence where new audience members can acces lots of information about what you do and why you do it.
This is an opportunity to be innovative. Photography is not as off-limits as it was 10 years ago and you no longer have to hire a Don Draper marketing firm to handle your organization’s image. With some basic graphic design skills you can create the image yourself and focus on increased distribution rather than increased cost to produce it. When was the last time you saw a bill board alongside the interstate for an orchestra? A massive subway campaign that was hip and cool which featured the orchestras in a comical or memorable way? Or (OHMYGAWD) a TV commercial? The Met puts commercials in movie theaters. Why have so few caught onto this?
I can’t tell you how proud I was to see arts organizations in the South promoting themselves and raising the public’s awareness of their work. It was so refreshing because there was not a drop of elitism to be found anywhere, just a genuine southern invitation to come and see for yourself the great work these organizations did. The ads I saw came off like a warm southern smile, telling you to come spend time with them and experience the art they had to offer. That’s a great way to put it–they advertised experiences, not events. They put potential audience members at ease. They sparked interest, and they unobtrusively entered the public’s field of awareness. It was brilliant.
I want to know your thoughts on arts marketing. What ideas do you have to help performing arts organizations connect with the public?
I’ll stay tuned to hear from you,
- The International Society for Performing Arts and Acceptd Announce… (prweb.com)
- New Season for Classical Music (tuxedorevoltblog.wordpress.com)
- Classical Music’s Role Today (shacklesandcynicism.wordpress.com)
Last week I spent time with my family back in Kentucky. It was a much needed break from New York and it gave me a chance to reconnect with my past and my roots.
“Out here it’s like I’m someone else
I thought that maybe I could find myself
If I could walk around, I swear I’ll leave
Won’t take nothing but a memory
From the house that built me”
Copied from MetroLyrics.com
Being at home made me realize the importance of embracing your roots in your performance as well as everything you do. I come from a small coal-mining town in Western Kentucky named Madisonville. It proudly boasts the town motto of “The Best Town on Earth” and in many ways it is.
They say it takes a village to raise a child, and it’s true. I am the product of support from so many people as I grew up. It was great to feel that again as I was home. As I went to church with my family, I saw so many faces from my past, choir teachers, the minister, my Kindergarten teacher, my 6th grade homeroom teacher, family friends, and former classmates. Each of these people played a role in my life somehow helping to shape me into who I’ve become today.
It was important for me to experience this feeling of reconnecting when I went home as I think it will help me to fuel my performances this year and to do more in one year than I have ever done before. All those people and my family have invested so much of themselves in me with the hope that I should succeed and that I could make a difference– while making Madisonville proud.
While at home, I reconnected with myself too, realized that it is like me to be insanely productive, to have a constant outpouring of creative ideas, to connect with other creative people and to go against the mainstream. I have been this way my whole life and that I have no apologies to make about who I am or what it is I want to do in the classical music world.
I spent 26 years being groomed to be a creative leader and performing artist. That is exactly what I plan to do. I started the Tuxedo Revolt to change the course of classical music and that is what I will do.
However, just like I needed the support of others when I was growing up, I need your support now to help the Tuxedo Revolt gain momentum. Just like I shared in my community of Madisonville, KY, I need the community of like-minded artists and performers who are ready for a change in the world of classical music to step forward and join me.
Together, we make a community. Communities can create change.
Until next time,
- Community of Revolutionaries (tuxedorevoltblog.wordpress.com)