Y’all. It’s 2017.
I’m just going to be honest. After being in this field for a hot second, there are just some things that I think are impeding our ability, as an industry, to become more self-sustaining, attract new and younger audiences, and make the arts experience much better for the audience and/or consumer. These are ideas, traditions, thoughts – or “institutional traditions” – that have somehow become the “norm” in our industry and create an environment where we value the tradition over the audience experience – our “user interface”.
They are, in my personal opinion, things in our field that I think should die. They should go away. Leave. Bye Felicia.
Are there exceptions? Yes. Are my reasons fool-proof? No. Am I entitled to my opinion? Yes, and so are you.
Let’s talk about 10 of them. In no particular order.
And if you’re asking, “Does this apply to me or my organization? Is he talking about me?” Yes. Yes I am.
1. Predatory Docents
A few years ago, my sister asked me to join her to go see an exhibit at an art museum for one of her classes. Our younger brother came with us. There we were, walking through the museum, analyzing works, talking about them and enjoying them. But we weren’t alone. The entire 90 minutes we were in the museum, a docent followed us like hawks. Ten to fifteen feet behind us at all times, this docent moved when we moved, paced when we paced, and probably breathed at the same rate as us. It was threatening. As an avid arts supporter and museum attendee, I also felt offended. We weren’t sneezing on the paintings, trying to punch the paintings, or trying to draw mustaches on them — we were simply trying to enjoy them. Meanwhile, the experience left a bad taste in my younger siblings’ mouths. While I’m trying to help form them into arts advocates and supporters, this museum gave them the impression that they weren’t “ready” to enjoy the artwork properly, that we required supervision.
I have never returned to that museum, and I never will.
Update: I’ve rightfully been corrected that by “docent” I mean “gallery guard”. Thanks for keeping me in check! I’m leaving the content as-is though, mostly because I just like the term “predatory docent”.
Side note: Another thing that should die? The title “Gallery Guard”.
2. Lack of Late Seating
Right up front, I’ll say there are exceptions to this one – layout of theater space, set impediments, or intense moments that shouldn’t be interrupted, these all are factors that can be excused.
If you are a venue, and you have the ability to have late seating. Offer it. Sometimes people run late. Sometimes the babysitter gets stuck in traffic and makes everything run off schedule. Sometimes your own venue’s layout is so confusing it takes a newcomer 15 minutes to find the front door. It happens.
I’m looking directly at you, colleges and universities. If you require students taking an intro class to see live theatre, kudos to you. But don’t forget that every student, regardless of their level of interest in theatre, is a future board member, donor, audience member, or elected official. How can we bestow a love for the arts when perhaps the first interaction this student has with a theatre production, ever, is being told, “No, you’re late, we can’t seat you until intermission.” And heaven forbid it’s a one-act and they miss the entire thing and end up having to Spark Note the play for the paper due the next morning.
Are you really helping the field out here? No. Stop.
3. Ticket Fees
Just give me one price and have it include the fee. Life’s easier that way. We all know it costs money to print a ticket. I don’t have to pay a “handling fee” when I an apple at the farmer’s market. I pay $1.00.
4. Venues Only Open on Show Days
The most ironic complaint I hear in the industry is from venues who say they are having a hard time attracting new audiences and their venue is only open one hour before show time and 30min after.
Well, sometimes I can’t be there at 7:30pm every time you have a show. Sometimes, your season of shows doesn’t intrigue me.
But you know what? If you encouraged people to come work in your lobby during the day, buy a coffee from the concession stand, or even just had the doors unlocked to the lobby and treated your venue like the public space you intended it to be – I’d feel more comfortable in your space and would be more likely to try that new show out, buy that extra ticket, or be sure to tell my friends “Yeah, I was working in the lobby of the Center last week and talked to the Development Director. There’s a wine and cheese reception before the next opening and it’s only $10, want to go?”
Art supporters are not always formed during a performance, they’re formed before they even walk in the door…if it’s open.
5. Software Only Good at One Thing
Why on this great Earth can we not develop a ticketing, donor, email marketing, and finance software solution that integrates in a website of any platform. All-in-one.
Why do I need one software for ticketing, export new ticket buyers as a .csv, upload that file to my email service, process ticket transactions in a batch in my finance software, and then type in my donor records from the gala into my donor software? They are teaching children how to build apps in middle school, guys. We should be able to figure this out.
Side Note: If you want to start a company that does this with me, holler. Because I’m ready.
6. Large Institutions Keeping Quiet on Advocacy
Hey, every household arts organization out there – plus every large institution in any metropolitan area:
Where you at?
Because I saw over 700 arts advocates attending National Arts Advocacy Day this year, fighting for the very kind of funding, tax policy, visa policies, educational policy, and support you have received and continue to seek, but didn’t see one of you around town. The same holds true for local and state advocacy work. Participation by larger institutions is hard to find in some areas.
We need our large, nationally, regionally, and locally recognized institutions to come out and join with their colleagues and speak up for the industry.
It’s time to step up.
7. Organizations Ignoring Community
Dear large performance venue: When’s the last time you featured local musicians on your stage?
Dear small art gallery in an arts district: When’s the last time you invited the resident community around your “up and coming area” to your opening, specifically?
Dear local Household Name organization: When’s the last time you leaned so hard on your mission that your immediate community got to experience something so unexpected, so affordable, and so inclusive that it changed their perspective on you?
When the answer to all of those is “last week”, then you’re on to something.
8. Beginner Art Classes That Cost More Than Rent
Read like Jeff Foxworthy: If your 4-week art class costs more than the rent surrounding your art center, you might be gentrifying your community.
Two points here. One, the line above is serious. How can you be exposing people to art when they simply can’t afford your beginner level course? I know, it can expensive to provide supplies to those who have none to start with. I know, people need to get paid. But take the long-view on your classes. If someone has to spend an entire month’s rent on an intro-level painting class, how can you expect a repeat customer? Or, gut check, are you even creating this art class for the person who’s rent is the same as your class fee? Do you want that person’s business, and passion?
Second, why are beginner level classes so expensive to start? If we want to create life-long supporters, learners, and creators, then we need to seriously evaluate what it means to be a beginner. Maybe it’s not the 6-week course, maybe it’s 2 weeks. There isn’t one perfect answer. But all I know is that there is a gap in the arts market for affordable and approachable intro classes in all art forms.
9. Not Posting Salary Ranges for Open Jobs
Just put the salary range up there. If you’re embarrassed by the number, then you may need to address why you’re embarrassed – or just own it! If you’re not embarrassed by it, then you should be proud of it.
And let’s admit it, we all need to make money. Why waste the applicant’s time and your time by not stating the first reason the applicant even sent an email — everyone needs a pay day.
Be honest to yourself, and to the applicants of the world. Post the salary.
10. Not Teaching Any Business to Arts Majors
Every arts discipline major – even at a conservatory – should be required to take at least one class in arts management, or a similar field. Required.
Let’s better prepare artists to be the entrepreneurs they will need to be, and let’s prepare them to understand the marketplace in which they will have to exist upon graduation.
Being an artist is being a business.