Ten Things in the Arts That Should Die

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.

#LetThemSit

 

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.

Simple enough.

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.

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43 thoughts on “Ten Things in the Arts That Should Die

  1. For your software issue, there is donor/ticketing software available. It’s called Tessitura, and there are email platforms (like Mail2 and others) that can be integrated with it. Good post.

  2. Have you had anyone show any interest in creating this website or this type of system that can do it all? I am working on my thesis and had a similar idea in mind. Maybe we could collaborate to get both things done!

    1. We are working on developing it in Drupal 7. It is entirely piecemeal and has taken years. That’s the only option I have found. I’d love more input!

  3. Patron Technologies is built on Salesforce and could, potentially, be expanded to include an ERP (i.e. Financial Force) which would capture data about artists and admin hired as well as audience members and patrons. Would be happy to chat with you about other CRM/ERP technologies in use outside of arts adminstration.

  4. I’ll add one from the world of K-12 education: Stop calling the Arts “specials” or “non-core” classes. A well-rounded education includes the arts. Quit treating it as something optional, like dessert, or Algebra (I kid….a little.) If it’s important to have children run track and learn to hit a softball, then it’s important to not raise a generation of culturally illiterates who can only answer questions on bubble sheets.

  5. I’m not in the arts but I know plenty who are. I agree that the “wall” has current issues that need to be addressed. The youth of today don’t have the schools to offer the arts so more classes at lower prices are needed to encourage their interest. Tear down the wall.

  6. I absolutely disagree with two things. Latecomer seating is up to the management. When the show has started and I or my ushers have to walk people down a darkened aisle who are often explaining loudly WHY they are late is VERY disruptive and completely unfair to other patrons. I also disagree that a venue should be open more than an hour before the event. What about security? What about insurance purposes? Most arts venues don’t have the cash it takes to have a full staff on at all times. So people should let wander at large without supervision, and someone falls and breaks a leg, and sues the venue. That just legally foolishness. And vandals can do damage in seconds. Actually, the more I think about it that was an entirely silly thing to write.

    1. But if you have the space, you could have a coffee shop or bar or bookstore as part of your venue that is open more than just during show times. It invites the community into your venue, so they think of it as part of the fabric of the community, and not this place they can’t go to because they can’t afford the ticket prices.

  7. Many of your points here show a lack of understanding for the underlying costs associated with the arts: Opening a theatre early, especially a Union house, costs a LOT of money. Most theatres can’t afford this extra expense; Art classes are expensive because the artists teaching them have spent years honing their crafts, and developing their skills, which they are then passing along to their students – just because the students are beginners it does not follow that the individuals teaching them are giving less of their time, energy, attention, or knowledge to these students, and there are many ways for those who are underprivileged, or unable to pay the full fees, to receive special pricing, or even financial support, simply by requesting this, and filling out some documents- many community centres offer this; Ticket fees for theatres are in place so it is easier for the venue to separate out their fees, as a portion of every ticket (percentage-based) is allotted to the playwright/composer, etc. – if the fee were included, this would essentially become part of the ticket sales, and a portion of it, too, would have to be sent to the playwright/composer, etc…often theatres either go into the red, or break even on their shows, so this fee helps offset that; allowing late seating does not take into consideration the artists themselves. While performing on stage, having someone try to find their seat in the dark, accidentally tripping, causing noise or distraction, is equally, if not more so, distracting to the performers on stage, than to the audience, who are all already seated, arrived on time, and are paying to be able to see a show, undisrupted. Arriving late to a movie is similar in that it can disrupt the audience around you, but at least, in that case, it doesn’t disturb the actors on the screen; not every artist has the aptitude or ability to understand business, and if this were a required class, many would potentially fail at something at which they would otherwise be successful – it’s a bit like expecting a fish to climb a tree, or a monkey to swim – not everyone can do everything, and artists are no exception. Many individuals with whom I completed my Masters degree struggled in academia, but excelled in their applied/practical classes – thankfully, many programs do not expect, or demand their artists to be good at math, science, etc., and this allows for artists to still attain degrees, and have other individuals (aka managers, agents, etc.) assisting, or managing them, on the business end. I’m coming at this from the perspective of a musician, writer, actor, (28 years in the industry), so most of my knowledge is related to the performing arts, but thought it might be good to provide a different perspective.

  8. I agree with a lot of this.

    I work in community relations at my organization, and the big arts orgs here (Symphony, Opera, Art Museums, etc) are all eagerly involved in advocacy and in engaging various cultural communities. And we have had specific wins (particularly with local gov funding issues) in the past couple years.

    Frankly, people on the outskirts of the cultural community in my city (the gadflies and super-patrons and bloggers) are disappointingly and sometimes willfully misinformed about the efforts large arts orgs are putting in to this. A colleague of mine recently appeared on a public panel and indirectly commented about our difficulties engaging authentically with certain cultural communities, and a local blogger rode it like a hobbyhorse and is still writing about how this proves that we only care about white people.

    I also have to say, there are always “valid” reasons for irritating ticket fees. Maybe the city owns the venue and has its own fee structure, maybe the org needs a revenue stream to do something like refurbish the box office and ticket fees are the best way to do it, maybe an org has to remit some amount of money back to the local arts council and they’ve decided to highlight it by adding it as a ticket fee, etc. Ticket-selling organizations perhaps don’t think enough about how audiences interpret this, but the explanations can seem like special pleading.

    1. Thanks for your comments! That’s great to hear about your larger organizations being involved! There are always exceptions to lists like these, glad to hear you’re one of them.

      Also – I totally understand ticketing fees, I just wish the price advertised was all-inclusive.

  9. #2, Yes things go wrong, you miss a show, sucks, happens.Almost every Theatre I have worked with, for, or attended has a resolution for re-seating a customer into a later show if they miss a curtain
    #4, If you think Wally WiFi , sucking on a Latte in your lobby all day, looking for work, is going to pay the salaries to keep the doors to a venue open, perhaps referring to #10 would be in order.
    #5. Tessitura, it’s a thing, look it up.
    #10 Locally I worked with and Nationally have advocated STRONGLY for more business and STEM education for Theatre Arts majors.

  10. Dear GP,

    Thank you for your well considered “rant”, always good to read, and always good for feedback onto a website viewing stats. Several of your complaints are valid, but have financial and structural reasons behind them, so it is not necessary to go into those, however there is one that I have agreed with wholeheartedly and for many years, and that was “…10. Not Teaching Any Business to Arts Majors…”.

    If a school administrator was to go into a room with the entire beginning year’s student body of a say a thousand students, and say, “…I want one of you to stand up…”, and when on random person did, say “…out of all of you only this many will become working artists who are able to support themselves on their art alone. Ten years from now half of you are going to be ( if your are lucky ), teachers, art directors, art writers, and the other half will work in environments that have nothing to do with Fine Art….”.

    Needless to say the school would go broke.

    Because of an ever decreasing availability of artist studio spaces in the major urban center I lived in, a group of us in the 90’s discovered that we could paint at one of the most prestigious Art Schools in America via their Continuing Education programs for less money per month than what studio rentals were. Once every semester a “Brown Bag” meeting was held in the theatre with the guest speaker being an owner or curator of a major commercial gallery. The talk predominated on being careful to make sure your work’s style matched the tastes of the specific gallery you applied to, how to create a resume of your work, and how to properly identify your pieces by materials, size and date.

    This was the sum total of all Art Business Information students were given. I an environment where a student spent hundreds of man-hours studying the intricacies of the historical development of a specific “style”, this was all they ever understood about the most important aspect ( and least understood ) of the Business Of Art.

    Why art sells, Who it sells too, What is an art market, Who sells it, Why they sell it, Why there are ( or are not ) successful galleries and artists, and How one sells art ( specifically their own ) are the least studied or understood areas of a students are career, and next to the discovery of their own “voice” and the development of their own work, it is the most important.

  11. While I agree with #1, I believe you mean Gallery Guard when you say Docent. Those are 2 very different roles at a museum.

  12. To all those pointing to Tessitura: it’s insanely expensive to implement and the fees are high very year over year. I work for a government entity that presents shows and was told there was no way I’d ever get approval to buy Tessitura. So where’s the affordable ticketing/patron management/CRM solution for small presenters?

    1. Have you looked into SABO? We use that ticketing/patron management software. Not sure the costs because we are one of a few organizations that use it, and it is coordinated by our Arts Center.

    2. There is also a software called Choice CRM that is reasonably priced and handles ticket sales, donor management, memberships, volunteers and things like classes. Tessitura is the Cadillac of software for the arts but unaffordable for most organizations.

  13. The person following you around the museum is not a docent. S/he are a gallery guard and s/he is doing their job. You might not recognize that you are getting too close to a painting, or that the bag on your shoulder is swinging toward a sculpture as you gesture. The guard’s job is to anticipate movements that could damage the artwork. A docent is someone who gives you a tour or a talk about the art.

  14. 1) How did you decide the docent was “predatory”? Maybe she was a lonely art-lover who was interested in your discussion, Oh, wait, I know: because she was old. So what your #1 point really says is “I’m young and cool and I don’t want The Olds looking at me or hanging around me or existing anywhere near me.”

    2) And if nobody’s late, we’ll just let those seats go empty. Because it’s okay for us to lose revenue every night so we can accommodate your spontaneously improvisational lifestyle. Besides, once people see that there are always plenty of seats for latecomers, everybody will start coming late and the. We can just turn the whole house into latecomer seats. Hey, the stuff in Act I isn’t THAT important.

    4) Of COURSE you want to turn every arts venue into just-like-Starbucks-only-cheaper so you can hang out for hours taking up a table and using the wifi to do your blog and texting your friends and stuff. And that idea has absolutely no downside because power and heat and AC and somebody to keep an eye on the place and pick up after you all cost the venue absolutely nothing. Sure.

    5) I actually wrote an all-in-one arts management software package, based on FileMaker, for a small institution. Everyone involved agreed it was very slick and did exactly what they wanted. But they stopped using it because it was “too complicated.” People, especially in mostly-volunteer organizations, don’t want a software product that does everything. They want a product that lets them do just their one little bit with as little effort as possible.

    10) What, where you went to school all the business classes were closed to non-business-majors? And there are no community colleges or entrepreneurship-incubator programs where you are now?

  15. Gimme gimme gimme. I need some more….Writer is another entitled bourgeois white person demanding privilege. You’re the audience now. Get over yourselves.

  16. Wow. Interesting comments. BTW we have thrown Filemaker overboard and are learning to love DonorPerfect. It does it all–even ticketing but we don’t have a lot of ticketed events. Don’t know if it works well for theaters or performing arts center. I DO love the ability to enter donor information via my phone vocally!

  17. I praise producers that do not offer late seating. It is extremely distracting to performers, and quite annoying for audience members who arrived at the correct time. I don’t think we should normalize a practice where it’s okay for people to come late, where today people are growing so accustomed to being late to things, due to their saving grace “I’m running 10 minutes late” text. Showing up on time is a practice of respect to the art. All that said I get it, people run late, but for me, too bad so sad. Get your ticket exchanged and show up accordingly next time.

  18. Nice piece. I disagree with the lateness point though because it is very disrespectful and distracting to the performers. There’s also this culture of “punk time” that sends a similar message. There’s really no such thing as being late; lateness is prioritizing other activities over the one you’re dismissing as less deserving of your attention.

  19. One of the biggest things that could be easily implemented to both modernize a section of the arts and make more people comfortable is getting rid of the stuffy old traditions of the symphony orchestra. As a performer myself, I hate putting on a tux or suit for every performance, when most of the audience is in business casual or less. I think it places a huge wall between the performers and the audience, and does little to make the evening any more special. I certainly believe there should be exceptions, like gala performances or black tie affairs, but otherwise if the players were able to just wear concert black, or some hint of color, everyone would be happy. I know I would play so much better without a supid jacket and tie!

    Furthermore, concerts should be earlier. Our performance typically starts at 8, way too late. Start at 6:30, allow people to enjoy a predinner drink, only play for one hour, and the audience will love it. No more pretentious stuffy symohony crap.

    Finally, if people want to clap between movements, let them! Hell, I’m happy they liked what they heard, don’t scold them for not knowing the etiquette from 400 years ago.

    Just my thoughts from a Southern California bassoonist.

  20. This is well done with one glaringly unfortunate and myopic exception – venues being used as open space during non-performance times. As you seem to be someone who is very passionate about the arts and their management, I find it baffling that you would even consider this idea as practical. Other commenters have pointed out the obvious errs of this idea, which leaves me questioning why you still have it on this list without an explanatory footnote – such as the ones you placed in the sections on docents and late seating. It really speaks volumes to your depth, or lack thereof, of thought on the business side of running a venue.

    1. Thanks for reading Ian. Loving the discussion!

      I haven’t responded to everything because I haven’t had the time. And I stand by my list, hence why it’s still up there. Also of note, others in my network and across the country have agreed with this point with great enthusiasm. To be honest, I’ve found more support for this idea than against it. Those against it just have commented more.

      Previously, I managed an arts center for 6 years – as a sole employee, plus worked in venues for years prior to that. And now my job is to have a pulse on the entire industry across my state. I’m beyond well aware of the impact on operations.

      My point is merely this – by only having doors open for events that may be priced outside the capacity of underserved audiences, or audiences seemingly out of reach, the arts (as a whole) are automatically creating a barrier to entry. People use space differently now than in years past. Communities are now anchored by common, shared spaces, and multi-use developments, not single-use facilities. The arts have been slow to adjust.

      It’s time we think of our venues as community amenities and not only “where the show happens”. Does this mean everyone needs a 24/7 coffee shop? Heck no. But there are ways to activate venue spaces and venue grounds, outside of the performance day, that engage new audiences. The simple fact is that some people feel like a venue, and an organization, and the work of art, are all unapproachable because you need a $60 ticket, or a suit and tie, to enter.

      This is the heart of why this has been on my list (mentally before this post) for over 5 years (read my post from 2013 on it: https://gpmcleer.com/2013/12/18/venues-to-play-huge-role-for-arts-groups-in-2014/). Organizations are always trying to find ways to reach new audiences, but they forget that the venue itself can be a barrier to entry, unless it’s seen as approachable.

      It’s time to shift our perspective on the role the venue plays in the arts. Do venues have to do this? No. But I can say that there is a huge market for this kind of engagement.

      1. “Activate… spaces” : I like this perspective. Space is not so expensive when individuals stop looking at it in such pre-defined, set ways.

        I think this list makes some interesting points, background or “current reality” aside. It is precisely the open-mindedness of it that is so obviously missing from most arts organizations and traditions. I think the established arts community can benefit from being more giving and accepting of those with unfamiliar insights or passions.

  21. My mind is open to many of your ideas, but lack of late seating is theater etiquette that should live on. If you want to be seated when you arrive, then be there before the show begins. If life circumstances prevent you from making it on time, then stand (or sit) in the back until intermission or an appropriate break in the action (such as, sustained applause after a big musical number) deemed a “seatable” moment by the ushers. All the audience members have life happening to them, too, and those who make it to the theater on time deserve to enjoy the show without latecomers traipsing in and around disturbing their view, distracting the performers and damaging the theater experience. JMHO!

  22. I agree about the salary range for job postings.

    Titles & job descriptions are rarely consistent across arts organizations…so calling someone a “director” or “manager” of something doesn’t always give an accurate portrayal of the salary you’re offering.

    Likewise, if you’re not able to pay a competitive salary, then don’t exaggerate in the job description either. Don’t make it sound more significant than it is misleading people about the degree of responsibility or authority that the job has. For example, don’t say that you’re looking for someone with a master’s degree and 10 years of administrative experience of you’re only paying, say, $32,000 with no benefits. Be more flexible…or at least be honest about what you’re paying. Don’t waste YOUR time or the applicant’s time.

  23. I agree wholeheartedly about the “VENUES ONLY OPEN ON SHOW DAYS” part.

    Although I know several commenters above have criticized the idea of having the venues open, I think we need to create venues that become a destination for many purposes.

    Yes, there are costs and security issues associated with keeping a building open…of course…BUT if I can come to the theatre and do more than just see a show, I start to feel like I belong there. It’s about building community and making people feel welcome. The more useful you are to someone, the more likely they will keep coming back.

    Besides, you could even create possible revenue opportunity by utilizing your space in other ways when there is no show going on?.

    If the theatre (or gallery) is dark, you’re still paying rent/mortgage on it. So why not create more ways to use it or earn revenue from it??

  24. I worked at a theater as box office manager for several years. The back of the theater was a padded bench seat where people could be allowed to enter via the nearest door and slide in with almost zero disruption to the performers or other audience members. (They were still only ushered in during scene breaks). They would be allowed to take their assigned seats during intermission.
    I am completely in agreement with those who say that seating patrons during the performance is disruptive to both audience and performers, but thoughtful theater design can go a long way to allowing latecomers to still be granted admission to the show. Not having to turn people away helps to keep everyone happy and doesn’t alienate audience members or, heaven forbid, subscribers.

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