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Donor Achievement Unlocked- Screaming Fan

I had made a suggestion to the community board we partner with on our presenting season that they think about changing the names of their giving categories. My rationale was that the current categories are strongly oriented toward classical music, but that genre only compromises 10%-20% of the programming in any season.

They asked me to provide some suggestions at the board meeting in August. Since I want to have names that give a broader, more diverse sense of the type of programming we partner on, I have been jotting ideas down in a pretty stream of consciousness manner.

At one point, I realized some of the terms were likely unfamiliar and might require explanation. I considered that could be a good thing. If positioned correctly, it might help donors to more closely identify with the work we do.

By this point, I was thinking that what I working on might make for a good blog post so when I say, “help donors to more closely identify with the work we do,” I mean all of us.

That is when it occurred to me that a revamp in donor categories to include a description might be another area that could contribute to the effort of shifting focus toward the donor/audience that Trevor O’Donnell advocates for with arts marketing.

To a degree, this idea partially resembles the “Achievement Unlocked” motif of video games and some of the categories and stretch goals on Kickstarter. I am also pretty sure I have seen some arts organizations who employ this basic concept.

In no particular order, here is some of what popped into my head for a handful of the terms on the list I have assembled. Some or none of these may get used as inspiration strikes me.

Green Room – This is where all the energy gathers before exploding on to stage
Screaming Fan – With you cheering us on, we never run out of energy.
Stage Manager – Though you are behind the scenes, nothing runs smoothly without you
Running Crew – You do the heavy lifting and make sure the spotlight focuses on everything great on stage.
Comedy Team – Like Abbot and Costello, Stiller and Meara, Key and Peele, we do our best work when we have a great partner supporting us.

It occurs to me that if fund raising efforts were approached with a sense of the next level of giving being an “achievement” to unlock, it might encourage giving from younger people and lead to increased giving over time.

What that would look like is a lot of categories at the lower end of the scale at very small intervals ($1-$25, $26-$50, $50-$100, $100-$200) so that people felt they were progressing quickly through (or skipping) levels early in their giving history. At the higher end of the scale, the intervals between levels of giving would be much greater ($2500-$5000, $5000-$10000) which pretty much reflects the process of advancement in games.

If anyone has ideas for category names, descriptions, etc, I would love to hear them.

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Who Are The Must Reads In The Field…..

…and how do you know?

I frequently promote ideas Seth Godin posits on his blog and show how they connect with the arts.

I do it so frequently, you may be astonished to learn this ain’t one of those times.

And really, someone probably isn’t worth reading if your thought processes always align.

Last month he made a post essentially calling people out for not being aware of the leading voices in their area of endeavor.

He ends the post with:

The line between an amateur and professional keeps blurring, but for me, the posture of understanding both the pioneers and the state of the art is essential. An economist doesn’t have to agree with Keynes, but she better know who he is.

If you don’t know who the must-reads in your field are, find out before your customers and competitors do.

Too much doing, not enough knowing.

While I am secure in the knowledge that I am undoubtedly one of the must-reads in my field and need only listen to the voices in my head if I wish to be enlightened, even I have to ask who the heck has the time to identify and follow all the must-reads in their field.

Twenty years ago, it was possible but now there are so many insightful minds expressing themselves I have a hard enough time keeping abreast of everyone I follow. I often discover to my chagrin that the people I thought I had included in my Twitter and news feeds aren’t in there.

I would agree with the general concept that arts professionals could do a better job staying abreast of new ideas and trends that will help them work smarter over shorter hours.  I will also concede that my ability to read a lot of material and distill it into blog posts is partially attributable to the fact I, (by way of metaphor), have a small lawn to mow and I don’t devote a lot of time weeding my flowerbeds.

I don’t know how the rest of you manage.

There are two main problems with institutionalizing the concept of must-reads.

One that is significant for the arts is the attitude of “how could you not know about X?” which has, fairly or unfairly, contributed to the image of the arts as elitist.  (Do such people exist in great numbers? While I have often been intimidated by the idea of their disapproval, I have rarely encountered them outside of the “no clapping between movements” crowd.)

The second problem is that when you create a list of must-reads, you inevitably omit a worthy or include an unworthy, the focus turns to the validity of the list and it ceases to be useful as a guide.

For most people, the must-reads are going to be those who direct you to other interesting thought leaders. While I am eschewing list making, I think everyone can agree that my blog You’ve Cott Mail fits this description of a must-read and is a good place to start seeking people to follow.


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Post-Graduate Education Is The Answer

Createquity tweeted a piece on Pacific Standard covering a study investigating the way musical taste reflects class divisions.

Despite the claim music streaming services are helping to dissolve genre labels, the study found “even among people who expressed liking for several different types of music, Veenstra found a clear delineation between “highbrow” genres enjoyed by educated, upper-class people, and “lowbrow” ones favored by others.”

(My emphasis)

To a large extent, this divide falls along educational lines.

“In regard to highbrow tastes, appreciation for classical, choral, jazz, opera, and world/international music was especially common among people possessing higher educational credentials,” Veenstra notes. “For example, the odds of postgraduates claiming to like classical music in my sample was more than three times as high as the odds of people with less than a high school diploma claiming the same.”

In a mirror image of those results, “the odds of disliking classical music was more than eight times as high for the least educated respondents as for the best-educated ones,” he adds.

Whether this reflects differences in upbringing, culture, a preference for simplicity vs. complexity in entertainment, or an instinctive identification with what “people like us” listen to remains an open question. Perhaps it’s a mix of all of the above.

The title of this post notwithstanding, post-graduate education obviously is not the simple answer. It is more a matter of correlation than causation.

I wonder how and when this shift happened. I know within the last two generations there are people who will recall parents or grandparents who would regularly listen to classical music or opera either on the radio or records. Most of these people held blue collar social status.

I wrote about a similar dividing shift in the appreciation of Shakespeare and drama about six months ago (based, I just noticed, on another Pacific Standard piece). I wonder if the shift in musical taste followed the same general arc.

I am not sure if musical taste division would easily parallel the division in theater. According to the musical survey results, lowbrow music is viewed as falling into the categories of “country, disco, easy listening, golden oldies, heavy metal and rap.”

At one time enjoyment of many of the songs that currently comprise the easy listening and golden oldies categories were viewed as a mark of culture and sophistication whereas rock (now currently in the highbrow category) was viewed as vulgar and low class.

Some of the results may be characteristic to Canada where the survey was conducted. I was surprised to see reggae identified as in the highbrow category given its associations with drug and beach culture. In Canada it may be more strongly identified as world music.

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How Many Agents Have You Broken Up With?

Everyday I get a flurry of emails from the agents of performing artists letting me know when the performers are available cross the course of the next year or two.  Often I notice that artists with whom I am familiar have moved under the representation of a different agent.

After my post yesterday about the evolving career prospects for non-profit executive directors, I idly wondered if anyone studied the reasons why artists change representation.

I know there is the Strategic National Arts Alumni Project (SNAAP) study which looks at the employment experiences of graduates of arts degree programs. However, I don’t think it really examines interactions with agents.

Of course, the larger issue is that not every practicing artist graduated from a degree program and wouldn’t be included in the survey.

The two major reasons artists and agents part company are either the artist doesn’t feel the agent is able to represent them well due to lack of initiative or contacts, or the agent doesn’t feel they can provide the artist with the support they need.

From conversations I have had with agents, I know that latter case can often include essentially firing the artist as a client due to feedback the agent receives about their personality or lack of organization. There are some agents who have painstakingly tried to instill good personal and business practices in their clients to no avail.

The idea that artists need to be cognizant of at least some aspects of the business side of their practice, if not take an entrepreneurial approach, has been bandied about to some degree for at least a couple decades now.

I think it would be helpful for all those involve if there was a clear picture of what leads to an artist and agent parting ways and that can be prevented or make the relationship more constructive.

A study may find that artists are choosing the wrong agent for them or vice versa and suggest steps that lead to a more enduring relationship. It may find that artists need better coaching and training at certain milestones in their career.

Agents can be a good resource for artists because they know a great deal about the employment environment and provide advice customized to the individual. (versus general advice on websites/books).

On the other hand, because agents are in competition with each other, there isn’t a lot of incentive for them to collaborate on a uniform process. (Though many certainly have worked together to establish strong standards of behavior for the industry.)

To a certain degree, this study would be about how to increase employment opportunities for artists. There have been many studies about why audiences aren’t attending performances and how to fix that. There aren’t really any studies I can think of that look at why artists aren’t being hired and how to fix that.

Its not entirely a direct result of lack of audiences because there are some performers who are getting more offers than they can accept and they aren’t all super marquee names.

My suspicion is that just as there are studies saying foundations need to change their funding philosophies to reflect the realities faced by non-profit organizations, such a study would reveal a need for presenters, casting agents, gallery directors etc., to change their approaches as well.

One of the things I would be curious to know is the comparative rates of turn over in artist-agent relationships for stage actors, screen actors, visual artists, instrumental soloists, dance companies, music ensembles, etc. I would bet there is a wide variety in the range with the standard for some being a matter of a couple years whereas others being measured in decades.

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