Margy Waller tweeted a link to an article which theorized that using the term “People on Bikes” rather than “cyclists” would help improve road safety by humanizing the bike riders.
I immediately wondered if there was any benefit, internally and externally, to changing the terminology applied to arts patrons. (Instead of, for example, “arts patron.”) The article starts out saying that even for those who ride bikes, the term cyclist evokes the image of a hardcore enthusiast who has uses specialized equipment and clothing like a high end bike and spandex bike shorts.
The arts have the same image problem with people perceiving arts patrons as being hardcore afficinados with a set dress code and specialized knowledge.
Replace the word “biking” with “arts attendance” and “cyclist” with “arts patron” in the next paragraph and you have a sentiment drawn straight from an arts blog or conference. (I don’t know that arts patron is the wrong term to use, I just employ it for want of a clearly alienating term.)
“From an advocacy standpoint, getting rid of the word “cyclist” removes perceptual barriers that prevent people from trying biking in the first place, says Dave Snyder, executive director of the California Bicycle Coalition. “It makes biking accessible to anyone, and diminishes the sense of biking as an activity for a subculture or one that requires an ‘identity’ to engage in. Someone who has a bike in their house somewhere and only occasionally rides it and never would consider themselves a ‘cyclist’ is someone we should definitely reach out to.”
The poster by Bike Pittsburgh featured in the article looks exactly like posters and banners I have seen arts organizations use to show that their employees performed every day functions in the community.
This may seem like silly semantics, but the article argues that the active “people who X” humanizes the entity more than the passive label.
“Try saying “people who drive” instead of “drivers,” or “people who walk” instead of “pedestrians.” Suddenly this passive, faceless term that usually connotes a victim or someone at fault turns into a more active, visual description of an actual human who is choosing to do something. I can identify more with a “person who drives” or a “person who walks” or a “person who uses a wheelchair” or a “person who rides the bus” or a “person on a Segway,” even if I don’t do any of those things, because I understand, even beyond their mode of transit, they’re still people.”
So my first question is, are there terms like patron, community, attendee that tends to make us apply a generic identity on people instead of individualizing them?
Second question is, what term should be used? “Person who attends dance” denies someone’s identity as a person who attends theater, concerts, museums, etc.
“Person who participates in the arts” seemed the best bet to me. It avoids the hardcore stigma of “person who is enthusiastic about the arts” and is more active than “one who enjoys the arts.”
In addition to being unwieldy terminology, I know this sounds like saccharine soaked political correctness. But these things can make a difference. The idea of viewing people as brains rather than butts in the seats I wrote about a couple years ago, for example.
I am actually somewhat more interested in the internal benefits of a language change than shifting attitudes externally, though I would welcome any campaign that could achieve that.
Long ago I worked at a place where the box office kept a list of all the stupid things they were asked on the back of the door. I didn’t think having staff constantly reminded that their customers were dopes was very conducive to good service. Even if they were consciously being as pleasant as they could, that list was eroding their respect unconsciously.
So I wonder what might change if an organization’s staff started referring to customers as “people who love the arts.” Marketing department meetings would talk about adverting goals in terms of attracting 500 lovers of the arts for a show. Curtain speeches could celebrate that a performance is sold out with 1100 people who love the arts.
What are your thoughts? Is there any creative person (person who exercises creativity?) who can think of an elegant, but active descriptor?